Cover – Dr. Elizabeth McRae – Passionate Living

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DDr. Liz McRae has been practicing medicine in Boerne since the late ‘80s and has built a wildly successful practice based on her dedication to her patients and her passion to provide them with the best care possible. Adding a skin care spa portion of her business in 2004, Dr. McRae has transitioned away from the full time medical clinic and is enjoying the new adventure of skin care. As she enters these new chapters after over 30 years of medical practice, she sits down to tell the story of her past and to explain her future plans.

Born in France, her family quickly moved to Oklahoma for retirement. Her immigrant mother really preached about education, and McRae listened. She begins, “I was the yearbook editor, Senior class officer, was voted most popular senior in a class of 560! School was a huge deal for me and I took those responsibilities seriously.”

Tragedy struck McRae and her family soon as her mother was killed in a traumatic car collision with a train on Christmas Day. “It changed my focus from my home to school. I became very involved in it because that’s where my friends and activities were at. My dad was working and so I refocused on my friends at school and my future. Dad never remarried and died from throat cancer.”

With new priorities and refined focus, McRae began to map out her future, though the plan was still a bit cloudy. She explains, “My plan was to go to college. That was as far as I had gotten. My dad was military and I knew I couldn’t go to college without a scholarship. I wanted to study nutrition so I got into Oklahoma State with a full ROTC scholarship. I just liked being healthy and studying it. I liked being fit and healthy. I then realized that I didn’t want to be a dietician in a hospital, but I loved the science portion of it all and how the body worked. I took that training in my 3rd year of school and I went over to the PreMed college and said ‘I think I want to be a doctor’ and they said ‘Good luck with that.’ They told me I’d never be able to keep my GPA as high as it was, but the next spring I went to the national conferences with my 3.8 GPA intact. I loved the science of it all and really enjoyed the studies.”

After graduation from medical school in 1985, McRae was poised to begin her residency, but not before meeting her husband. “I met Patrick around this time, and he was working for an oil and gas company. A friend of mine said she had met the best looking man in the entire world and I had to meet him. We drove to him and we went dancing and it was really like love at first sight. We started dating immediately and I was sold. We met in ’81 and married in ’83. “ During this time, McRae qualified for her residency in Louisiana, and since Patrick’s employer had a location there, the duo spent the next 3 years in Louisiana together.

She continues, “At the end of my residency we both decided we’d think about children. We had to talk about where we want to live. Texas was a natural selection as he is Texan, and my dad was Texan. We had visited New Braunfels several times, and my mom spoke German, so the whole German element of this area was attractive to us. We agreed that this was a great place to raise our children. Well, I was on call during one of my nights of residency, and there was one note tacked to the bulletin board that said “Hill Country Doctor needed”. I laughed and thought ‘Ok God, I get it’. I interviewed with the corporation that owned this building that we’re still in. It was like 5 old army guys that owned this little practice.”

So in August of 1988, McRae began her time in her new clinic. She explains, “After all the interviews, we decided that this would work. However, about January 19 of that year, I discovered I was pregnant. I called them and they said not to worry and we’d just start a month or so after the birth. That next spring, there were some legislative changes and the owners lost the Comfort hospital. They reassured me and said not to worry. So I came in, met all the patients, and waddled around 9 months pregnant. I went to the local drug stores and met all the local pharmacists. I was the 3rd doctor in town. I was the first primary care female doctor in the area. I went around and everybody just thought I was huge and fat. I had the baby, and I just worked like crazy. People brought me baby presents and just loved on me and it was such a great welcome to the community. “

Business was booming from the onset. Quickly busy, McRae doubled down on her career and her passion and put roots down in her new community. McRae adds, “It was busy from the start cause I took over Dr. Day’s practice. He retired and that fall we had one of the biggest flu epidemics ever. We were interviewing to find another MD to help me out, but it was trial by fire. I was super stressed. New town. New job. New baby. I was so happy but I was working so much. My husband was still traveling some so it was hard. We found Dr. Sylvia Adams in ’89. We were ultimately able to buy the building and we bought it together. She went on to have 4 sons and quit practicing medicine, and I was able to buy her half of the building. All I did for the 90s was just work and raise my children. Dr. Day told me that if I was going to keep doing this, I needed a hobby. I had remembered how much I enjoyed riding horses, and we all started riding horses. The kids said ‘Mommy – please don’t make us ride!’ but I had rediscovered a passion and it kept me happy outside of work. I was someone besides just mom and a MD, I was riding and loving every minute of it. The kids were young and I tried to do all the parent things at school…and that’s something that being in a small town afforded me. I was ever present and always there for them, and that’s hard to do in a big city. I was the MD for Town & Country for 20 years. 24/7 I got calls from them regarding their residents and I would drag the kids out at midnight to patch people up. Somewhere in the 90s we also discovered that many people didn’t have insurance, and we did a lot of free work for people around town.”

That desire for charitable work is something McRae has cultivated throughout her career. She continues, “One of my nurse practitioners said she was going to look at Kerrville and she started the Raphael Clinic in Kerrville, which is a non-profit clinic for people that don’t have insurance. I loved it and I was able to help her get that going, and found it so rewarding. Another nurse said ‘We need one of these clinics in Boerne’ and they asked me to help and I was the Medical Director of Mission for Health here in town. It was just me giving back and I loved everything about it. If all my job in this world is to foster charity clinics, then that’s ok with me and is very important to me.”

With a full patient list, a healthy family, and a happy life laid out for her, McRae stumbled into an entirely new facet of the medical industry, and is proving to be one that is highly fulfilling for her. She continues, “The skin care portion of my business started in 2004. It actually came from an aging me! I was locally very active, spoke to a lot of the women’s clubs about women’s health, and one chance encounter with one of those women got me thinking about it. I had a lot of vision problems when I was a kid and it caused a huge furrow on my brow. A friend doctor introduced me to Botox. I was 38 at the time. I did it for a few of my friends, and then they had friends…so I began to really look into the industry as early as ’95. I could see that it was a growing industry, and I started doing it for my friends. When my friend told me 10 years later that I needed a face-lift, I began to research the lasers and other procedures that could help because I didn’t want to have a face-lift and endure surgery.”

So McRae began her studies and research on the industry. With the equipment being expensive, she knew that it was a sizable investment and would fundamentally transform her established practice. McRae explains, “I bought a Titan facelifting laser machine and it was expensive, and I realized that the only way to pay for it was to open another part of my practice. I had started seeing how I could use it to help. I knew I wanted to always help people and I didn’t want to diverge from my God given motivations to help people around me, and I prayed long about it.I wondered if that was what God would really want me to do. I met with the salesman and said ‘I have to pray about this before I can make a decision.’ He was speechless because he couldn’t really overcome that. I was unsure about how I felt about it all. I knew I was supposed to be here, I knew my kids were healthy, I knew my patients were good…and I didn’t know if this was something God wanted me to add to my life. So I started asking my patients. I would ask them that if I had the equipment to help them with their skin issues or complications and if they would be interested, and one lady gave me a testimony I’ll never forget: making people look their best on the outside is a form of healing them on the inside.”

“After 31 years, most of my patients were my friends. Some were upset, some sent me bottles of wine and celebrated with me and were happy for me to have time for my interests and children and my own life.”

As the medical world opened for McRae into new facets of the industry, and with her path clear and prayers answered, she went to work. “It was what I was waiting for – it propelled me to call that salesman and told him that my prayers had been answered and I was ready to move forward. When it’s right with God, it’s right. If it’s not of God, it will not prosper – and from then on, I’ve grown that side of our clinic. Over the years I became a fellow of the American Society for Lasers and I’m up to 12 lasers now. We’ve added services and products and fillers and I’ve studied with some of the best facial artists in the industry. I studied with all the greatest people in the field in order to fulfill my destiny which was to be the best at what I can do. There’s no room for mediocrity. Nobody wants a mediocre doctor. Nor an aesthetic doctor. I’m now a thought leader in the industry because of my years of experience and I teach and speak all over the country. I don’t do well with mediocre. Only doctors should be able to inject fillers in people’s faces because they understand the anatomy and physiology. It’s way more serious than some people think or see. Only 19% of medical laser spas are owned by doctors, and only half of those have a full time on site doctor. You really want that if you are the consumer. You want the best of the best. Not just somebody trying to make a quick dollar. 20 years ago it was a small industry and it was only doctors and only the best, but it’s gotten watered down and people come here to have those things fixed. I fix things all the time for patients. I’d rather see less complication and less problems and keep it in the medical world. “

Quickly the business grew like wildfire. With McRae’s expertise and experience along with a booming population locally, business has gone tremendously. So much so that McRae was ultimately forced to look at the medical portion of her clinic and make some hard decisions. “Over 2 years I started praying about my clinic a lot. I was getting tired of the level of medicine that insurances allowed you to perform. When we started in ‘88, we had the first mammogram machine, the first stress tests, crash carts, all sorts of x-rays…and we were very proud of that. We had everything everyone needed. We felt like we were making a difference in people’s lives. Somewhere along the way, the insurance companies chipped away at what we could do. They made it cost prohibitive to do many of our services. My days were getting longer, I’m less available to my patients, and I’m getting older. What am I going to do for the next 10 years? I clearly love the simplicity of my medical laser spa…they come and buy what they want, not always just what they need. In my medical practice, I’d tell them what they need. Lose weight. Get an EKG. But if their insurance doesn’t pay for it, they won’t buy it. In the spa industry, they will freely pay for what they want and I can provide it without having to fight through the insurance issues.”

As pressures mounted and McRae’s days became longer and longer, she was forced to consider the possibility of selling off her medical practice, or simply closing it. She continues, “It was about 2017 when it started getting real. The writing on the wall became apparent that my medical practice was getting harder and harder and my spa practice was getting easier and easier. In 2018 it was clear on my books that I needed to make a shift. I couldn’t afford to continue to be a doctor, which is really sad to say. I was having a lot of fun also in the spa. People came in happy and excited about what we were going to do, and in medical people came in scared and afraid frequently, and they were angry about insurance and it carried over to me. I looked at people that were interested in buying my practice and I felt like their motivation wasn’t the same as mine. Their focus was on how to make money off these patients in the transition and they really couldn’t make it financially lucrative enough for me to be willing to sell my integrity. 2018 was when I got into discussions about the sale. In the middle of 2018 I stopped the process and decided that I would rather just semi-retire and close my medical practice rather than to be yoked unevenly with a medical corporation that did not share my perception of medical integrity.”

“ I think that as life continues to unfold for me, I’ll continue finding joy in these things and doing them as much as I possibly can!”

So McRae chose to simply close the clinic. She continues, “I wanted to do it in the best way possible. I wanted to step away gracefully and help my patients find the doctor that would help them. I found local doctors that I firmly believed shared my vision of patient care. But I was in no way compensated by these doctors so I never sold any of their charts of information to any doctor. I helped my patients find a doctor that best suited their needs. I had a mixture of patients. Some of my dear friend patients got very upset because we were friends. After 31 years, most of my patients were my friends. Some were upset, some sent me bottles of wine and celebrated with me and were happy for me to have time for my interests and children and my own life.”

October 1, 2019 was her final day in the medical clinic and it was obviously bittersweet. “. It was a weight off my shoulders, that’s for sure. I felt like my patients were safely transferred to the care of other good doctors, I had done it in a way that my mother would have been proud of me. I didn’t have one glass of wine that night, I had two!. I was thrilled for that moment that I didn’t have to tell anybody anymore that they had cancer anymore. My life is just full of amazing stories in the past 30 years. Sharing people’s journeys of overcoming and curing and even sad endings. I loved every minute of it – I was just as passionate about those medical patients as I am today about my laser and spa patients. It was just a different time, and I got older, and I got tired. And I deserve more time for my family and my interests and my friends.”

Since then, business has continued to grow, and McRae is able to handle it with less stress and red-tape. McRae, now with grown children, has more time for her own life and her interests, which includes her passions for all things equine. “As a kid I rode western for fun. It was just low key and having fun. It was too much for my family to carry the expense, though. I felt guilty. So I sold the horse. But I loved riding. It was so fun and I felt so free and the closest I ever got to being athletic. In the 90s I got back into it again. I wanted the kids to be exposed to it, and they ultimately didn’t like it so much, but I was back into it. If they’re not doing it, then that saves some money for me to do it, I suppose. I justified working so hard so that I could pay for my passion of riding and that’s been a major deal for me.”

Ultimately becoming the #1 in Adult Equitation for the State of Texas, McRae’s passion for her horses runs deep and satisfies her greatly. She also mixes that activity in with her other passion – travel. Having ridden in such locations as Mongolia and Africa, McRae continues to squeeze all she can out of this life. She finishes, “I want to make sure I hit the century club of having traveled to 100 countries in my life time, and I’m in the 70s with that goal. We just got back from a cruise to Bali and Bangkok… and I so love traveling with my husband and just seeing everything I can see in this life. So I think that as life continues to unfold for me, I’ll continue finding joy in these things and doing them as much as I possibly can!”

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