Raby Institute founder and leader named Physician Entrepreneur of the Year
When Dr. Theri Griego Raby was growing up in Albuquerque, her mother and grandmother taught her that good health is often connected to things like nutrition and sleep, and that sometimes the best cures are found in nature.
“We always had gardens and shopped in coops,” Raby says. “As babies, my grandma gave us teas and herbal remedies. If we had headaches, we’d put a cold nickel on our forehead, and if you started to wheeze, you’d use a paper bag.”
Raby, who is Modern Physician’s 2012 Physician Entrepreneur of the Year, says she always loved science, but didn’t realize she wanted to be a doctor until she was in college at the University of New Mexico. A few years after completing her bachelor’s degree in health education, Raby entered the University of New Mex- ico Medical School in 1987 where she immersed herself in the study of Western medicine, but never forgot the lessons of her childhood.
Raby completed her internship and residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, now called Rush University Medical Center. In 1996, she took a job as an internist at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group in Chicago. It was there that Raby says she became more acutely aware of how modern medicine sometimes misses the mark by treating illnesses rather than proactively supporting health and wellness.
“As I became more involved in patient care, I saw that things like diet, water quality and environment were having a huge impact on patients,” says Raby, 52. “I saw conditions Western medicine couldn’t do anything about—cancers, neurological conditions, chronic pain and fatigue. There was a gap and something I knew was missing.”
From the start of her career, Raby says she took an integrative approach to practicing medicine—treating each patient as a whole person rather than a set of symptoms. When people came in for routine Pap smears or colonoscopies, she would take the time to talk to them about their diets and sleep habits. Or, if a patient whose tests were normal still complained of fatigue, Raby says she would dig deeper to determine the emotional, chemical and physiologically factors that could be contributing.
As she became more convinced that her integrative approach was resulting in positive outcomes for patients, Raby began sharing her ideas with her colleagues. At first, she says some physicians were skeptical, but Raby says she “kept pushing it.”
“The fact that I did what I did in a teaching institution was a huge risk for me,” Raby says. “But the fact of the matter was that I was able to have a conversation with any doctor about Western medicine, so I got them to have conversations with me about how krill oil or fish oil works.”
Raby’s persistence paid off, and in 1997 she was given the green light to launch the Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. As the medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine, Raby was able to more fully explore the ways that alternative treatments can augment traditional medical practices. For example, she would recommend acupuncture before and after a woman underwent in vitro fertilization. She also spent time educating other doctors and residents about integrative medicine.
Dr. Diljeet Singh is a gynecologist who specializes in women’s cancers. Singh worked at Northwestern at the same time as Raby, and the two doctors would refer patients to one another. “One of the big things I appreciated about (Raby) is that she was very hands-on and individualized with her patients,” Singh says. “Her patients always came to me prepared to see a cancer specialist.” Singh describes Raby as having a “healer attitude.” She says Raby has a clear vision about how healthcare should focus on the whole person.
After dedicating 12 years to building the Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, Raby decided to strike out on her own. In 2008, she founded the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern. “I left the hospital because I knew I could do a lot more,” Raby says.
The Raby Institute began in a small shared space across the street from Northwestern Memorial. Raby was the sole healthcare provider and she had just one patient treatment room. But demand for her integrative style of medical care grew quickly.
In four years, Raby has turned her one-woman show into a thriving medical practice, which provides primary care, pediatric and gynecological services. The Raby Institute now has 22 employees, including a naturopath, acupuncturist, psychologist, energy healer, massage therapist, medical assistant, lab technician and three patient advocates. The institute’s annual revenue has grown by more than 120 times as much as was made in its first year and is expected to exceed $4 million this year.
The group practices in a well-appointed office on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which features 14 patient treatment rooms, a full lab, a conference and teaching center and a retail store. In contrast to the sterility of many medical offices, the Raby Institute is decorated in calming colors, with soft lighting and soothing music playing in the background.
At the time Raby left the Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, she had about 4,000 patients. She says between 70% and 80% of those patients followed her to the Raby Institute, and at the beginning she was adding nearly 100 new patients per month. Currently, the Raby Institute has about 5,000 patients. Demand is so high that in June there was a three-month wait for new patients to make appointments at the institute.
At the center of her practice is what Raby calls the “Raby Integrative Medical Model.” Regard- less of the type of medical care they are seeking, every new patient first spends an hour with Raby. “I review some standard Western medicine models, but I also focus on herbs they might be taking, who prescribed their medications, allergies and surgeries, family history and social history,” Raby says.
Raby’s integrative approach combines standard medical testing with holistic evaluations. For example, she says, if a patient complains of chest pain, Raby orders an EKG, but also talks to the patient about his or her energy level, spirituality, exercise and emotional well-being. Based on her initial meeting with the patient, Raby makes recommendations for treatment. That could mean an appointment with one of her naturopath doctors, a session with a clinical psychologist or a few rounds of acupuncture.
After Raby refers patients to one of her colleagues for treatment, she remains involved. She says all of her practitioners are required after each appointment to make notes in patients’ files, which Raby reviews and signs off on.
As people have embraced Raby’s style of integrative medicine, her practice’s profits have skyrocketed. Between 2008 and 2011, net income increased more than sevenfold. The growth of Raby’s practice has naturally brought with it some business challenges, such as figuring out the best ways to handle things like marketing and billing. Raby says she manages her business by hiring highly qualified employees whose strengths complement her own. “It’s about knowing what I need and how it will bring patients to the center and make the numbers turn,” Raby says. “But I’m not here to make a whole bunch of money for me. I am bringing in people who are smart, the cream of crop, and they have to be properly compensated.”
John Ruhl, a healthcare marketing veteran, joined the institute in 2010 as the practice manager. Ruhl says Raby has a clear vision of what she wants her practice to be and has handpicked everyone who works for her—two factors he believes have contributed to her success. “Dr. Raby is an amazing clinician, but she is also a very smart businesswoman,” Ruhl says.
Having established a successful practice based on her values, Raby says her goal is to continue to increase awareness of integrative medicine—in Chicago and beyond. “My whole philosophy is that it would be wonderful if we got rid of term ‘integrative medicine’ and we just practiced integratively in every hospital and doctor’s office,” she says. Meghan Streit is a freelance writer in Chicago. Reach her at email@example.com.
Dr. Theri Griego Raby founded the Chicagobased integrative-medicine institute that bears her name in 2008.
Treatment areas at the institute include rooms for acupuncture therapy.