WOMEN IN MEDICINE
Kate Ross, MD
Board Certified Dermatologist, LA Plastic Surgery & Dermatology
Suffering a serious high school sports injury can be a defining moment for many. For Dr. Kate Ross, 31, the hospital experience that followed her surgery defined how she perceived the lack of patient care from some doctors. She pivoted her focus from her beloved sport to medicine, vowing to do better for her future patients.
When you meet Dr. Ross, you could easily mistake her for someone much younger, a great compliment for this rising dermatologist at LA Plastic Surgery & Dermatology. Ross moved to Sarasota after completing her residency in Tampa last year, and became a savvy businesswoman networking at local events and organizations to help build her notoriety in the fiercely competitive skin care and plastic surgery field.
In an industry where your face makes a first impression on the world, Ross takes a different approach with her patients, focuses less on the enhanced air-brushed beauty portrayed in the media and more on looking healthier and refreshed from a facial procedure. She also stresses the importance of great skincare, at any age, and protecting yourself from the Florida sunshine that we enjoy year-round. True to her commitment in medicine, she delivers compassionate patient-centered care to those who need it most, often devoting extra time listening to patients’ needs and concerns.
Relaxed and easy-going, she is a natural athlete who enjoys the outdoors and traveling when she is not working. In her own words, Ross talks about the challenges she faced as a new doctor building her practice, how she mentors the next generation of female physicians, and reveals her own skin care routine.
You had a personal experience with medicine that made you decide to get into the profession. Tell me about it.
I actually had knee surgery from playing soccer in high school when I was 16. The surgeon was so impersonal and just gave me the worst possible experience. I thought could do this better. I would be someone who actually listens to my patients and pays attention and sits in the room with them and talks through whatever issues are going on. What sparked my interest was having that bad experience. It actually made me want to do something better.
Who were some of your mentors?
I really think my parents are by far the greatest mentors I’ve had. My mom was a professor at the University of Florida (now retired). She was a working mother but was home so much and just kind of showed me how to balance life in that way. I don’t have kids yet, but hopefully one day when I do I’ll be able to kind of follow in her footsteps and if I’m half the woman she was, I’ll be good. She’s amazing. My father started his own law practice in Gainesville and he’s been valuable with looking at contracts for me.
After you completed your residency in Tampa, how did you get started in your career?
That was probably one of the greatest challenges for me after residency. I think for young doctors coming out now, they’re told you have to join a big group. You can’t survive in private practice. It’s not feasible. I was told that so many times but, and as bad as it sounds, joining those big factory dermatology groups felt like selling my soul a little bit.
I didn’t want someone else to tell me how much time I can spend on my patients or how I had to treat them. I found LA Plastic Surgery Center through a shared accountant and listened to what she had to say and what she was offering and it just seemed like a great fit. It was risky because there was no dermatology existing in the practice so I kind of had to start everything.
How can women dominate in medicine in medicine and overcome barriers?
I think some of the challenge is getting your name out there and I think women who are already in this area, by supporting each other, it is an important thing to do. To see who’s new and help shift business to them to help support people who are coming into the area. I’ve been lucky enough to have women in the area who have done that for me. Some of the primary care physicians in the area have been very supportive of me. I think that’s the biggest challenge is networking.
I think medical schools are now much more focused on their applicants being well-rounded. They almost are searching for people who have empathy and who are good with patient interaction. Schools are teaching that much more than they used to.
How do you mentor the next generation of women physicians?
I am an associate critical faculty member right now at Florida State, so some of those medical students do work with me who are interested in dermatology. I have high school and college students who are with me and it’s been all women.
I like being able to mentor young women as they decide what they want to do with life. They may not choose dermatology but it’s good to explore every option before you make a decision.
What changes does the next generation of doctors, especially women, face in medicine?
I think government regulation in medicine is getting more and more stringent. Even for me coming out compared to people five years ago, there’s been a big change in just how involved government is in the day-to-day paperwork and requirements. There is a lot more behind the scenes stuff required by the government and I do think it’s probably going to continue to get worse.
I do think there are more women coming out of medical school today as physicians. The tide is kind of shifting as some of the older physicians are retiring and there are more women in medicine, which is a wonderful thing. I actually saw some recent articles and one of them said traditionally, female physicians are more empathetic. They tend to listen and read more, and use what they learn to help with their patients — not that male physicians are anything shabby. I think that it will be a good thing for patients to have more women doctors.
Do you see yourself as a businesswoman now and not just a doctor?
I do. It almost shocked me how much there was to do when I came in. There wasn’t a lot of insurance being processed so in that side of the practice, I kind of had to try and figure out how to reinstate it. When I started, I had no one at the front desk. I had no nurses. I did everything, from when the patients checked in to when they left. I learned all of the day-to-day running of the business components and I think it’s good for every doctor to see that side of it at least once so you understand what goes on in the background, what your front desk has to do, what your nurses are doing, what the office manager is doing.
Was there a business philosophy that your dad shared with you that carries with you today?
Even now, when he’s kind of pushing toward retirement, my dad is still there. He works on the weekends and he is just a very hard worker. I think he instilled in me that if you’re going to make something successful then you have to work very hard to do it. You’re going to be the one who’s behind the scenes doing things all the time – even the things that people will never see. That’s what kind of sticks with me is this kind of thing – I am doing a lot to build this practice but at the same time, the benefit of that is if I want to take a vacation, I can. I don’t have to feel guilty or ask 20 people for permission. It gives you a lot more control of your life in that way.
What has Sarasota shown you about patients and their perspective on medicine?
In dermatology especially, I think a slightly older demographic is a good thing because they just tend to have more skincare needs and more skin cancer. Sarasota is pretty saturated with dermatologists, so I am also in Bradenton more just because that’s where there’s more need.
From your perspective on dermatology, it is very relationship-based. How do you make that patient-doctor connection?
The most important thing is to not do anything that I personally would not do to make them look unnatural, even if they’re asking for it. I think that is where a lot of doctors go wrong, when they do what the patient asks for even if they think it might not give them the best result. I think the most important thing for us is to just look at someone, have a serious conversation about what’s expected, what they want, and understand that before anything is done. I’ve found that that helps people to trust what I’m going to do.
How do you advise patients to get a natural look when plastic surgery among celebrities is seen as so artificial?
With all these celebrities you see and people say I don’t want to look frozen. I don’t want that face where I can’t move. I want them to look refreshed, younger, healthier, or (more awake), and that’s the goal. It’s a subtle improvement that just makes you look more like a younger version of you.
Do you have a personal motto? You seem like a very positive person about things.
What I live by is that for me to feel successful it’s not so much about making a lot of money or having the practice come out with good numbers, but having patients leave the office, feel ing happy and feeling like they were taken care of and listened to. That is kind of my overall goal and what I try to live every day by is to treat every patient so they would want to recommend me to someone close to them.
Who is the best kind of dermatology patient?
I think the best patient is someone who is honest: honest about what they want, what they expect, and if something isn’t to their liking, I want to know. I’d rather have a patient who is brutally honest with me and tell me everything that they want, or feel, or any issues that they’re having than someone who keeps it all in. Sometimes you just don’t know what someone’s thinking and that makes it all harder to treat them. The ideal patient just tells me what they want and then trusts me to do that.
What is your biggest fear?
Professionally I guess just failure in business. At the end of the day it’s business and no matter how many patients I have, if we don’t make it run well and successfully, it’s going to fail. That’s definitely a fear I have, especially after being told so many times that it’s impossible to do.
What does true beauty look like to you and the next evolution in dermatology?
I think topical hyaluronic acids are very big right now. It’s like a topical filler, and these creams that are helping to soften lines and wrinkles because they have the same component as what is in filler, but you’re not shooting it in. The newest thing that’s just come out is something called Kybella. I have to look it up because we don’t even have it yet, but it’s injectable fat reduction especially for neck tightening. So patients who carry a little extra fat in their neck area, it’s an injectable that shrinks fat and tightens the neck and it looks like a non-surgical (facelift).
What is your beauty skin care routine?
If I tell you my beauty routine, you would be shocked. I have actually stopped using any face wash because I have very sensitive skin. Literally just do like a water wash. I know it sounds crazy but once I started doing that I stopped breaking out. Envy sunscreen has a good SPF. I use the Teoxane products that have hyaluronic acid in them, and a retinoid.
You’re a Florida native. What do you love about Sarasota?
I think there’s no more beautiful place than being near the beaches. It’s almost hard to go on vacation now because everywhere is less beautiful than here. I really lived in College Town and then in Tampa my whole life before coming here.
You’ve talked about taking some time to get involved in charity work and other patient work. What are you interested in?
I was actually just talking to my mother who is on the board of directors for educational programming in Gainesville called Kids Count. I’d like to help out in something like that organization that’s near and dear to her heart. I would like to possibly start working at some of the Health Department free clinics and volunteering my time. I also still work on my days at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Tampa. They are very near and dear to my heart. I worked there as a resident so I don’t really want to leave now. It’s a very grateful patient population, and they have a lot of faith.
By Katherine Ferrara Johnson