The NBLU Experience: An Immersion in Leadership, Networking, Economics of Nephrology, and Diversity

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in diminished camaraderie among trainees. This is secondary to social fragmentation, reduced connectivity, and disappointedly limited opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals at national conferences. This has been a challenging time for all of us, however, we were given a glimmer of hope this summer. The 2021 Nephrology Business Leadership (NBLU) conference allowed six strangers, united by nephrology, an opportunity to learn and grow beyond conventional teaching strategies often employed during fellowship. We were TEAM NAPLES and this one of a kind 4-day experience at NBLU significantly impacted our collective understanding of leadership, networking, economics of nephrology, and diversity. 

Our Team Naples Video submission for NBLU 2021

First, let’s begin with leadership. Prior to NBLU, leadership often felt like a solo act, never truly coordinated or strategic. Our understanding of leadership immediately improved after our first Zoom meeting before the conference, when we were tasked to learn about each other and form a cohesive team to compete in the NBLU Shark Tank competition (a competition where NBLU participants form teams to create mini-practices). With this larger purpose in mind, we educated ourselves on the various leadership styles and adopted a democratic-visionary approach, which used our individual strengths in creativity, social media, networking, and public speaking to our advantage in making collaborative decisions. We felt even more empowered as leaders by the plethora of guest speakers that shared their vulnerabilities, while taking a sincere interest in our education and growth.

Networking and cooperation is paramount to sustained success and growth, however it felt unnatural to step out of our comfort zone and engage with others before NBLU. Additionally, standing up for a unique idea on a public platform while the world of nephrology is watching and tweeting, requires immense courage. In order to compete well during the NBLU shark tank competition and gain the most from this experience, we had to suppress our self-doubts and master the art of networking. We began an extensive social media campaign to show #NephTwitter that our brand #NNEXT (Naples Nephrology Experts), had arrived. Our tweets, accomplishments, and performances were commented on, liked, and retweeted by many from all over the country. Furthermore, one of the highlights of the conference was witnessing one of our members single handedly rise above the competition to perform an extremely unique and bold elevator pitch which was widely lauded by NBLU attendants and alumni. By using the power of social media, our personal strengths in communication and networking, we formed a formidable team and felt like we were a favorite to win Shark Tank.

Malorie Holmes, MD presenting our marketing plan at NBLU 2021

On the financial front, NBLU opened our eyes to various complexities and intricacies of a nephrology practice. We learned revenue streams that exist in practice, and avenues to partner with industry leaders to improve patient experience and healthcare outcomes. During preparation for Shark Tank, we immersed ourselves in real time evaluation of a potential market for a new practice. Our assigned city, Naples, Florida was located in a unique geographic location with many “snow-birds” (these are people who come to the city from the north during the winter months), which posed it’s own challenges in establishing the ideal CKD clinic and dialysis unit. It was definitely a challenge to understand the various diverse demographics and geographic variables that affect the nature of a practice and how best to allocate resources .

Diversity is an essential component in constructing a team that is capable of addressing the cultural and social issues affecting their patients. For Team Naples; diversity within our group was our strength. A third of Team Naples consisted of working mothers pursuing nephrology as a second career and one of the few African American women attendees was one of our own. As a unit, we brought with us various geographical roots from Canada, South Asia, the west coast, and the southern United States. While Team Naples and NBLU promoted efforts for diversity and inclusion, many of the discussions generated were a pertinent reminder that plenty of work still needs to be done in the field of nephrology. For example, the economic component of our Shark Tank proposal encouraged us to focus on the challenging task of economic sustainability while still delivering equitable healthcare to many underserved communities. During the conference, we barely scratched the surface of the complex legal system that many US trained, international medical graduates must navigate in order to live in the US and contribute to the nephrology workforce. Lastly, by having one of the few African American women at the conference on our team, we were reminded of the need for further inclusion and diversity in medicine and in particular nephrology. Achieving diversity in our field will go a long way into diminishing and hopefully eliminating inequities in kidney health that are so desperately needed.   Therefore, through the Leadership award, we pledge to join initiatives that find creative ways to reach out to patients that are marginalized during this pandemic. Moreover, we should simultaneously look internally and continue to promote inclusivity in the field of medicine regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, and gender. Additionally, we must continue to advocate for change that makes it easier for international medical graduates to contribute to the workforce and population health. Team Naples, embodied each of these individual points and will continue to raise awareness of the same. 

Team Naples celebrating after winning the video competition

In conclusion, as aspiring physician leaders in the field of nephrology, we believe the NBLU platform is a critical tool and valuable addition to our training for several reasons; the camaraderie, innovation, networking, leadership, administrative and management skills learned were unique and impactful. NBLU continues to be a  launching platform for nephrologists interested in changing the status quo of our field. We were all very impressed by our faculty mentors and speakers who effortlessly transferred their wisdom throughout the conference. We look forward to maintaining our connections with the NBLU leadership team and are excited for its evolution in the years to come.

Team Naples was awarded the Physician Leadership Award sponsored by NephJC, NephSIM, and Renal Fellow Network at NBLU 2021

Khawaja A Bashir, MD
Nephrology Fellow
Hoftstra/Northwell

Malorie Holmes, MD
Nephrology Fellow
Stanford Healthcare

Niki Johnson-Wall, MD
Nephrology Fellow
Medical College of Georgia

Vishnupriyadevi Parvathareddy, MD, CPE
Nephrology Fellow
Baylor College of Medicine 

Zaid Dahhan, MD
Nephrology Fellow
UC San Diego

*Raad Chowdhury, MD
Nephrology Fellow
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
*Corresponding Author

Post reviewed by Matthew A. Sparks, MD

If you are interested in attending NBLU, check the website here. Dr. Sparks is a faculty member of NBLU but receives no compensation for his time and is a volunteer role. NBLU was launched in 2016 by US Renal Care, UC San Diego, and Dallas Renal Group. NBLU leadership had no role in editing or providing feedback for the any of the content of this post. The authors listed above conceived, wrote, and edited this post.

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