Dr. Chelsea Mooreland: Closing The Gap On Healthcare Inequity
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
It's no secret that there are disparities in the healthcare system. A system built to help the most vulnerable population now remains to be in question. The gap is even wider in minority communities that lack access to resources and education to improve their health and well-being. Dr. Chelsea Mooreland saw this earlier on in her practice. She said, "Our current healthcare system, at least the government and community trust system, really wasn't serving people well who looked like us. And so, every day that I came to work, I felt defeated. I felt complicit in a system that I knew genuinely wasn't serving people."
Within two years, Dr. Mooreland was already experiencing burnout in a field she worked so hard to be in. She was at a crossroads in her professional career. She said, "It was a dual mission. It was one, finding a way that I could give patients what they deserved. And I was then finding a way to preserve this career that I had come to love. I felt like I hadn't even really gotten started yet. And I was already faced with, do I stay in this field or find something else that might fit me better if this is the only option."
Luckily, Dr. Mooreland heard about the Direct Primary Care (DPC) model. She began to research how this model would fit into her mission and goals and better care for her patients. However, her husband questioned this out-of-the-box drastic shift she was about to embark on. She said, "My husband was like, you've been grinding for years now. It's been med school and residency; why not just take a normal job? Just get a salary. Why do you need to go out and do this thing? So it was easier to consider just staying in the broken system and suck it up." But Dr. Mooreland didn't want to be complicit and felt out of alignment with her integrity.
She created Life Cycle Direct Primary Care (DPC). A practice that allowed her and her fellow physicians to be present throughout a patient's lifetime. She offers primary care and women's health, including OB and substance use treatment. Dr. Mooreland didn't like that her clients saw various specialists who didn't know them or their health history. She said, "It should be someone you continuously build on that relationship with who knows you well."
What were some of your biggest fears along the journey?
Dr. Mooreland struggled with imposter syndrome, which plagued her during medical school. She said, "I think Black and Brown individuals have felt like, man, am I supposed to be in this room?
Because everything around you says that you are not supposed to be there, even in residency, all the major hospital systems, most of the people there don't look like me, and that was the biggest part, honestly, is just trusting that people would come. You know, we meet bias in several ways.
We meet bias from the system in itself and even sometimes encounter bias when it comes to our patient population." Dr. Mooreland has heard through other doctors that patients trust White doctors more than Black doctors—and in some cases, those patients are Black. She further elaborated, "Historically, they've grown to think that the Black doctor went to a less well-off school and the Black doctor doesn't have as much knowledge.
He doesn't have the resources as the White physician. And so that was the most nerve-wracking part. To overcome that imposter syndrome, realizing that I had something powerful to offer the community and I didn't have to be under someone else's umbrella or brand for that to be powerful." She had to believe that people would come. What helped her move past this was understanding the concept of the target audience.
Dr. Mooreland said, "That's why people have imposter syndrome because we're so worried about attracting other people's audience. So I stopped worrying about that and realized that people were waiting for me, and I started feeling comfortable in my lane. I'm not going to be for everyone, and that's okay. I exist for the people looking for me and who need me to be in this space.
Another difficulty that Dr. Mooreland experienced was the superwoman facade that says women can endure and bear all things. She said, "You know, to an extent, we even get gaslit into that when you present the challenges or say that something's not working well in this system.
And people kind of throw it back at us. We're supposed to just handle it. We're supposed to just fix it. We're supposed to just continue to deal with the problem. And what's wrong with us for not accepting that this is just how things work?"
At the half-year mark at work, Dr. Mooreland began to experience chest pains driving into work and feeling fearful of walking inside the building. She said, "And I was like, what is this? I mean, all of a sudden, I wasn't sleeping. I felt like I was on the verge of having panic attacks. And I was just like, this is crazy. I even fell into that as a physician. And I'm like, this is really stupid.
I can't tell my patients that this is how they should live their lives and manage stress—and here I am going through the motions because someone expects this, instead of realizing that this is killing me and that there is a better way to do this."
Dr. Mooreland spoke with her husband, admitted that she wasn't okay, and asked her to support her.
So tell us about any major setbacks and how you recovered.
Financing was Dr. Mooreland's biggest setback. Attending medical school didn't teach her the business side of medicine. She didn't know where or how to develop the operational structure. Dr. Mooreland found as many free resources as possible, but finding the funds was a tremendous barrier.
She said, "As much as people think that, oh, you know, you're a physician, money's never going to be an object for you. But I'm a first-generation college grad. So, I don't have this nest egg that someone could hand down to me and say, hey, you want to start this business, go ahead and put this money down.
And so it was not only risky for my husband and me because we were now utilizing these small savings that we have to put towards the bills to show equity injection as the business, but then we were also taking the risk of applying for a loan. You know, what, if our personal finances come into effect, if something happens to the business and then whether or not someone was going to see me as trustworthy enough or creditworthy enough to give me a loan."
Most lenders are reluctant to lend big loans to startups. Yet on the flip side, the bank hears that Dr. Mooreland is a physician, and they attempted to offer her $400k, which frightened her. It took a lot of back and forth with the banks to get a loan amount that felt comfortable for her, and something that was supposed to take two weeks took four months to gain approval.
She said, "It didn't matter what my credit score and annual income were. I couldn't move the dial any faster. When you tell me no about something, the kind of person that I am, makes it way easier for me to continue to push towards that thing. The fact that the loan took so long made me even more resolute that I would find a way to make this work even without this bank loan."
What's the biggest risk you've taken?
The biggest risk that Dr. Mooreland experienced was applying for and receiving a business loan. She and her husband's assets were used as collateral. She said, "What if it doesn't work? And trying to convince my husband that it was worth the risk, anything worth having, it was worth fighting for, and it's going to be hard.
It wouldn't have felt as risky if I were single and didn't have a family to support. But, having a family to support and being the primary armor in my family was a huge risk. To say, okay, well, now I'm going to start this other venture and transition my income to a different way from having a salary to being an entrepreneur."
The other hard part was seeing the value of the risk without seeing it right in front of her as she built her business.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Lifecycle?
Dr. Mooreland is proud of taking an idea and bringing it to life. In 2020, it was only an idea. Since its launch in September 2021, it's been a fully operating practice. Dr. Mooreland went from working seven days a week with long hours to running her practice three days a week while also working in urgent care and delivering babies. It doesn't feel like work to her. She feels energized by her clients. With a family of six to care for, being an entrepreneur allows her to be there for her family.
She said, "When I come in every day, I don't wake up and dread looking at my schedule for the day. I don't dread patients coming in for the day. It is really rewarding. And I love having the opportunity to be there for patients when they least expect it." Being a part of Dr. Mooreland's practice, her patients have access to her 24/7. Her patients rarely use this opportunity but find comfort in being able to have their questions answered quickly and directly from her. She's proud that Lifecycle is still going strong with steady clients.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Dr. Mooreland's first pitch competition. Watching other pitch competitions inspired her to apply. She said, "I would say it was invigorating. I love being a part of a community of people preparing for their pitches and talking about their businesses and new things in their lives. I think it's so easy to get lost in the mundane or the day-to-day stuff. You don't realize that people are constantly birthing new ideas and concepts and manifesting their passions and dreams.
So that was great for me. And it also helped me continue to be motivated to keep doing things like it. Because it showed me that it's possible and that so many people are doing those things, I will say the preparation was kind of daunting because it was this new concept.
And so, even though I was talking about my business as a physician. I'm used to being really low-key. We don't talk about ourselves. Everything is talking about the patient. And so not looking at the script and sitting and talking about me and my why was challenging. Honestly, it was crazy how challenging it was to do it in a short timeframe.
So it was definitely working a different muscle, but it was really fun. On the day of the pitch competition, I was super nervous, it was anxiety-provoking, but it was a great learning opportunity. And at the end of it, I was just super excited that I did it."
Her advice to those looking to pitch is, "You know your business better than anybody else, you know the concept, you know the why, and so one be confident because no one else can tell the story like you can tell it. And then the other thing that I would say is practice. Practice in all the pitch practices. It was wonderful because I could get an idea of how to word things differently than what I'm used to. And that was really helpful to me because that was the part I didn't feel comfortable with.
It was like, I know the information, but now how do I convey that to people in a business-like manner. And so attending the pitch competitions, even the ones that were not for my actual pitch competition, was extremely helpful. So definitely participate in as many of them as you can. Record yourself so that you can hear what it sounds like. Time yourself and walk away feeling confident about the presentation."
She encourages all entrepreneurs to follow their script because if not, it will be different each time they deliver the pitch.
When asked about the crowdfunding portion of the pitch, Dr. Mooreland admitted that she didn't like to ask people for help. She said, 'Honestly, it helped me become more comfortable sharing the story behind the practice. Even though we had already done the pitch itself, it allowed me to utilize the skills that I learned in that pitch to sell it to other people and create brand awareness in my local community.
So really, I just kind of changed my mindset to utilizing it as a marketing tool and embraced it. So I posted it in all of the Facebook groups. I had access to alumni groups and texted the information to all my family and friends."
Dr. Mooreland used the pitch funds to purchase new state-of-the-art equipment for her practice. They bought a new ultrasound machine, so people can feel as if they're receiving cutting-edge technology. It deepens the process making it seamless, quick, and digital for easy communication with her patients. She then hired a fractional CFO. She said, "I didn't want just to make money with the business. I wanted to make sure that we were building wealth with the business to know exactly what to do with the money that we were bringing in.
And so the fractional CFO has helped us make sure that we have a healthy, financially, healthy business."
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Dr. Mooreland shared, "I mean, from idea, I felt like I didn't have a ton of resources. I didn't have people I could call up and say, hey, help me with this process.
And so it was a lot of me trying to find resources to find a mentor. But again, not really having people in that space who looked like me was very intimidating. And I think we all kind of have that complex of like, not wanting to ask for help and feeling humiliated to have to ask for help. So, especially in a career where people see it as this prestigious thing, I was extremely humbled that I still had no resources to start a business, no matter how far I've gone in medicine. I still had no resources to make this loan happen. So that was the most hurtful part.
It's just not having people who were in a position to walk me through how to create a personal financial statement or how to create a profit and loss statement. All these things are getting thrown at me, and I'm like, wow, what if someone who's done this already could show me?
Those people exist, but again, it's just not having so many of us that we are readily available to mentor one another. So when I found Black Girl Ventures, honestly, I felt like I had found an entrepreneurial home. I finally found people I could lean on when I had questions and not be embarrassed to say that I needed help and didn't know something.
The situation with the bank—I felt helpless. But knowing that other entrepreneurs have navigated this space well can tell me this didn't work the way it was supposed to and how to fix it. It was really helpful to give me that strength to say, I have someone who has my back, and I have people I can ask questions to now."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Dr. Mooreland learned that your people will find you. She said, "What you are building and what you are creating was put inside you to create, is important. And your target audience is literally waiting for you to make that product, to provide that service. And I think once people accept that in their entrepreneurial journey, nothing will get in their way because your mission is to create this thing that you believe in for the people you're trying to serve.
As long as you buy into that concept and there's a true why behind what you do, nothing will stop you—no matter how many hiccups pop up, no matter how many things you don't know. Because you'll be driven by the people you stand to serve and by the things you stand and do for the community."
She struggled with the guilt of having her patients pay for the service. She had to understand the value that she was offering through Lifecycle. She knew this opportunity was a better path for her patients regarding their short- and long-term impact on their health.
Dr. Mooreland said, "It's actually much less than what they pay for it anywhere else. Getting to that place where I realized that I really bought into that concept allowed me to sell it to my patients and be true to the model and not, you know, shortchange myself, you know how people talk about giving discounts to every family over your friend.
I'm like, no, we're not this kind of service because I spent energy making sure that I was giving you a quality product at a reasonable price. So it was an interesting lesson to learn, but I was so happy once I caught onto that concept that no, what I built is a better product. It allowed me to sell it better to my patients because I believe in it."
Dr. Mooreland plans on opening a second location for clients who live further away. She also plans to expand the practice by hiring more physicians. She said, "So I'm like we can keep sitting back waiting for someone else to provide the answer, but that may never happen in my lifetime if we don't take that risk.
And so I'm hopeful that as things are building and I can prove to my colleagues who maybe don't have that courage yet that, hey, this work doesn't have to suffer in silence, and your patients don't have to suffer, but it's not just us who are suffering. Our patients ultimately are the ones who are getting shorted.