(In the Beginning recounts the real-life experiences of urgent care owners who have taken the initiative to hang out the proverbial shingle and open a new start-up center. It will be an occasionally recurring feature available exclusively in the digital edition of JUCM.)

From marketing to urgent care medicine to triathlons, it seems as though Dr. Cheryl Durstein Decker was literally and figuratively born to run, slowing down only occasionally to help others in her field and in the far corners of the globe.

The 57-year-old physician had a successful career in business and marketing until a desire to help people make positive changes in their lives drew her to medicine. So, at the age of 36, she entered the Medical College of Georgia, graduating in 1995 before going on to an emergency medical residency at the University of Washington/Madigan Army Medical Center in Seattle.

Today, she’s the owner/medical director of The Doc’s In ERgent Care in Clermont, FL. She has also created an innovative new network to provide advanced patient care and improve insurance contract reimbursements in urgent care, while also introducing emergency physicians to the urgent care industry.

The idea of owning an urgent care center evolved for Dr. Decker in several ways. From her marketing background, she was drawn to owning her own business, and hands-on work in an urgent care center provided sufficient experience to confirm her interest. (She also was certain that a 401K plan would not cover retirement adequately.)

The Doc’s In ERgent Care Center came to fruition through a series of carefully considered decisions, made at each stage of development. From the website (www.docsin.com) to the soothing waiting room colors and comfortable furniture, The Doc’s In reflects Dr. Decker’s commitment to excellence in all aspects of her urgent care business.

Next Step for a Change Agent

The combination of Dr. Decker’s personal experience, joyful entrepreneurial spirit, and marketing background inspired her to launch an initiative she calls EmERgent Care, with a mission to work with emergency physicians in opening their own higher-acuity care for higher reimbursement centers.

Based on her own urgent and emergency care experience, Dr. Decker believes that many patients can be successfully cared for by an emergency physician in a setting other than an emergency room, but still at a higher acuity level than seen in many urgent care centers today.

“Emergency physicians want to practice emergency medicine, and patients with higher acuity illnesses deserve options outside an inefficient emergency department,” she said. As such, EmERgent Care facilities will be equipped to manage patients who present on the high end of the urgent care acuity scale (e.g., infant septic workups, dislocated shoulders, significant lacerations and abscesses, and soft cardiac rule-outs, etc.).

In fact, Dr. Decker designed The Doc’s In ERgent Care center with that same level of acuity in mind. And it’s proving to be a successful model for her. When she opened her doors on Dec.1, 2009, her personal goals were to gain more control of her work environment, a greater ability to effect change, and a more secure retirement outlook. All three have been achieved.

No wonder, then, that she becomes enthused when describing her great satisfaction in birthing a business and taking charge of her professional life. Not that those victories have come easily; she acknowledges that the endless details and endless hours that the process demanded early on were daunting.

Dr. Decker’s advice to emerging urgent care center owners is simple, and borne of her experience: know the pitfalls. “Attend the Urgent Care Association of America conferences and meetings, and talk to people in the field,” she said. “It is critical to seek experienced guidance and assistance from industry leaders.”

As The Doc’s In transitions into the 2010 fall and winter “sickness season,” Dr. Decker expects patient volume to double, largely due to the annual influx of senior citizens who migrate to Florida for the colder months.

“Our first nine months have been successful, even during the slower summer season,” she said. “Our ‘snowbirds’ soon will flock back. And they’ll bring with them the healthcare challenges unique to their age group, most notably susceptibility to influenza and pneumonia.” Dr. Decker’s current goal is to have trained her staff so successfully that they take the dramatic increase in the patient numbers and demands of this particular population in stride.

From Florida to Burkina Faso

Away from The Doc’s In, Dr. Decker is an accomplished age-group triathlete who has completed the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon eight times. She runs daily with husband Larry Decker, also a physician, to stay in good form for the next competition.

Feeling “deeply grateful and truly blessed” in her success and multifaceted life, Dr. Decker makes time periodically to downshift from running to a brisk walk so she can feed her soul by leading her church’s medical mission trips to Burkina Faso, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Dr. Decker is a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians and has been board certified since 2000. During the past decade, she provided care at the Celebration (FL) Hospital Emergency Department, and at After-Hours Pediatrics in Orlando.

In the Beginning: Doc’s In ERgent Care Clermont, Florida

Cheryl Decker, MD

Critical Care Specialist for Marian Regional Medical Center and St. Mary Medical Center
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