This year, the Ukrainian-Swiss medical group Porcelain celebrates its 25th anniversary. During this time, it has grown to three dental clinics, two ophthalmologist departments, and an aesthetic medicine and spa centre. The founders of the clinic Olga Nemchenko and Patricia Shmorhun-Hawrylyshyn talk about how the idea to create a medical business was born, what difficulties they had to face, and how they see their further development.
How did you understand that you wanted to develop the field of medicine, dentistry and what was your goal when creating the Porcelain clinic?
Olga: Back in school, I thought about becoming a doctor, nevertheless, I decided to enter cybernetics. However, medicine always continued to interest me and my PhD thesis was interdisciplinary between two sciences: biology and mathematics. As for dentistry, this was a pure coincidence. I was acquainted with a dentist, who, in 1994, decided to create a private clinic and invited me to collaborate.
Patricia and I met as work had already begun, and for 25 years we have remained partners at Porcelain.
Patricia: As an expat in Russia and then Ukraine in the early 90s, I was limited to use foreign or VIP clinics. I did not believe that excellence was a question of the nationality of elitism. The opportunity to invest in a small two-chair dental practice presented itself. I was convinced that if we created a workplace with good western standard working conditions for our Ukrainian employees, we could provide an excellent service for Ukrainians and expats alike.
The challenges were to build trust within the team and with the public. We ran regular team-building sessions and provided service-oriented training for our staff, and worked with medical officers of different embassies to understand the standards of care and treatment they expected. Our mission was to deliver excellent care in a comfortable environment. This was the base from which we developed our Porcelain values of excellence, transparency, the importance of team, and safety over the next three years. The tandem between administration and medicine we created proved to be successful, which lead to our growth and expansion into ophthalmology and esthetics.
Talk about the key stages in the formation of your business? What difficulties did you encounter?
Olga: The first serious crisis overtook us in 1998 when the dollar jumped sharply, and this affected all aspects of our business. But over our three years of existence, we already had a strong team and well functioning and sustainable business. Thanks to this, we managed to survive this challenging period and to maintain the client base at the same level.
The second turning point was the departure of our head doctor. however, by that moment we developed a strong and very professional team, that was well-positioned to face this challenge and serve the clients at the highest professional standards.
Patricia: I agree, our first real test was year seven, when our head doctor decided to go off on his own. It had taken a lot of energy and time to develop a sound operating system and a value-based company in which he played an important role. Was our model strong enough to be repeated with someone different?
That was really to be the test to the foundation principles of the company and in the end became its guiding principle throughout the years. This is what I am proud of.
What principles do you follow in staff recruitment?
Olga: I believe we are an absolutely unique medical company because many doctors still work in the clinic from day one and on average our doctors have been with the company for 15-18 years. In 90% of cases, our doctors joint the company at entry-level and develop their careers with us. They come to us as interns, even sometimes as senior students. They work as dental assistants for several years, then as hygienists, and after five or six years, they start accepting patients on their own. It is a long way to go, but it is effective. For example, the head doctors in our clinics at Vozdvizhenka and Pechersk have devoted 20 years to the company and have become full-fledged partners.
How do you strike a balance between competence and service?
Olga: In our business, service requirements are very high. Recently, for example, we had a case when a client demanded a conversation with the management. The reason for her dissatisfaction was not the quality of services. It turned out that the administrator forgot to smile at her and this moment upset her a lot. We try to constantly improve the service in order to prevent such cases.
Patricia: Our first and still prevailing motto is gentle dental care. The patient must be welcomed in an atmosphere of trust and competence. This starts from the first greeting on the phone, to a warm atmosphere in the reception area, and personal attention to the patients’ needs.
Every employee plays his/her role in providing this space and experience for the patient and is therefore trained within his/her responsibilities and role within the team. You are only as strong as your weakest link and therefore each member of the team appreciates the value of his/her colleagues, whether in medicine, administration, or maintenance.
What are you most proud of at Porcelain over 25 years of
Olga: I am proud of the people with whom we are developing the clinic: they are not only excellent professionals, but we also share common values and see each other as colleagues and friends. Naturally, market reputation is also something we all proudly share.
Patricia: I am proud about our management style that empowers each employee with responsibility and care. We believe in sharing our success and invite our doctors to partner with us when we open a new clinic.
Tell us about your future plans?
Olga: We strive to maintain a balance between new market challenges, trends, and innovations that we have managed to build on over the 25 years. Development should never be at the expense of maintaining high standards.
I want every employee to consider the clinic as a place where he/she belongs and will always be supported in any development aspirations.
Patricia: The challenges change over the years and our strength is to remain attentive to those changes, remain open and critically constructive in evaluating our development, and always striving to improve ourselves as professionals. 25 years ago, it was about introducing a new workplace where employees were respected and driven towards excellence, rewarded accordingly, and appreciated as a whole person. Ten years ago, it was about expanding, investing, and establishing a network of clinics where we could offer the same level of care and service.
Looking forward, it is about continued multidisciplinary innovation in providing the best level of comprehensive treatment and service our patients deserve, continued training and growth opportunities for our staff, and continued involvement in our community as a socially responsible company just as we have been since the first year of operations. We are now treating our third generation of patients and as such have a holistic approach to those patients not only as a receiver of care but as a partner in health.