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Episode 20 - Creating a Canadian Locum Network with Dr. Jordan Vollrath

Jun 01, 2023

Episode Notes

Dr. Kevin Mailo returns as host and welcomes Dr. Jordan Vollrath, physician and co-founder of Cherry Health, to the show to talk about how he created an innovative physician network. It started with just locums but Dr. Vollrath describes how far Cherry Health has expanded and how it helps physicians. 


Jordan Vollrath had only worked in clinical medicine for a brief time after graduating from his residency when contacts and ideas fell together in serendipity to create Cherry Health. He enjoys his clinical work, which he currently does very part-time at the Alberta Obesity Clinic, but saw a real opportunity to create a job connection network for Canadian physicians where one was currently lacking.


In this episode, Dr. Kevin Mailo and Dr. Jordan Vollrath talk about how Jordan’s start in locum work led to the first iteration of Cherry Health as a locum network, how it quickly expanded to all manner of medical employment, Jordan’s vision for the future information hub that Cherry Health will be, and why such a network will transform physician’s lives for the better. This episode will pique your interest in Cherry Health and the connection opportunities available. 


About Dr. Jordan Vollrath

Dr. Vollrath completed his medical school at the University of Alberta in Edmonton before going on to finish his Family Medicine residency at the University of Calgary.

He has worked in a wide variety of both urban and rural clinical settings including ER and hospital based medicine. He is a co-founder of Cherry Health, a Canadian technologies company. In 2020, he was awarded the Joule Physician Innovation prize by the Canadian Medical Association. He has a passion for mental health and its relationship with weight outcomes.


In his spare time, he enjoys being active and outdoors - skiing, camping, mountain biking and spending time with his French bulldog.


Resources Discussed in this Episode:

Physician Empowerment: website | facebook | linkedin





Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:00:01] Hi, I'm Dr. Kevin Mailo and you're listening to the Physician Empowerment Podcast. At Physician Empowerment, we're focused on transforming the lives of Canadian physicians through education in finance, practice transformation, wellness, and leadership. After you've listened to today's episode, I encourage you to visit us at - that's P H Y S Empowerment dot ca - to learn more about the many resources we have to help you make that change in your own life, practice, and personal finances. Now on to today's episode.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:00:35] Hi, I'm Dr. Kevin Mailo, one of the co-founders of Physician Empowerment and one of our podcast hosts. And today I am very excited to introduce to you Dr. Jordan Vollrath. Jordan is a family physician based out of Calgary who has developed, if you haven't heard of it yet you will, Cherry Health, Which is an online platform, online app, that allows physicians to connect with different locum services. So, Jordan, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are in your career, what you do right now clinically, and then share a little bit about your journey?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:01:12] Yeah, for sure. So thanks for having me, Kevin. Glad to be here. It's an honor. But yeah, basically like right now I'm working at the Alberta Obesity Center, so I'm mental health specialist and really I'm only part-time there. So I'm doing about like one day a week on average of actual clinical practice. And then the rest of the week is working at Cherry Health.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:01:31] Awesome. Awesome. How many years have you been in practice?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:01:34] I've been an adult since 2019, so we're coming up on like four here.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:01:38] You've been a grown-up for a few years now.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:01:40] Yeah, yeah. We're getting older.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:01:41] You're like, you're like a pandemic baby.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:01:44] Pretty much, yeah. Just before that I actually had like, a real job for about seven months, and that's when things started to shift.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:01:51] Yeah, there was a time when we didn't wear masks for every patient encounter. There was a time, Jordan.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:01:57] I recall that briefly from residency. Yeah.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:02:00] Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I suppose it would have been some residency in med school before then. Okay, so tell me a little bit about, okay, where did you come up with this idea and then what were the early steps that you took to build Cherry Health? Right? Because I mean, clearly I mean, you had an idea. How did you take those first steps?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:02:18] So it evolved just out of solving selfishly, like a problem that I had for myself. So after graduating, I was working as a locum physician, so I was doing locums, you know, all around Calgary, Southern Alberta, rural/urban stuff. And then so I really liked just the flexibility of booking my shifts on short notice. So I would do short notice coverage. I'd do like short-term coverage for a day, a week, a month, you know, anything in that kind of ballpark. And it was really fun. It was a really rewarding way to actually practice, like covering for people when they got sick. If somebody needed like last-minute time off, it was very appreciated by like all the doctors in the clinic. So I'd actually be, because that was like a very sorely needed thing. They didn't really have very many people that were willing to practice like that, but it had its pitfalls practicing that way, right? So it was kind of if you want to cover short-notice things, you have to leave your schedule open until short notice. So that resulted in lots of downtime, lots of like days where I actually didn't have anything arranged. Not that I really hated having a day off here and there, but like in terms of efficiency of...


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:03:17] Yeah, quit bragging, Jordan. Keep going, keep going.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:03:23] You know what I mean? 


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:03:24] No, no. I know what you mean.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:03:25] It got to the point where there'd be like down days, down weeks. I'd be picking up a shift at a time, at some walk-in clinics, things like that. But anyways, like then the pandemic kicked in. Like I had only been working for six, seven months because I had graduated the previous summer and then took a month off. And then March came around and suddenly, like nobody needed vacation coverage anymore, you know, nobody was going anywhere. Nothing was happening. People weren't actually even leaving their houses. So zero people were showing up to the walk in center. And so now suddenly it got like even more of a stress, an actual like issue to try and book things back to back on this short notice. And so the whole inspiration for Cherry Health kind of was a bit of a serendipity. Like I was actually just like hanging out with some friends at one at somebody's house one day. And then I met a guy who worked at a local, it's called a venture studio, so basically, like what they do, instead of investing in startup companies, they invest their time and then they get a return of like a stake in the company. And so this guy, Maximilian Kurz, yeah, so I met up with this guy, Max Kurz, and he's a genius. So this is like what he does for a living at this venture studio. And we were kind of just like talking. He was telling me what he does, and I was like, That's super cool. Like, just like the whole process of innovating and coming up with new things and like, you have an idea how do you actually get it off the ground. And it's basically like consulting, but for startups and implementing all these different strategies for growth and building like operations and things like that.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:04:56] And so I was like, That sounds super cool. Like, you know, the creative outlet and the actual ability to, like, think outside the box. You know, I found that, like a lot of the times in medicine, thinking outside the box seemed like a good avenue to malpractice suits and losing your license. You're very much expected to think inside the box for a lot of things. So anyways, this just sounded very foreign to me, like this whole premise of like, how he operated. You show up to work one day on a Monday and you'd have really not necessarily an idea of what you'd actually do that week because you kind of got to figure it out as you go. So we're kind of just talking and I was like, Hey, if anything medical comes across your desk, drop me a line anytime. I'd love to weigh in or hear what you guys have planned. And then the next week he just called me up on the phone and he's like, Do you have anything in health care, like problems that you yourself have or anything else? Any ideas? We kind of just started spitballing ideas and it started out with, Hey, I do all these locums and it's a pain to organize sequential work and high-quality opportunities. And then next week he called me back again and he'd put together the most impressive, gigantic spreadsheet I'd ever seen. And he's like, I think we can do something with this. I think this is, I think this idea has got legs. That's really how it all started.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:06:08] Wow. Wow. Excellent, Excellent.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:06:12] Serendipity, hey.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:06:13] Love that. Okay, so. Okay, so we kind of know what, you know, what it started as. But tell us what Cherry Health is right now for Canadian physicians.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:06:23] Okay. So it started out with the locum perspective on it, right? So we initially launched it just to tailor it to like connecting these temporary jobs. It's since expanded. So now it's all across the country, it's no longer just family doctors, and it's no longer just locums. So now it's full-time long-term jobs, part-time jobs, telehealth jobs, contracting jobs, any physician specialty, really all the provinces in Canada. So it's kind of like the one-stop employment shop now.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:06:51] Love that. Love that. And then talk to us about where you're headed with Cherry Health. Like what's your dream or what do you want for Canadian physicians with Cherry Health?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:07:04] So, okay, this is where the really interesting opportunity, I think, lies is we're building this network essentially, right? And so the backbone of this network currently is predicated on employment, on jobs. And so the goal is to like start strengthening those connections between people. So right now, they're looking for work opportunities. In the future, we want to start expanding it more into sharing research articles, into sharing medical news.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:07:29] Oh, wow.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:07:30] Kind of becoming the one-stop, you know, kind of platform for digital physician networking in Canada. Like right now, there's not a whole lot of like infrastructure, like digital infrastructure for physicians in Canada. Like other countries, the US has Doximity, you know, the UK has physicians dot net, you know, Japan has M3. It's essentially like LinkedIn for doctors, all these companies I'm describing. So that really is kind of the goal, right? So you could, you take this network, kind of this core foundation that we're building that's, you know, founded around the employment thing, and then you start adding more tools, more widgets, more things on there to actually like help physicians make their lives easier, their jobs throughout the day. Right? So that really is the value of the whole thing is you've got this collection of people and you can start putting on new tools, new utilities, all kinds of different stuff, you know, resources, different articles like how to optimize your billing, how to optimize your clinic workflow, connecting you with all the other innovations, all the other exciting things that are popping up in Canada.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:08:34] So as you grow, how do you maintain the quality of what's on the platform? Because I think it's one thing, it's like, okay, I'm a clinic, I'm advertising a locum opportunity, I'm a locum physician, I'll sign up, you know, Airbnb it, I get it, right? But how do you maintain, you know, quality? Is there a chat platform? Like what do you do in terms of that? Because I think one of the issues that we face in medicine, and I'm guilty of being part of that, is that we just throw so much information out there that it can be a little bit overwhelming for physicians. Like I kind of don't know what to do with the latest podcast episode on all of the different podcasts that I'm subscribed to, right? And so, you know, so talk to us about that, right? Like intentionality and finding some balance.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:09:24] So one of the things we did initially, we actually had ratings and reviews on there. So for the different clinics now that was a bit of a hot-button topic. Yeah, like there was a lot of physicians who were like, Wow, this is a sorely needed thing. Like, how many digital marketplaces do you interact with lately that don't have that on there? Right? Like Uber, Airbnb.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:09:44] Yeah. Well, and you know, you step into like that clinic and you're like, blow the dust off the paper charts and you look in and you see like, it's going to be a little bit of a long week for me.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:09:55] So anyways, that feature did not get ported over to the new platform that we just updated. It released. It may come back at some point in this next little while, I don't know yet. But in terms of that quality otherwise, like that really is a big thing that I'm dealing with right now is like we've got this very sophisticated tool and how do you engage everybody to use it properly? Like so we've been doing some webinars for some of the local health associations recently just on like how to recruit. And this included a big focus on how to create a job posting that was actually appealing. Yeah. So that's a lot on us, right?


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:10:33] Yeah, yeah. I'll be honest. Like when you flip the pages of most medical publications, it sounds a little dry, you know?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:10:42] Okay, part of preparing for those webinars is actually one of the funnest things I saw was just looking through some of the job ads on the CMAJ and the CFP and like those things are very expensive. It's like, I can't remember, but you get so many.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:10:56] I've advertised on some of those. Yeah, not cheap.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:10:59] Right? And so some of these job ads, like even though they paid all that money, they didn't even use up like the 80 words or whatever they were allowed to. It was like one sentence on like, Hey, we have a clinic and we use this EMR.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:11:12] Yeah, think I was skipping spaces between words just to, you know, get my money's worth.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:11:19] So a lot of it is like, you know, it's on us to like really educate people and provide them resources on like how to actually successfully recruit. Recruitment is a very complex, difficult thing. That's why there's these professionals that actually do this for a living. And so physicians and most of us medical people, you know, never had exposure to that. And then you have a clinic and you need to like, how do you choose office staff? How do you hire more physicians? It's just very foreign to a lot of people. So in terms of ensuring that quality, that's definitely a big part of it is like teaching people actually like what needs to be done, and there is a messaging platform in there as well. To answer your other question, that's like coming out next week, I think. That will be updated finally. So we're super excited for that.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:12:00] Very cool. So okay, so going back to the core offering. So how does it work if you've got questions about the locum, do you just like is there a messaging way back and forth between you and the clinic or do you just pick up the phone and call the clinic manager or the physician you're seeking to replace and just, you know, sort out the finer details there?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:12:21] So it would just show you right away the contact details. You got one outgoing message if you were interested, you got to put some text in there and then it would send a thing and show you the contact details. But again, as of like literally any day now, finally we will have the messaging system implemented in there. So they'll be like peer-to-peer chat now, if you have questions you can reach out. Very low pressure, low committal. You know, our generation of millennials and most of the people doing the locuming right now are a little, you know, afraid to pick up the phone and talk to a human. So text-based interface, it'll be nice.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:12:52] Yeah, I got. What is the fee model for the core offering?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:12:58] So we got three things. Two of them haven't been released yet. The one that is on there so far, the partnerships model. So we actually have sponsorship deals with other companies that are doing really cool, innovative stuff in health care, clinical tools, things that will update your EMR workflow, things that will help you engage with your patients, all kinds of different like actual things. It's all these things that you've never heard of, right? Because advertising in medicine is incredibly expensive, right? Like there's tons of big conglomerates out there with large budgets that will send reps to your office.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:13:32] Well, we compete with Big Pharma. Big Pharma writes the biggest checks.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:13:37] Yeah, exactly. And so there's so much cool stuff out there that's happening that you've never heard of because these companies can't afford to have you hear of them in a lot of cases. So forming partnerships with them like stuff that actually like adds value to the physician's lives. And so that's like one of the fee models. And then just like any other LinkedIn, indeed, you can upgrade your post. So that'll be coming very soon if you want it to be seen at the top of the pile, you can pay to play and get some more exposure, which, you know, kind of the whole premise of the platform is that we really want to democratize recruiting, right? That's the thing right now is that most clinics, most organizations, they cannot afford to pay to play. And so that's why we have this very sophisticated freemium model where there's like a ton of value and ability to, like, get your jobs in your locums out there based on meritocracy as opposed to just purely like the relative size of your budget.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:14:30] Wow, isn't that great?


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:14:32] And then number three is the recruiter seat. So actually, if you want to like take that advanced functionality and really start doing the outreach, the active outreach, to other people on the network, that's a paid feature. So those are kind of like the three things that fuel the network.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:14:46] So listen, I'm not going to sit there and poke and prod you too much longer about it. I would encourage everybody who's listening to this to download the app. I did, and I love looking at it. I mean, I got, I'm very much busy enough as it is in my existing position, but I can see how much better this is than trying to track, track it down through, through traditional publications, trying to track down a locum through traditional publications or word of mouth or whatever. Right? And I think my big reflection on Cherry Health is that this is a massive productivity boost to the profession, right? Because at the beginning of this, Jordan, what you shared with us is your downtime, right? You know, here you are as a, you know, a young physician wanting to be in practice, but, you know, wanting to take your time to find out what you really like and what you want to be doing rather than just jumping and joining a practice. And so this locum app, you know, really allows you, Cherry Health really allows you to, as a physician, find, you know, maybe the thing that fits the best for you. But as across the profession, you can see that this offers a ton of value. Right? And it's not just, and I hate using the word productivity like at Physician Empowerment, we're always ranting about like it is not about churning more output in a given day. It is about living better, practicing your best medicine.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:16:11] But that work-life balance and like...


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:16:12] Exactly, exactly, right? Like it is, it's huge.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:16:16] So there's a couple problems in medicine right now, right? Like there's the absolute lack of physicians.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:16:23] Only growing.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:16:23] Which is just a mess across everywhere. Yeah, only getting worse. And then there's the second thing, which is the actual like relative fraction of locums that are going around right now, right? So if you talk to anybody, there's just an absolute paucity of locums out there. Like it's a struggle to recruit anybody. So I think by making it easier actually, like making a big giant digital shiny pipeline of locum work, a lot of the new grads are going to be, you know, kind of drawn to actually practicing in that manner. And then we're going to have less burnt-out physicians, right? So once we start actually balancing and making that match a little better of the established physicians versus the temporary relief coverage like that's going to be huge to actually just cutting back all the doctors that are retiring early, cutting back their practice, moving away, taking time off, reducing their clinical hours, doing things that are non-medical. Right? So that's going to be one of the biggest benefits of like, obviously not today, but like as the months and years roll on. Yeah.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:17:20] Oh long-term, right? I mean, this is the next step, right, in the labour shortage that we have across this country. Right? Because, you know, we're not about to suddenly get more doctors to address the shortage, but having them deployed in a better, more efficient way really matters. And I think, you know, again, reflecting on the other end of the spectrum, physicians that are late career and contemplating retirement, well, maybe they'll push that back if they can reliably get locums, right? Because if you can't get a locum and you know, you're 60, I mean, you know, 70-year-old doctor, which they're out there, you know, I work with one and you want to start slowing down, you want to start taking those vacations and you realize like, well, if I can't get a locum, well, then I'm just going to shut down my practice and retire, you know? So again, like there's just so many advantages here and it's truly inspiring to see what you're doing because I think it's a lot more than just a service, right? It's the opportunity to transform the profession and create better work-life balance for everybody, which we all need. That is a crisis within the profession. Absolutely a crisis within the profession.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:18:24] 100%.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:18:25] Okay. So, of course, like, what did I tell you? 20, 25 minutes and we keep going on and on. But tell me, Jordan, share some reflections about your journey thus far. Tell us a little bit about how you went from being a family medicine graduate to here you are as a physician entrepreneur because we constantly, at Physician Empowerment, we always have the, you know, physicians that are reaching out to us, that they're developing something on their own, whether it's clinic based or outside of medicine entirely, or health tech or whatever. But talk to us a little bit about your journey, some of your reflections, maybe a bit of wisdom along the way.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:19:02] Well it's kind of funny looking back in the rearview mirror, right? Like when we got started, like the company is almost three years old now, getting pretty close, like, did I think I would be here today? You know, like almost not doing hardly any clinical medicine four years after graduating my residency. Like, was that my intention from the get-go? Like, no, absolutely not. Right? Like I really enjoy like, actually, my Monday is where I see my patients most of the time. It's one of my favourite days of the week. I actually really like health care. But it's just that it kind of evolved, right? And there was this window of opportunity to like really enact some significant systems change and it just kept getting bigger. So we've kept following it and I've kind of been just tapering back my clinical practice like as needed by the company. Right? It all started out like we won The Joule Physician Innovation Prize, in January 21 for physician or was it Physician Health and Wellness was the category, right, just for this creating a tool to actually cut back on burnout and that work-life balance. And so that really catapulted things, like that opened so many doors like as a for-profit company, right? Like as a registered incorporation, like a lot of the time in health care, it's very difficult to actually like get meetings and get things done because it's like, oh, it's one of those evil corporations, right? But like having that actual endorsement coming from the top down of the regulatory body opened so many doors. So that immediately, like obviously the money was a huge boost to just productivity and being able to like build more stuff and more technology.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:20:36] But that opened so many doors, and so leveraging that, like talking to more people, getting in with some of the like health care organizations actually getting like more reach and more awareness of the system. Got that going. We turned that into then some funding. So actually like we closed some private investor funding last year. So that really like really, you know, things just kept kind of skyrocketing past that point. Then we had more staff, more team members. Everything just kept getting more sophisticated. Now we're up to, I think, like seven full-time people. We've got a few interns and apprentices. We've got a job description posted right now hiring for another marketing person. So we just continue to grow and kind of that window of opportunity to like really do some good for Canadian health care system just keeps getting bigger. And so we keep just following it. But it's been a fun journey.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:21:25] It's definitely very different from like all the normal doctory things we're used to doing. But it's been a really enjoyable journey. The people you meet, like going to the, you know, networking events and business minglers, meeting other people that are in the health care space. There actually is a fairly well-developed like innovation space in health tech, right? And actually, as of yesterday, we just found out that we've been accepted to a health accelerator program. Like as the startup, I'm not allowed to name it or embargo on. I don't know when this is coming out, when this will actually be published, but so we're super excited that we'll be working with some of the biggest basically agencies in health care in Alberta for the next few months on some of these things. So you just meet tons of interesting people that are doing all sorts of really fascinating things. And it's very cool. Like I hadn't really seen any of that previously. Right? You're kind of just, you got your blinders on of clinical operations and patient care and, you know, whatever the thing du jour is. But now that you take a step back and actually look at what's going on around us in the innovation system, there's so many interesting things happening.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:22:33] Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Okay, we're going to wrap it up.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:22:37] Yourself included, of course, like obviously like all your projects your company has on the go, all the stuff you guys are doing for physicians. Like that's how we match, right? It's just kind of like...


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:22:47] Yeah, honestly, I mean, a year and a half ago, somewhere around there, a little less than a year and a half ago, we were in Mexico teaching, doing our course. And like, if you'd asked me five years ago that I'd be lecturing in Mexico, I, you know, at a beautiful resort, I wouldn't have believed it. And knock on wood, we're off to the Galapagos in early 2023 for a big tour. So we'll see how that goes.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:23:10] That'll be a fun spot.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:23:11] You'll get an invitation. I'll come shake you down.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:23:13] Oh, perfect. Awesome.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:23:15] All right, good stuff. Let's wrap it up. Thank you so much again, everyone, this was Doctor Jordan Vollrath, founder of Cherry Health. Thank you.


Dr. Jordan Vollrath: [00:23:24] Awesome. Thank you so much, Kevin.


Dr. Kevin Mailo: [00:23:26] Thank you so much for listening to the Physician Empowerment Podcast. If you're ready to take those next steps in transforming your practice, finances, or personal well-being, then come and join us at - P H Y S Empowerment dot ca - to learn more about how we can help. If today's episode resonated with you, I'd really appreciate it if you would share our podcast with a colleague or friend and head over to Apple Podcasts to give us a five-star rating and review. If you've got feedback, questions or suggestions for future episode topics, we'd love to hear from you. If you want to join us and be interviewed and share some of your story, we'd absolutely love that as well. Please send me an email at [email protected]. Thank you again for listening. Bye.