CEO Has an Eye for Perspective

Gabriela Medina
South Coast Retina Center CEO Alison Ratliff

Being a great leader comes with great responsibility. Time management is part of being a great leader, especially when there are several responsibilities to handle all at once.

For Alison L. Ratliff, chief executive officer at Long Beach’s South Coast Retina Center (SCRC), her responsibility in running the practice with a “keen eye on the ever-changing medical environment” has not only been rewarding to herself but inspiring to others.

Her retinal surgeon colleague, Dr. Michael Roh, is very impressed and proud of Ratliff’s contribution to the 50-year-old practice and to the community.

Roh has been at SCRC since 2006 and has seen the senior doctors retire after about 40 years. He and the other young doctors needed help, as they were trained as physicians and not for running a business. They were fortunate to have met Ratliff in 2008 when she was in her late 20s and working at another retina practice in Santa Barbara.

“I think so highly of her. What we found in the fast-paced medical world that we’re in now is that we needed someone like Alison. She is business-minded and was able to help us become more efficient and provide care for our patients in a safe, clean environment,” Roh said.

“She’s really been wonderful. She comes from a coaching background and played collegiate sports. She has built a solid team of employees that trust her, learned to work with and develop. She’s able to do everything, and that’s really special – something you don’t find in a lot of company CEOs.”

It is Ratliff’s knowledge that has her at the top of her field as a medical administrator. While finishing college in 2017, she started at SCRC as a part-time medical records file clerk, with the intention of becoming an attorney. She decided to stay at the center longer, where she gained experience at the front desk, back office, as a medical assistant, billing administrator assistant and more.

“The culmination over the last decade or so has been at the higher-level administrative side, where I use my past experience to help each employee in their roles because I once worked in that employee’s position,” said Ratliff.

Ratliff has developed a leadership team within the practice, to give younger, back-office technicians interested in medicine or nursing careers an opportunity to challenge themselves and learn how to take on responsibility. We consider them as classes before graduating on to whatever program they desire. “Alison’s gone so far as to buy a recent employee’s first stethoscope,” said Roh.

Ratliff said, “We created this leadership team at South Coast Retina. The idea behind it is to start building your own dream and not building someone else’s.”

Her knowledge and experience are only half of what makes Ratliff a great leader, it is her enormous heart that is always advocating for the patients and the staff. As one of the exercises in the leadership team, she had each technician tie an elastic band around their knees, to understand the perspective from their 75- to 95-year-old patients with walkers.

Ratliff timed the participants from the parking lot, to the elevator and finally to a chair so that they can understand what their senior patients were going through, thus allowing the employees to be able to empathize and understand why the patient was ten minutes late.

“I think working in the field has impacted my perspective. If I were to have looked at things when I was younger, there was a lack of reality at certain points. When many people start their careers, they think that the career track is going to happen as they’ve seen it in movies or on TV. But in practice, you realize that that’s not realistic,” Ratliff said.

“It’s taught me that nothing is hard. Some things just take longer than others. I feel like the biggest lesson is to first put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you continue to walk down any path.”

It is very important to Ratliff that their patients receive this kind of treatment, this kind of care, as it reminds her of her elderly father who had passed away a few years ago. She realized from his point of view, that it was much easier for younger, able-bodied members of the community to do certain tasks that are more difficult for the sick or elderly ones.

“So even when we redesigned our office, the chairs that I put in the waiting room were chairs that my dad would have been able to get out of easily. Because knowing what it’s like for the elderly population – which is the majority of our patients – standing up and sitting down repeatedly is exhausting. And we really don’t put that into perspective unless it’s something that we’ve lived through with another family member.

“The patients are so important to me because honestly, I look at each and every one of them as if they were my father. And just knowing that he wouldn’t have wanted to wait in a waiting room very long,” Ratliff said.

Alison Ratliff is a strong and caring woman, who thrives to understand those who surround her. Her uplifting and positive energy has inspired others and it has made her feel very proud that she is acting as a role model to initiate change.

She wishes nothing but the best for others, as she reminds them to be open-minded and see life from different perspectives.


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