As a young girl, Donna Block wanted to be either a Rockette or a doctor.
Patients at her obstetrics and gynecology practice — Edina, Minnesota-based Clinic Sofia — probably thank their stars that she didn’t choose the former. Clinic Sofia, which has roughly 20 employees, was recently named best OBGYN clinic by readers of two suburban publications. Block herself made the Minneapolis/St. Paul-magazine’s 2011 list of Minnesota’s top doctors, an honor she has received on nine other occasions. (The magazine surveys 2,500 nurses and 2,500 doctors in coming up with the list.) She is also mulling an expansion for her women’s health practice, both in the Twin Cities and overseas, the latter a result of a recent trip to India.
Block believes that the reason her practice has been so successful since its founding in 2004 is because at Clinic Sofia, “patients are No. 1.”
So what’s new, you think? Every doctor probably has the same spiel. But in this case, the proof is in the pudding.
Waiting for her checkup at the clinic was Jessica Beckman who has been a patient for about two years. Now pregnant, Beckman recalled that a friend suggested she come to Clinic Sofia when her previous gynecologist retired.
“The environment is very inviting,” she said, relaxing barefoot, her slippers set aside. “Other practices are cold. Here you feel like you are going to the spa — there are comfy couches, music playing in the background, chocolates” (and flowers).
These are likely the result of Block’s abiding philosophy that is very female centric: “We are a community that nurtures healthy, confident women” and “women are the hubs of their families and businesses, and if they’re healthy, it spreads,” she says. It’s also a philosophy that the all-female staff subscribe to at Clinic Sofia.
As cheesy as that may sound, those ideals may be the key to the clinic’s business success. Block declined to discuss revenue, but shared this useful nugget of information: The expansion she is planning will be funded through money on hand.
“My accountant is very happy; we are very profitable,” she remarked, when asked about profit details.
But if Block had followed her life’s trajectory, she may never have become a doctor. She was a trained speech pathologist and audiologist, although even as a sixth grader, she dreamed of becoming a physician. Family discouragement about this career choice kept her away from the field. Finally, after experiencing infidelity in her marriage, she decided to pursue her true passion: medicine. Block was 32 when she went to medical school and graduated a week before she turned 40.
The reason she ended up striking out on her own and founding Clinic Sofia was because she felt that medicine practiced at other clinics was too mechanical.
She wanted to create a safe, relaxed environment where women could be “women instead of (being part of ) this big, industrial environment where you come in and you get this and this and this done, and then you get shipped off the conveyor belt,” Block said in a recent interview.
That led to the genesis of Clinic Sofia in 2004. But being a good physician and running a business required distinct skills and Block ended up getting an MBA from the University of St. Thomas to make sure she “kept the lights on” at the clinic.
“That really helped me,” Block said, crediting the MBA for the fiscal discipline followed at Clinic Sofia that has resulted in profitability.
Now she wants to expand the business and open another location in the Twin Cities as well as internationally. As a member of the Women’s Leadership Board of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she recently accompanied women from around the world on a trip to India. That fueled a discussion with the others on the trip — from India and South Africa — to open offices in those countries.