In this eye opening interview, Dr. Sujin Lee is a neuro rehab physician and physician coach who practices medicine part-time while pursuing her interests in research, teaching, consulting, and coaching. She believes that physicians have many skill sets beyond clinical practice that can be utilized in various fields through a side business. She helps other physicians reach their full potential to create a satisfying life and is presenting a webinar for physicians who are interested in entrepreneurship. Listen and learn!
Dr. Sujin Lee’s Website:
Dr. Sujin’s Physician Coaches Profile:
Webinar: Achieving Work-Life Balance through Part-Time Practice with a Purposeful Side Business:
Mike Woo-Ming: Hey guys, this is Dr. Mike Woo-Ming. Welcome to another edition of Bootstrap MD. Today we have a good friend of mine. She’s actually part of my mastermind physician mastermind, and I’ve got to know her over the last few months. I’m very talented and. I feel also very inspirational. She’s a neuro rehab physician.
She’s a single mom of two children. She’s actually a physician coach as well. She’d been practicing medicine part-time to pursue her interest in research, teaching, consulting and coaching while spending time with her kids. Since she’s finished up her fellowship she always been working a lot with women physicians, getting to know them a lot better, and she realized in her part-time practice, she can create the environment for herself to practice medicine on her own terms.
When she helps other physicians to reach their full potential to create a satisfying life, and she’s coming up with a webinar for physicians who are interested in entrepreneurship, which I love to talk about. Welcome to the program, Dr. Sugen Lee Sugen. How are you doing?
Sujin Lee MD: Oh my goodness. I’m doing great. Thank you so much. Your introductory is “I’m like, oh my God, who are you talking about? Is that me?” Thank you so much.
Mike Woo-Ming: And it’s been a long time since we saw each other. I think we just saw each other. Listen, just last week at a little mastermind that we had. With Peter Kim up in Southern California.
But I wanted to talk about you and I’m really excited to, to have you onto the program because I think you’re, I think don’t think you’re doing your story justice because I do think it’s in, it’s inspiring and I think it’d be inspiring to our listeners. So let’s talk about your journey.
Just before the show, you told me, you came to this country, not necessarily to practice medicine, but were interested in music. Tell me more about that.
Sujin Lee MD: It’s an interesting story I never thought about. It’s interesting because that’s part of my story. I put that one as my past, but it’s part of me all the time.
It never goes away. But I’m thinking back, you know what, first time the idea about becoming doctor came from my mom. I was a fifth grade. I was already playing piano for maybe another five years or whatnot. I guess I was pretty good. So a lot of people pushing me to go into music and my mom suggested why don’t you wanna become a doctor at the time?
And I said, because my mom says so. I said no. So I said, I’m gonna go to continue music education. So I ended up going to our school for my junior high in high school in Korea. And I went to college to study music and in college the education program is once you are in certain area, it’s really hard to change any major at the time.
So in college I didn’t like music that much, but I guess I was good enough. But I just continued and I talked to my professor asking, I wanted to do something different, what should I do? And my professor asked me, do you know what you want to do? I said, not really. And she said, just continue what you do and it may lead to something.
So I kept her words to my mind. And then I continue study music. And by the time, around the time that graduating college I wanted to come to the United States. It’s very interesting. I don’t know what happened, but what happened is my mom she’s actually second oldest child with a seven siblings, and she grew up in a countryside in Korea.
She was in charge of taking care of the rest of the sibling. So when she was in high school, her parents, because they lived in countryside, they wanted to send the son to the big city to go to college. And then they asked my mom to be the parent role. So my mom’s regret or something that she always wanted to do was going to college and get the older education and having the career or life that she wanted to do.
I think that’s something that she would want me to do. When I got into the college, she said, you should go visit the United States and see what’s out there. It might be something that you might be interested in the future. So actually she sent me and my friend, and there’s like a package tour thing, so she sent me, She shipped me over there to the United States and that was 1991.
It’s a totally different word. It just opened up my mind and there’s so much opportunity and back in, in Korea as a female there’s a limiting things what you can do. And once you’re in certain way, there’s not much different options you can do. So when I was here as a freshman in college, I saw the opportunity.
Something that I could explore. And I didn’t like the homogeneous culture of the Korea there. It’s a one ethnic background, even back then. It’s worse than, it’s more homogeneous back then than now. So I didn’t like that culture that everyone follows the same thing. If somebody buys one thing, everything, everyone buys that I think it’s known in our culture in Korean-American or Asian-American culture too. I didn’t like that culture. I was looking for something different and it opened up in my mind that I want to go to the United States. I just didn’t know how, and I figured it out, what might be the easiest way to do it, and I realized, okay, I can go to grad school, so let me get into the grad school with the music, because that’s what I was good at and that’s what I was able to do.
So I applied. Doctors are, “We’re so notorious about doing the hardest thing or the most challenging thing that you want to do.” I wanted to go to grad school has the most challenging program. So I applied a couple schools and I was really fortunate to get into one of the top program in the United States.
So I went to New York for two years to go to grad school. That’s how I came to the United States. But towards the end of my college, I knew I didn’t want to continue music. I enjoyed teaching, but I really didn’t enjoy the performance part of it. So I started looking into different options. I was interested in psychology, I was interested in medicine.
So when I was in New York auditioning my program, I went to NYU listening to a seminar or session about how to get into medical school. So back then I was inter international student. I didn’t have any green card. I didn’t have anything. So I asked a question, how hard is it to get into medical school?
And the dean said it’s almost impossible. So I was like, “Okay, let me just get into grad school.” Let me do that first, and then if it happens, then maybe I will have an opportunity later on. So I put it in my back pocket. And then I moved to the United States to study grad study music.
So I was dating at the time. So after graduating we decided to get married and then I moved to San Diego and we had two kids. And around the time my thoughts about going to medicine became more realistic. I wanted to do something different. In California, culture is very different. Korea, my original plan was study music, get doctors in music and go back to Korea and teach in college.
That was my plan, but since I decided to live in the United States, I looked, started looking into different options, and I think I had this desire of helping others or teaching others. I think we all have it as a physician. Maybe that’s why I continued music. My goal was become a professor and teacher, and I guess that’s related too in medicine.
I always enjoyed helping other people and teaching others, so I looked into option in medicine. And interestingly, I was pretty good at math and science even. I was a music major, so I went to community college try out a couple different classes, and I did pretty well. So with the two kids, I made a decision to apply for medical school.
My dad said, you’re crazy. But you’ve been always crazy, so I’m gonna support you, whatever you to do. Yes. I was in San Diego at the time. I think I spent maybe three years to take all the prerequisite courses and do volunteers and research, and I got into UCSD. So that’s how my medical journey started.
Mike Woo-Ming: I love it and I love that you didn’t really take no for an answer when in New York, they said that the dean said, no, it’s almost impossible. And you didn’t accept that. And I really, I didn’t know that. Many doctors have the, the typical, a bachelor’s degree.
MCAT go into medical school, go into music and then community college. Oh, yes. And taking all the three, the prerequisites for a few years. That’s certainly remarkable. You went to you went to medical school you went to residency. Yes. And then you became a doctor in treating patients.
When did you start thinking maybe there were other ways that I could help other people besides clinical medicine?
Sujin Lee MD: I think a lot of physicians, they usually go straight into medical school or take a couple years between, but there’s not that many women physicians who goes to medical school and medical training with the children.
But my circumstance, I already had a kids and I decide to go to medical school. So medical training medical school and residency was a full-time clinical work and I felt I was missing out the time with my children. And I always had a interest in research. I’m a kind of heavy academic kind of personality, a little bit nerdy.
I was interested in research. I wanted to do research. So when I was in resident, I reached out some of the research faculty in the school u c Irvine. I got trained. They’re very well known for the researchers for spinal cord injury. Yeah, I talked to professor and then I volunteered to work at their lab and actually they had opportunity for research grant during my residency.
So I got the research grant. So actually fourth year my resident, I took half six month off to do the research. That’s when I started noticing that, Practicing medicine full-time is not the only option to be a physician. There are many other different things that you can do as a physician.
Actually, it gives you a lot of credit, and the training that we go through has a lot more skill sets than most of the physicians think. When I talk to other physicians, they say, “I don’t know what else to do. I only see the patient.” But if you think about it, seeing a patient, running a team, medical team or rehab team, I’m a rehab physician.
Has a lot more skill than just seeing the patient. Even just seeing the patient is not just seeing the patient. There’s a lot of critical thinking, process, communication, writing, presentation, and dealing with the team, leading the team as a leader. There’s many different skill sets that that we don’t see a lot of times.
So as a researcher we call it “physician scientist”, I. Because I had a research background in spinal cord injury in animal, I decided to go into fellowship and I continued to have the research grant throughout the fellowship. And at the end of the clinical fellowship I did a clinical research fellowship for two years.
So that’s when that I practiced maybe medicine about 50% of the time. And then I had this research about 50% of the time. And so probably that’s why I started seeing the possibility that physicians don’t have to practice medicine all the time. There are many things that we can do. We just need to open up for the opportunity and see what resonates our values and what we are passionate about.
So when I was finishing my fellowship, I had opportunity to, at the university being a full-time clinical faculty. Or I had the option of working part-time clinically. But I had opportunity doing the consulting work medi with a medical device company that spinned off from the research project I did.
And interestingly, I also had opportunity to do some expert witness work. It started with a deposition that I took care of during my residency and I was deposed as a fellow. It was very scary experience. Yeah. But that opens up the whole other area, that there is other work that can be utilized or use our skillset, who needs our care, who needs our expertise.
I was able to see that opportunity. So when I was finishing my fellowship I had a choice: Either going into a hundred percent clinical work in the university or stay in a private practice and piecemeal together clinical work and research and other administration side of work. I decided to do that because that was more aligned of my value, that I don’t wanna miss out more time with my children, which I already did during my medical school and training.
So that’s how I got started with my career. So I never actually fully practiced a hundred percent clinical practice. I guess probably I went through that burnout during my training. And I knew that I didn’t wanna continue to do that as attending. So that’s like already what, seven years ago in, that’s the time that I saw all different opportunities.
Mike Woo-Ming: I like it. And you mentioned the burnout, it also comes with, finding that it sounds like a drive was your children, and that’s what it was it for me. Many people decide to start up a career. They think, A lot of people think it’s, oh, just for the money or am I gonna make a million dollars?
But really what it comes down to, for me it was more time with my family. Yes. My kids were young, one who was autistic. I wanted to spend more time with them. Yes. What also sounds like what also drove you to is your curiosity over other things that you could be doing besides medicine. Is that what led you into coaching?
Sujin Lee MD: Actually coaching came to me. I was looking for something more, so I was already doing part-time clinical work, and then I had opportunity to become a associate program director for the program during the covid. And towards the end of the covid. During Covid, actually, I felt a lot of stress.
Everybody experienced extreme stress during Covid as a physician that we feel that impact the most. And most of the stress was from protecting my residents because they were getting pulled over to ICUs, even their rehab of residents because the hospital was short of a staff. So we ended up spending a lot of time to protecting them and then those transition and towards the end I felt there must be something else.
You practice medicine the first couple years as attending, you master for your skill. Of course, there’s more things to learn in. I’m in the academic setting because I work with the residents all the time. You can always learn more, but we all agree about 80, 90% of the time it’s a bread and butter.
You can actually treat them without thinking too much of it. And I think maybe I have a little bit of a curiosity and maybe some desire to helping others. And I take care of all the people with the neurogenic deficits like stroke, spinal cord injury like that. So I was doing that, but I felt something is limiting me.
I wanted to go into more research or doing some more in-depth work. I didn’t know what it was. And also I got separated at the time, so I was looking into financial mean, how to grow my asset and wealth and actually being retired. Because I started my career late and I immigrated later on.
I didn’t know anything about the retirement. But my mom actually had some of the properties in Korea, that’s one of the her side business, what she did as a stay-home mom. So I felt okay, I wanna buy another property. So I found Peter Kim’s conference in LA. So I went there 2019, right before Covid, and then I realized there’s a whole different physicians doing entrepreneurship.
So I met physician coaches and other people in the different entrepreneurship. I got introduced to the coaching area physician coaching idea. And during the covid that really ramped up. Like it really helped me managing my mind, managing my resident’s situation and dealing with all the stress and trauma we go through.
So I realized this is something that I want to do and also coaching helped me to grow more. I used to go to therapy on and off 10 years with a relationship and my experience as a physician and different challenges. But when I went to therapy, the therapist said, you’re doing fine. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Why do you wanna keep continuing therapy? But I was looking for where do I go from now? I’m already successful, but I want something more. I initially thought, what’s wrong with me? I have everything. I have healthy kids, I have a great career, I have everything, but I wanted something more.
And what helped me to find that? What’s that more and why do we want to create more? I found it through the coaching, so that helped me. Yes. So once I know that area I wanted to. I realized actually I was already doing it for my residents and colleagues and medical students guiding them as a mentorship.
And there’s a lot of the coaching part of it, and I realized there are many people who became, who becomes attending after that. We feel like we’re lost up to become an attending. There’s a map. Once you graduate undergrad? Some people say you gotta be bio major or what? A science major? I don’t believe that.
After undergrad, you go to medical school and you go to internship and residency and you get a job, then you’re done. But the reality is the life actually starts when you become attending. You started having a family, you have a responsibility in finance and as an adult or as a parent, there’s a lot of challenging comes.
And as we get older, I think the things in what happens in life, the illness or death of family, the things that we were sheltered when we’re younger, it becomes more relevant to us. Maybe because I’m in the rehab space. But there’s a lot of things going on and there’s the challenges. A lot of times there’s no mentor or there’s no guidance.
During medical school we have a faculty during the residency, yes, we have attending, but once you become a attending, you, unless somebody finds it actively, it’s not there. They’re not given to you. Yeah, and I think the coaching is the one that gives you guideline, but the difference is up to that attending somebody gives you what you’re supposed to do.
There’s a map, but once you become attending, you can create your own map. But the problem is we were never learned how to create our map.
Mike Woo-Ming: For those who’ve never attended a conference… Like the one that you had mentioned when you were with like-minded physicians. How big an of an impact was it?
But to go into that conference, it sounds like it, it was something that you probably wouldn’t got if you just stayed home and maybe got the recordings.
Sujin Lee MD: I think the biggest benefit or impact is seeing there are other people who are thinking similar. And there are people who already walked through the path that I am about to walk through.
And I truly believe even the destination is, might be same. I wanna have a hundred units, I wanna become a successful coach. The destination might be there, but the way, how you get there, I think everybody’s different because everybody is unique. And we don’t see that when we are in medical school.
Even that’s not true. Even becoming a doctor, everyone has their own unique pathway. Some people ace everything. Some people struggle a little bit, some people don’t match. They go to second match. There’s all different things, but we don’t talk about those things and we try to hide. And once you become attending, when you go to the next destination, and there’s a little bit of a stigma about.
Why do you wanna do something else when you’re a successful physician? There’s a lot of judge feel that culture needs to be changed, especially current healthcare system, how we were told what to do. And I think the mission or the passion of a physician is most of a physicians who go into medicine.
Our drive is to help others. What I see in current healthcare system is it provides the platform, but it really takes a lot of effort from us and maybe we’re not compensated enough. I’m not just talking about how much money we get paid and we’re talking about the emotional, psychological support and being able to have a life as a human, not instead of working 70 hours straight or 30 hours straight, look at the trauma attendings. There’s no limitation. Some trauma attendings are 30 hours. There’s another level one trauma come in. You go to trauma bay, take care of the patients, save the lives. But who saves those people who are working hard? We don’t have that protection.
To me, I think both things need to be changed. The system needs to change, but sometimes the systemic change comes later or doesn’t come until the people in there brings the issues to them. And my role, or what I, the reason why I advocating part-time, one part is as a full-time physician, we’re already working double of the time that most of the people work.
When we stay full-time, it’s 32 hours. Or 40 hours. I believe average patient works 60 hours if you’re working full-time. Wow. So the concept of a part-time for us could be still full-time, but that’s our mode, right? I need to work 60 hours. That’s my full-time. Maybe that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
Maybe that’s not healthy. So I learned that during my residency and I understood what matters to. me, my children and my time. Self-care… I wanna share that with other people, normalizing. Even I say it’s a part-time, maybe it’s a full-time for other, careers. And I guess what we trained or we developed that character in order to go through the medical training.
You gotta be really dedicated. Medicine is not something that you can do it as a hobby. There’s many professions that you have to dedicate it to be very successful. And being a physician is extreme success because human life depends on it. But if you look at everybody who’s successful in business, successful in entertainment industry, they work really hard.
But we carry that in our personal life too. So a lot of perfectionism, we have to work hard and we get burned out. Here we go the other way, burned out over there. We need to unlearn those things. And my mean, my tool is showing part-time medicine is fine and it’s okay to do something outside of medicine.
If you like your reason. If you wanna make money, yeah. Go ahead and make money If you wanna do your painting, yes. Go ahead and do painting. If you wanna volunteer. Yes, go ahead. I volunteer. And a lot of, there’s a fear about what if I lose my income? What if people think about, I’m not half of a doctor because I only practice halftime.
I just wanna share that’s not really true.
Mike Woo-Ming: Yeah, I did a a survey to my list on, “would you rather make $500,000 a year working five days a week, or would, or a hundred thousand dollars a year working one day a week?” You can guess what most of them chose was the a hundred thousand. Let’s talk about your coaching and what you do to help other doctors.
Sujin Lee MD: Okay. So when I became a coach, I, we all have a niche drama.
A lot of coaches have a niche drama. Of course, I had a niche drama. So I actually run a single female physician on finance group with other couple other single female physician. Those are all moms. And I thought about, oh, maybe I can do money coach. There’s many great money coaches out there. I tried that one and then I’m like, oh, that’s not what I want to do. And what actually attracted, when I say I’m coaching, I attract people who wants to make a transition, who work full-time, especially one physician who work full-time, who wants to either transition out of a medicine or starting some side business as their passion or wants to cutting down their time, but they don’t want to lose income or… There’s a more potential actually. You can be more successful financially if you have a good business. If you have a successful business, probably you will make a more money than being a full-time physician. So what I notice is, depending on how I show up, it attracts certain clients. So I started coaching everybody and I noticed a physician entrepreneur in the early stage.
They come to me. So about a year ago, year and a half ago, we had a little summit, the Leveraging Growth Summit, and about 10 physicians in early career came to me and asked, “can you coach us so that we can start our business?” So that’s how I started about coaching entrepreneurs. So in my group, I had somebody who wants to start a YouTube channel. She’s still very successful. I had two people who started a podcast. I had one person who became a certified life coach in starting business, and I started attracting those people who wants to make a transition from employed full-time position to something else. So I don’t attract the people who wants to go to pharma because that’s not the space that I am in.
So I usually attract the people who wants to go either part-time and doing side business, or who wants to transitioning from employed physician to become a practice owner, starting their own practice or trying to figure out how they can create more autonomy and flexibility and how they can create time, what matters to them.
Most of them just had babies. So I have a client who just had a baby. She will come to your class. Yeah. Those are my typical best clients. Those are the best clients because I know I have two children. I went through that phase, so I know what it feels like to creating the time is the most valuable thing than any money or anything else.
Mike Woo-Ming: Yeah. 100%. And there are, we don’t have a lot of time left. I know you’re busy. Let’s talk about the webinar that’s coming up. What what’s it all about? What would we learn if we register?
Sujin Lee MD: Okay after all that, I was communicating a lot of people in Facebook. I’m pretty active on Facebook.
A lot of people ask like, how do you get started? Like, where do I start? I can’t do this anymore. I’m miserable. I am a full-time practicing in a big healthcare system. I have to work full-time to make money or maintain my financial for my family. I hate my job. I don’t know what to do. So I ended up answering those questions in the Facebook comments and I realized it’s a very common question in many physicians.
So on previous webinar, it’s gonna be May 24th 5:00 PM. In Pacific Time, the title is Achieving Work-Life Balance Through Part-Time Practice with a Side Business. So this is exactly what I do and what my clients want to do. It doesn’t have to be this way, but this is a great place to start. So it’s gonna be I’m gonna talk about three things, three key points, how to make that transition.
The first thing is know where we are and what we are not happy about and what really matters to us. And I would like to. The second point is I wanna share the resources that I learned throughout the past seven years trying different real estate investment. I do expert witness work and do medical consulting.
Now I’m a coach, so I’m pretty familiar with many different types of outside business. So I wanna sh want to share that resources. The last point is I want everyone and everyone to come into, I want everyone have a, some solid next step. The downside of a going to conference in the webinar is we absorb all this information, but we don’t take action, right?
So we learn something, but we don’t make a progress. So I want to have a little bit of a conversation and actually help my audience to come up with a tangible plan so that they can take an action so that they can feel or they can move one step closer to creating the life, literally work-life balance.
And more filling life, you don’t feel like I’m burning out. You don’t feel like I hate medicine because it is possible to having this type of a life.
Mike Woo-Ming: Sujin, this is great. Lot of great information, great inspiration. Thank you for so much for joining us on the podcast. Any last minute thoughts before we end the call today?
Sujin Lee MD: You know what that’s an interesting question because I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me for me to be here, like my peer, one of my mentor and coach in our mastermind, and I’m very grateful for my clients. They find me that they come work with me so that I can help, I can share what I have.
It makes me feel like I’m going to the right direction. And actually we’re changing the culture of medicine one person at a time. I think that’s really necessary or very needed to have save our healthcare system, the physicians stay in the healthcare so that when we get older, we can get a good care from a good doctors.
Mike Woo-Ming: Well said. Thank you, Sujin. Thank you for joining us. The webinar is coming up May 24th. Is that correct? Yes. Yes. May 24th. Go ahead. We’ll have the links where you can register, how you can set up your business while working part-time as a physician. Thanks again, Sujin, and for everybody listening.
Again, if you’re have an idea, you’re stuck or maybe you’re in a career right now and you don’t know where to go, there’s always people who can help. I prefer other physicians who’ve been there and done that, like Sugen. Go out and reach. Reach out to them. Find out there is a path for you and keep moving forward.