On A Mission to RENew Skin
Updated: Aug 25, 2019
An interview with:
Jennifer Lee, MD
REN Dermatology & Laser Center
Grew up in Maryland
Hiked a glacier in Patagonia
Attended Harvard Medical School
Won "Teacher of the Year" at Vanderbilt in 2013
Nashville Business Journal "40 under 40" in 2014
Her dog, Poppy, is at the office every day
How did you start in Medicine?
I was always good in Math and Science and as a youngster I thought being a Doctor was an admirable profession. But at 19 years old, I went on a medical missions project in the rural villages of the Dominican Republic. Three of the physicians on the project were Pediatricians from Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital – watching them examine and treat the local children was completely awe-inspiring to me. It made me feel like the field of Medicine was such a noble way to serve your community and make a difference in the world. From that moment on, I couldn’t imagine being more excited about any other profession, and I dreamed of going to Vanderbilt Medical School and becoming a Pediatrician! Although ultimately I attended Harvard Medical School and ended up pursuing Dermatology, I thought it was meant to be when I followed my now-husband to Nashville in 2010 and joined the faculty at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
What makes your business/practice unique in our community?
I spent 6 years in Academic Medicine (as an Attending Physician at Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and as Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Vanderbilt) so my passion was always for teaching. One of the most personally exciting awards for me was winning “Teacher of the Year” at Vanderbilt in 2013. All of that as a preface to say I knew nothing about running a business when I decided to take a leap and open a solo private practice. Sometimes ignorance is bliss- because I may not have made the same choice knowing what I know now!
I think what makes REN Dermatology unique is the people/staff. We pride ourselves on extremely low turnover of staff, and because of this we have such consistency with patient care. Our employees are incredible team players- It really makes me proud of how they take care of each other and work together to provide the best care for our patients.
I think another cool aspect is how we’ve stayed current with the latest technology. We have the most modern and up-to-date EMR and practice management system, and we add new Lasers and Cosmetic offerings each year. I’ve always wanted REN to be a place that I personally would want to go to- and that means providing excellent Medical care but also offering Aesthetic treatments for all skin types and skin colors, for women AND men.
Talk about what patient care means to you?
Our goal has always been to provide excellent Dermatologic care in a welcoming environment. I always wanted our offices to feel friendly and warm. That starts from the reception they get when they first call our phones, then when they enter the office for the first time, meet our nursing staff, interact with the Physicians and ultimately leave with a diagnosis or treatment plan.
I hope our patients feel confident that they are receiving the highest quality of care from our physicians, but also feel that we are approachable. I want patients to feel we explained their diagnoses in an understandable way (especially because Dermatology conditions can have such long complicated names), designed a plan for therapy that was considerate and evidence-based, and strove every day to provide the best care we could.
What are your goals for your practice?
When I think about how our practice has grown in 5 years from 2 employees to 20 and expanding to two offices, I hope that if we continue to grow we will maintain the same level of personal care for each and every one of our patients. On the business side, I hope we can transition from a “start-up” vibe to a well-run efficient office on every level. We’ve definitely grown by trial and error in many aspects!
What is the culture that you infuse into your practice?
I think the culture at REN Dermatology is one of teamwork to achieve efficiency and excellent patient care. I don’t tolerate “drama” at the office and my employees are all very kind and supportive of each other. I think this stems from our early days when we were such a small office that everyone had to help out in any way- but this group mentality has persisted. Also, I think I encourage my staff to be flexible. We are excellent at pivoting when things aren’t working well, or brainstorming new approaches to challenges.
How do you try and maintain a balanced life outside of work?
I relax by taking hikes at Percy Warner Park with my dog, watching “The Bachelor” with my husband (it’s our Monday night tradition!), and I’m a pro at taking naps! But to be honest, just as things calm down in my life, I look for ways to inject more chaos (usually in the form of undertaking a major new project, planning a new event or a new collaboration). I think I’ve come to realize that I thrive when things feel slightly out of control.
Have you ever been close to quitting? How did you stay engaged and push through?
I’ve never felt like “quitting”, but I will admit that I get approached often to sell my practice. When administrative or billing or HR issues become challenging, I’ve wondered what it would be like if I didn’t have to worry about any of it or manage any longer. But then something happens (like a special patient interaction, or an employee comment, or a unique opportunity) that makes my heart soar, and then I can’t imagine giving up REN and all that we’ve become!
Who are some of your medical “hero’s”?
Dr. Harley Haynes, Professor of Dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was an advisor and mentor to practically every Harvard Medical student interested in Dermatology. It was pretty surreal to become colleagues with Dr. Haynes (he was in his 70’s then) when I finished residency and took an attending job in Boston.
Dr. Anthony Fauci- I did research at the NIH when I was in college at University of Maryland, and I always admired Dr. Fauci from afar. He’s been the head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for decades and did pioneering work in HIV/AIDS research. I grew up in the era of Ryan White dying of AIDS, Magic Johnson announcing he had HIV- those things left a huge imprint on me and it became a special interest of mine within medicine. I actually interned at the White House, the Office of National AIDS Policy, during college.
Dr. Paul Farmer is hilarious and unconventional and very witty. I took a course with him and Dr. Jim Kim during my first year at Harvard Medical School, AND he was the Commencement speaker for my graduation class. How can you not be inspired by Paul Farmer’s work and his passion?
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by doing things that are enjoyable for me. I’ve created a workplace that I love going to every single day, surrounded by co-workers and staff that I enjoy being around. I also get excited about new projects that I undertake to keep things fresh.
In what ways do you hope to see practicing medicine evolve in the future?
I think the practice of medicine will continue to evolve in ways that make the delivery of care more efficient and accessible to patients. For my specialty that may involve TeleDermatology, more transparency in pricing for services, and continued utilization of social media for education and information disbursement.
If you could offer any advice to younger physicians…what would it be?
Follow your passion and be honest with yourself when you make career decisions. For example: After residency, I nearly did a fellowship at Penn which entailed a Masters in Statistics and Epidemiology. I’m * terrible * in Statistics but I thought it was what I had to do in order to contribute to Academic medicine. Thankfully, I finally recognized this was not my forte and instead was offered a Clinician-Educator position at Harvard which I was totally excited about!
Another piece of advice to younger physicians is to understand there will be bursts and lulls in your career, meaning there will be periods of time where your career path will seem to advance quickly or opportunities will arise, and there will be periods that seem quiet and uneventful. Just go with the flow. Great things happen when you least expect it! And don’t be afraid to take risks!
Getting To Know the Doc:
Tell us about Poppy –
Poppy is a 7-year old rescue pup from Proverbs 12:10, a local organization. She comes with me to work every day!
What are some movies you really enjoyed?
Good Will Hunting- this came out when I was a senior in college and about to move to Boston for medical school. I thought I would meet guys like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck everywhere!
What amazing adventures have you been on?
Hiked a glacier in Patagonia, white water rafting in Panama and helping with a global skincare line launch in China.
Favorite Restaurants in Nashville?
- Sunda- Asian fusion
- Kayne Prime
- Catbird Seat of course!
- And any small un-fancy Asian restaurant with great noodle soup
Among your friends, what are you best known for?
I laugh heartily and my favorite thing is bringing people together. It makes me excited to convene groups of people or friends and watch new connections or friendships forge. I’m also pretty laid-back. I don’t really ever get too flustered.