Change, Risk and Reward: Why I Started Three Oaks Health

The other night my wife and I were talking with my daughter and her friend, both young women in their 20s, about some big decisions they have coming up. We have the pleasure of watching them as they take their first steps on their career paths, navigate relationship commitments and generally begin to make their way as adults in the world.

Like all of us, I have also been watching our country take new steps on a grand level over the past few weeks. No matter what your political persuasion, the results of the recent election are a clear sign that many Americans are unhappy with the status quo and are demanding to see some change.  

Finally, on a personal level, I’ve undergone some big changes of my own over the past few months. After 20-some years as a physician working in a large corporate model, I struck out on my own to open Three Oaks Health.

In response, many of my friends and colleagues have asked me, “Why would you do this?” (Sometimes they just come out with: “Are you crazy?!”)

In short, I tell them, I wasn’t happy where I was. I was in a secure job but I didn’t have the ability to design my own way of caring for and building relationships with my patients. In that job I didn’t risk great failure, but I also didn’t have the opportunity for great gains. 

All around me I saw my colleagues—doctors, nurses, managers, front office staff—feeling stifled by the “Theory X” style of corporate management. Because the leaders of large corporations are the only ones who fashion the mission and vision for patient care, employees have less and less control over how they spend their days and how they delivered care.

I began to see this model as a loss not only to health care, but also to the health of my colleagues.

While the x-type of corporation works fine for some, I am drawn to a more “Y-Theory,” grassroots approach to leadership. I wanted to create a clinic where new ideas and models of care can come from those throughout the organization.

And so I started Three Oaks Health to provide my colleagues with a greater sense of creativity and control and my patients with the best care possible.

Why change?

Am I crazy? Maybe! Change is hard and sometimes scary.

I want to serve as a model to others who want to risk setting their own course in order to no longer feel stifled and at the mercy of other people’s decisions about things that affect them deeply. I hope our clinic will serve as a blueprint in the medical profession to show what achieving wellness can look like.

It’s been an incredible journey so far and promises to continue to be. Below are some things I have already learned about the best ways to go about change.  

1. Look inside

Identify where you feel stifled, where your own creativity and vision is not being valued or fostered.  Ask yourself what you would like to be different.   

2. Shore up support

Once you know what you want to change, identify the people who will support you when you are ready to say, “I need to take this risk.”

My wife, who challenges herself to be the strongest she can be, is my first inspiration and pillar.  My dad, a former surgeon who now struggles with dementia, was one of the first to suggest, “Why don’t you start your own clinic?” Many of my colleagues from my last job understood and encouraged me.

3. Find inspiration

I found that, once I knew what I wanted to do, mentors fell into place all around me.

In my work life, former leaders had introduced me to the value of the experience economy.  Health care innovators like Mark Scott gave me confidence that “if you have a good idea the money will follow.”

More personally, I thought of my grandfather, a cotton farmer, who took on new agricultural challenges so he could make extra money to attend university. And I recalled how the family doctor who cared for my mother in her last months impressed upon me the value of doctor-patient relationships just as I was entering medical school.  

Finally, TED talks by Dan Pink and Simon Sinek showed me how to turn my imagination into reality


4. Accept help

I’m fortunate to have lots of cheerleaders. But one of the great surprises of this journey has been the support I have received from my patients!

Many now ask me, “How are you doing?” and ask about my progress. Others have submitted testimonials about my care to help me build my business. Turns out, when you commit to being to be the change you want to see in the world, you are less alone than ever.   

Today, I feel like I am part of a much larger team. We give lip service to being team members. But the first step to teamwork is really helping those on the team. A final step is accepting help from your teammates.

5. Remember it is not about you.

I have learned that our own ego and fantasy for a success will not sustain us through the viscidities of real change. What really keeps us afloat is a larger sense of purpose and drive, and leaving some sort of legacy for others. 

In my case, Three Oaks Health is not really about my career because I someday I won’t be here to run it. I’m committed to this risk because I want my children and my community to see that committing to change always takes risk and courage. 

In the end, we are all responsible for being “great,” one choice at a time.

Have you found yourself on the precipice of change?

I’m curious to know your reasons and inspiration for being the change you want to see in the world.

Be well,


Dr. Jim