The other day, I spent an excessive amount of time trying to dry some lettuce leaves for a salad. After failing to act on my thought many times, I decided I needed a salad spinner. Due to my menopause brain (attention span: zero), I grabbed my phone, opened the Amazon app, and ordered the highest-rated salad spinner.
None of this information is groundbreaking, but what was impressive was that the package arrived at my doorstep just two hours later. With the beauty and genius of Amazon Prime, you can have what you need in less time than it would take to drive to a retailer, as long as you are willing to accept the most available brand, color, or size.
Nearly 19 years after starting my practice, it sometimes feels like Amazon Prime. If you call or text in the morning, there is a high likelihood you will get an appointment within a few hours, as long as you are willing to see the next available provider and aren’t too particular about the appointment time. You can be seen on a Sunday, early in the morning, or late at night. If you don’t want to sit on the phone, you can send a message directly to your provider via the patient portal and get a response, usually the same day. If you want to pay your bill instantly, you can head to our website and do so in moments.
These conveniences are significant selling points for our practice, and I am proud of the level of accessibility we have achieved. However, even though I use Amazon many times per week, I actually LOVE Etsy.
When I want something personalized and made JUST for me, whether it is a pile of t-shirts for a family trip or a unique piece of jewelry for a gift, I don’t go to Amazon, I go to Etsy. You can find “exquisite,” “customizable,” “personalized,” and “one-of-a-kind” items. However, you have to be willing to wait and plan ahead. If you need your thing fast or immediately, Etsy will let you down.
Nearly 19 years ago, when I started my practice, it was more like Etsy than Amazon. It was just me for five years, and I was the only clinician in the office, on call every night, every weekend, and every holiday. In turn, I knew every single patient intimately. I knew their stories, medical history, and families. Seeing my patients at the grocery store or on the trail or at a restaurant was a treat for me. I felt connected, seen, and like my community chose me for me, not just for my immediate and constant availability.
As the practice grew, my team grew along with our availability. In the last several years, I have come to spend less time seeing patients myself and more time managing the practice of 20+ clinicians. If I am recognized in the store or at a restaurant now, it is by the picture on my website or Facebook or Instagram. People are still kind and appreciative, but they also say things like, “Oh! You ARE real!” or “I’ve gone to your practice for years but have never met you!” or “Huh. I thought you were just the name on the door.”
Hearing these things chips away at me, and I carry those tiny comments around. Sometimes, I brush them off as “the cost of doing business.” Many times, I find myself questioning my life choices.
When I started out, I was like that Etsy artist. I intended to give every patient exactly what they needed from ME. I saw them in the office and in the hospital. I called them back myself at all hours and did so happily. But, the price for that was so high. I was a young solo practitioner with small kids, and taking those patient calls interrupted dinner times. Running over to the hospital meant missing recitals, T-ball games, and family gatherings.
Now, our patients get what they need more often from people other than me. I still see patients three days a week, but I don’t go to the hospital anymore and very rarely take call. My practice has become more like Amazon than Etsy, and I regret the lost personal connections I had with patients.
But at 51 years old, my life has become more like Etsy than Amazon. I have much more time for my family and my passions. I drive my youngest daughter to school every day and am there when she gets home most days. I get to see her face and know how her day was. I never miss a single event and can’t remember the last time my dinner conversation was interrupted by a patient call. The thing is, I have THREE kids, and my older two are out of the house and will never get to experience THAT version of me. And I regret the lost connections I could have had with them.
I never set out to build an Amazon practice, but a lifelong Etsy practice was just not sustainable for me. When I think about my career and life, I do have some regret, but I also have mountains of pride. My older kids appreciate the work, determination, and grit it took to build a successful small business. My youngest daughter appreciates our morning rides and the uninterrupted dinners — dinners I make nearly every night from scratch. I still work a lot, but I also do a lot of living my life.
So, would I rather have Etsy or Amazon?
The truth is, there are times for both. The trick is recognizing and then embracing them.
Christine Meyer is an internal medicine physician.