Q&A WITH MARC HARRIGAN ’87
The Heart of the Matter
Through his concierge medical practice, Dr. Marc Harrigan finds joy in giving his patients the time and care they deserve.
Almost twenty-five years ago, Dr. Marc Harrigan began a career in primary care. He became a doctor and specialized in family medicine because he valued the relationships with his patients and was invested in the continuity of their care. But when he found himself with a caseload of 4,000 patients and had a waiting period of up to six months, he almost hung up his white coat and stethoscope for good. Instead, he stepped away from the assembly line of care to open his own concierge medical practice. Now, Dr. Harrigan sees only a handful of patients a day, giving him the time and availability to build relationships and deliver the best possible care.
When did you know you wanted to be a doctor?
I had always considered being a doctor, even when I was at Pomfret. I came to Pomfret through the A Better Chance (ABC) scholars program. During the summer between my junior and senior years, ABC had a program at MIT called Careers in Medicine. Through that opportunity, I connected with medical students and physicians in the Harvard and Brigham medical systems, which gave me an eye-opening experience of what a career in medicine would be like and what would be required of me to go into that field. After Pomfret, I went to Brown, and it was a great place to be a pre-medical student. There was so much support within the Brown community. By my sophomore year, I was choosing between a career in corporate finance — because I was always a good mathematician — or a career in medicine. Ultimately, I thought I would be happier pursuing medicine.
Why did you think you would be happier in medicine than in finance?
I'm an interpersonal relationship type of guy. I like people. I'm genuinely concerned about the welfare of the next person. I've always considered: where can I make the greatest contribution? Through medicine, I help guide someone along the healthcare path that allows them greater viability, greater happiness, and a feeling of fulfillment. I enjoy helping people feel better — physically, psychologically, and emotionally. There is a certain amount of gratification that it gives me. It’s one way I can give back.
What made you choose a career in primary care?
When choosing what I wanted to focus on in my residency, I narrowed it down to family medicine and orthopedics. While it would have been a rewarding career financially, I wasn’t passionate enough about orthopedics, it felt empty. Once you see an orthopedic patient and take care of their issue, you might never see them again. And, if you do see them again, it would be for another issue. But there are only so many joints in the body! I didn’t think orthopedics would be as fulfilling because there is no continuity of care.
Primary care, on the other hand, is all about relationships. It’s about working on a problem or series of problems over time to come to a solution that requires ongoing care. It also necessitates more intellectual capital to be a part of primary care. There is also an emotional intelligence component. I’ve always been a big bedside manner person.
Tell me about your early career.
I became an employed physician in 2000. I had over 4,000 patients. Sometimes, they would have to wait three to six months to be able to see me. I would see thirty to forty patients a day. It became like clockwork. We were bringing in the patients, chewing them up, and spitting them out. It became an assembly line of care. I got very frustrated, grew weary, and almost got burnt out. It caused a significant level of stress.
What change did you initially make?
Most doctors in my position take off their white coats and stethoscopes to pursue a career in medical administration. And, for some time, I did just that. I hired and fired physicians and advised my colleagues and young physicians on how to manage their practices. I became very astute and knowledgeable about the business of medicine — both on a corporate and small business level. I considered getting my MBA because I thought my career path would take me to higher executive-level positions in hospital administration. But, once you become a hospital administrator, you are expendable. You’re not a doctor that is seeing patients. You’re a line item to cut at any point in time. That would mean moving my family around the country so I could work in different hospital systems, and I didn’t want to do that.
When did you first consider opening a concierge practice?
I had helped several older physicians nearing retirement transition to concierge medicine but never saw it as a viable way for me to continue doing what I love to do. The light bulb went on when I saw a colleague who was the same age and had the same level of experience make the transition. He was stressed that he could no longer be all things to all of his patients and took a leap of faith by opening up his concierge practice.
What is concierge medicine?
It’s primary care on a much smaller scale. I only have about 350 patients who pay an annual membership fee to be a part of my practice. In return, they get exclusive services and care. Those ten- to fifteen-minute appointments at their previous providers are now thirty minutes, an hour, or an hour-and-a-half, with a significant focus on prevention. I am available to my patients twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week — even when I am on vacation.
Being available to your patients 24/7 must be tough. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Having a smaller practice is actually easier to navigate. My phone doesn’t ring every night, and I don’t feel the stress of having a practice ten times the size. I can always get back to my patients in a reasonable amount of time. That is rewarding. It also allows me to spend more time with my family. I have two boys, eleven and fifteen years old, who have very active lives playing three sports. I get to be at their games and practices. When my wife has to travel for work, I have the flexibility to help with the before-school drop-off and after-school pick-up. I now have the time to spend time mentoring and participating in career fairs. I’ve sat on several nonprofit boards in Atlanta, including Camp Twin Lakes, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, and Commitment to Excellence. My wife and I have served as board members for many philanthropic causes because we believe that being involved is very important.
What type of patient should consider a concierge medical practice?
Everyone should consider it. If you need or want more comprehensive healthcare and someone to help guide you through the many specialists and focus on your whole health, then you are an ideal patient for concierge medicine. If you are focused on your health and want to prevent illnesses down the line that are part of your family history, a concierge practice is a great place for you.
What advice do you have for high school students considering a career in medicine?
Make sure that if you want a career in medicine, you really want to do it. So many people want to go into medicine, only to get there and find that it is not really what they want. They end up being terrible physicians because they are not passionate about the work — that's disheartening. You don't want to be the patient of somebody who's not happy with what they're doing.
How are you enjoying concierge medicine?
I am coming up on five years of opening the doors of Concierge Medicine of Buckhead — my practice — and it has probably been five of the most rewarding years over my twenty-four-year career. There’s not been a day that I do not look forward to coming into the office. There’s something different every day. I can provide medicine that needs to be delivered with a high focus on good customer service from my staff and myself. My patients feel like they are the only person in the office, and many times they are. I now see six to seven patients a day. I have more significant relationships with my patients, which allows me to have a greater impact. My relationships with my patients are golden.