Sabrina Harris, Practice Supervisor at PREG Columbia, South Carolina on her role, the culture, practice, and patients.
How long have you been with PREG?
I came to PREG about 10 years ago after managing an orthodontic practice. I was a little burned out with the dental field and wanted a different career path. My friend Debra, who works the Greenville office, knew Faith was looking for someone to work the front desk in the Asheville office so she referred me to PREG.
I trained in the Spartanburg and Greenville offices before moving to Asheville to start my position.
Describe your role as a practice supervisor at PREG Columbia
Basically, my role is to make sure the office is flowing smoothly in a peaceful environment throughout each day regardless of situations that may occur. I would say it is an interesting role because at one moment, I could be providing emotional support to patients about their journey to becoming future patients, being a patient advocate to help patients find the most inexpensive way to afford treatment, orienting new employees, or dealing with dynamics between staff, doctors, patients, and the overall practice.
I came from the dental profession and while there are similarities in the management role, there was a lot I had to learn about fertility treatment and care. This is a very complex field with a lot of gray areas. I learn something new every day, you just never know what to expect, especially someone coming in who has never had infertility issues. It was an eye-opening experience for me.
So no two days are the same for you?
It’s always something different for me. One day I may be orienting a new staff member and helping them set up their workstation, office policies, and procedures and then talking to a patient about finances, or a patient is upset and sitting down to talk about their concerns with the practice and treatment. In my role, I wear a lot of different hats.
It sounds like there are a lot of attributes you need to perform your job?
I do have to have a sense of calm all of the time because you never know what is going to happen. For example one day the power went out because someone hit a nearby utility pole in the area and I had to navigate moving patients to where the generators were operating and we had an office full of patients, doctors doing ultrasounds, drawing blood in the lab, and working on financial consults with someone, and trying to manage any kind of chaos or disruption to normal services. And you have to do it in a very calm matter so no one panics or is stressed out, especially our patients.
It sounds like you are much like a utility baseball player who has to learn and play several roles.
Yes! Exactly! I think it comes with my character because I’m a take-charge person and I don’t want anyone to freak out or panic. If you are the person who can be a peacemaker in any situation that’s what I try to do. I love people and I love to hear people’s stories. You just never know when someone is having a bad day and someone may say, “She’s upset with me.” But she just may be having a bad day. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life and I’m the kind of person who likes to help calm a situation before it becomes something that shouldn’t have been.
How important is a team culture at PREG?
That is one thing I love about PREG, even though we are growing fast, I love that we try to keep a small team or small “mom and pop” business attitude. I’m really big on the team when it comes to uniforms, information, and conduct. When you are smiling it helps the patient relax. When a team is unified the patient has more confidence in the team of providers. That is one thing that is important to Dr. Nichols and all of our physicians. They make sure it’s important to get to know all of the employees on a personal level and it helps to employee retention because people feel genuinely appreciated in their role. Each employee you have to manage differently because they all have different personalities and you learn how to manage them personally. You gain compassion for areas of their life you would never know about unless you get to know them.
In your role, you have to have difficult conversations with patients, staff, and doctors. How do you handle the hard conversations?
Well, I come at it from a place of compassion for the situation and the person. I think when you are talking to someone about a situation you never want to tear them down, you always want to bring them up. I always give the positive first then talk about what we need to improve. I always talk in a calm voice because I want people to talk to me like that in hard conversations. Many people don’t like hard conversations, but they have to be had in every aspect of life. I try to intervene and if you do it with compassion people receive the information better and whatever it is it will change.
How is it with patients?
A lot of patients are upset with finances because these are very expensive procedures and a lot of people don’t have that kind of money sitting around in their bank accounts. We understand that so trying to help them with what they are paying for can be a difficult conversation. You try to help them understand what their treatment plan entails from the doctor’s perspective and from the company in terms of what they are receiving and the outcome of these procedures. You can’t really put a dollar amount on creating life but that is what we are helping them to create is life. Once they understand that and that we are with them this entire journey finding the most inexpensive way to afford this they begin to understand and come on board. Sometimes patients sell their homes and move in with their parents and downsize their lives to make this happen. They make a lot of sacrifices.
Can you describe some of the sacrifices patients experience?
Patients that come to PREG actually want to have kids. Some people have kids without intentionally planning for it. But these patients WANT a child in their life. And to seek this treatment and invest this kind of expense and go through the hormones and day in and day out emotional roller coaster I tip my hat to these patients because it is a lot. We see families being torn up over this because of the financial and emotional burden it puts upon them. Whether it’s a husband and wife, or female to female relationship the emotional strain is the same.
This is why we salute these grandparents who make sacrifices for their children to conceive. A lot of them pay for the treatment for their children and have no reservations. They want to help their kids have kids and I love that about these grandparents. What makes me love it so much is that they are looking out for generational growth and extending their family tree. And that’s our model at PREG growing families, one baby, at a time. When patients bring their parents in I affirm them in helping their child grow their family and the support they are providing for them in this journey.
I just spoke to a patient the other day who is totally alone in this without the support of family. She can’t discuss this with her family and her friends who she sees on Facebook talking about their pregnancies and she’s so upset because she cannot share it with and we are the only people she can share it with. This is hard and you don’t want to go it alone, you need support and sometimes we are the only support they have.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the profession and at PREG during your tenure?
We have grown so much and so many people are now willing to come in for treatment. The previous stigma attached to infertility is changing and that’s a good thing. Things like the mini-IVF because some patients don’t want to create too many embryos and have reached their goal of having the number of children they want. Now we can use those embryos for the desired outcome and in regard to the remaining embryos, they can decide whether to donate them to the bank, donate them to science or destroy them and that is hard, but it wasn’t an option in previous years.
I also love how we are expanding and growing. Faith Ripley our CEO is my boss, but she has been a great mentor because she has pushed me to grow in areas that I didn’t realize I was strong. I’ve grown so much with PREG. I moved to Asheville in 2011 in a small location and we ended up expanding and relocating to a larger location so that was my entry into management. Faith promoted me to office supervisor and it was a challenge for me because of my background in dental practices. Faith stretched me and I love that about her. I’ve called her and asked about a situation I have to deal with and she has even called me and asked for my input on a situation she is dealing with. She lets you brainstorm with her and offer ideas. She’s so receptive to our input and growth in our roles.
PREG has 3 IVF Centers (Greenville, Columbia & Low Country) with offices in Asheville & Spartanburg.