Do you think outside the box?
Today’s guest, Dr. Nii Darko, explains how he chose a different path after medical school and became a freelance surgeon. Hear why that made sense and even how he and his wife have built their family around this idea.
We can often get stuck in thinking life only has one-lane roads, but if we slow down and look for those hidden turns, we can find a life built from the ground up unique to us and designed and wired for success.
Seeing these turns isn’t easy, but as our guest shares today, it can be as easy as listening to a podcast about people thinking outside the box. It is a big reason this podcast, Causepods, exists to share ideas and solutions that allow people doing good to make a more profound impact.
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00:00:02.350 – Speaker 1
Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues. Please visit us at CausePods.org where you can learn about our guests, show their favorite charitable cause. Join our Facebook group of resources for CausePods podcasters and find a link where you yourself could be a guest here on CausePods.
00:00:33.970 – Speaker 1
Again, that’s all at CausePods.org.
00:00:40.030 – Speaker 2
We are keeping the show in New Jersey today chatting with Dr. Darko. He is the creator and host of Dock’s Outside the Box. And just before we get started, I’m going to tell you all right. Now, this is going to be a good one, Dr. Darko. Thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods today.
00:00:53.080 – Speaker 3
You know, Mathew, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here, man. I’m really excited to be here. Thank you.
00:00:57.100 – Speaker 2
I am so excited to hear about your show. But right. Just before we started to record, we were telling you a little bit about your background. So I want to take people through it because I’m sure it’s going to help to tell the story of why you’re doing this podcast. Who are some of the people that you’re trying to highlight? But first of all, like, what kind of doctor are you and what got you to this place in your career today?
00:01:18.460 – Speaker 3
Yeah, so I am a trauma surgeon, so I take care of people who have been acutely injured.
00:01:23.920 – Speaker 2
So easy stuff.
00:01:24.970 – Speaker 3
The easy the easy stuff. Right. Like low pressure situations.
00:01:29.260 – Speaker 3
Exactly. Exactly. So if you’re if people who are in a car accident, people have been assaulted, people who fall down stairs, I take care of those type of injuries. But I also am trained in general surgery. So I take care of if your appendix needs to come out, if you have small bowel issues, anything basically from below your neck to right at your pelvis, any of those organs I take care of. And I work in a fashion that’s called an independent contractor.
00:01:54.010 – Speaker 3
And what that means is I’m not employed by any hospital. I just kind of sell my services to the hospital. And that’s how I work.
00:02:00.520 – Speaker 2
I imagine that in the last 18 months or so, Bryan like I can see this going either way where either hospitals have needed your services in high demand because they were so taxed by what was going on. But I can also see a scenario where they were so focused on the pandemic that they weren’t doing a lot of other other procedures. Now trauma. Right. They can’t avoid that. So what has it been like for you over the last 18 months in the pandemic?
00:02:25.870 – Speaker 3
It’s been everything the first thing that you said. So they have been hiring us like crazy. So what I do, what’s really dope about what I do is like I’m like a triple threat. So I’m trained in general surgery so I can do regular general surgery, the hernias. I can take out your gallbladder, I can take out your appendix, write the letter to your gallbladder. And appendix, for the most part, is usually occurs in an emergency setting.
00:02:48.130 – Speaker 3
Like you can’t control that. But also I do trauma, like you said, you can’t when you walk out of your house, you don’t know that you’re going to be in a car accident or, you know, when you leave the bar, you don’t know that you might get jumped or you don’t know any of these things that may occur. You can’t control that. And a hospital can’t either. So they always have to have someone on call for that.
00:03:05.200 – Speaker 3
And then the other thing that I do is critical care. So just like how you have intensive care people who are you need to take care of them on a ventilator or what have you. I do that also. So all those three things encompass what I do. So the hospital needs us, particularly trauma surgeons, to do a whole bunch of different things. So if there’s no general surgery going on, then obviously something traumatic may happen or let’s say nothing traumatic may happen because less people are going out, which happened last year.
00:03:32.800 – Speaker 3
Well, they may need me to help people who have respiratory issues or may need to be on a vent, i.e., people who had covid-19 and so forth. So they kind of need us to do a lot of these different things.
00:03:43.240 – Speaker 2
How does one decide to be sort of an independent contractor surgeon that just I’m sure it’s more common than I realized right in my world. I’ve never heard of anything like it. Right. I go to a regular doctor and there’s a hospital that we have to visit if we go things and the residential doctors and surgeons there. But how does one decide to, you know, kind of be like a for lack of a better term? And on the podcast, there’s no like a freelance surgeon.
00:04:08.680 – Speaker 3
That’s what it is exactly. So it’s it’s not very common. It’s becoming more and more common, definitely, as physicians are taking more control of their life and lifestyle. And as we start to embrace or hospitals and the medical community in general starts to embrace something that’s called shiftwork. Right. That’s something that twenty, thirty years ago was an anathema, basically. Like people didn’t talk about that. If you operated on someone, if you took care of someone, you were attached to your pager, you were attached to that hospital.
00:04:39.340 – Speaker 3
You were attached to that patient from whenever you touch them to, you know, the end, basically. But nowadays we’re realizing that maybe it’s it’s healthier to have more of a balance on your lifestyle. So what happens is we build these teams, the hospital builds a team, for example. There’s a team of trauma surgeons that I work with. Maybe it’s three, four or five and not one patient belongs to us. Right? Nobody belongs to one physician.
00:05:03.100 – Speaker 3
So so to speak. So let’s say you come in and I take care of you for whatever reason it may be. Well, I’ll take care of you for twelve hours or I’ll take care of you for 24 hours. But then I got to go rest. Right. Like you don’t want me working on you for thirty six hours or taking care of you for 36, 48, 72 hours straight without care. Just like you wouldn’t want your pilot flying a plane or you know, being on duty for a certain amount of hours straight.
00:05:25.660 – Speaker 3
So what happens is, is when I go home, my partner takes care of you and they, my partner takes care of you as if it was his patient. And then if he brings in additional patients and when it’s time for him to take a break. Then I take care of you again after I get a break in and I take care of his respective patients the same way, and that allows him to be able to be home. That allows me to be home.
00:05:47.240 – Speaker 3
That allows me to be on. When I’m on, I’m on. And when I’m off, I’m off. And that’s been a huge I think that’s been a really big positive in how we take care of our patients, but also how we as physicians just in general live our lives. So that’s just the whole concept of just being a freestyle surgeon or what we call Locum Tennant’s surgeon.
00:06:07.340 – Speaker 2
And I suppose the reason why you do this in pairs two is so that the patient is getting some continuity of care. Right. It’s not just up. Here’s another random stranger. I’ve got to go through my entire medical history again. There’s another new random surgeon. I’m going to go back to my memory like you can. You can have a plan together and execute it together and be on the same page.
00:06:25.910 – Speaker 3
Absolutely. And also, you are with a team of people who practice medicine, for the most part, the same way. When you get really microscopic, there are some small little nuances that are different. But from a 30000 foot view, we take care of patients all the same way. So that’s why I said the patient is not really mine. It’s the team’s patient. And I trust my you know, my colleague, so to speak, that they will do things the way how I normally do things or within the standard of care.
00:06:50.480 – Speaker 3
And we’ll get a good outcome for the patient. And also, I get at the same time, I get a good night’s rest. I get to spend time with my family, my kids, and do the things that I want to do, like podcast.
00:06:59.030 – Speaker 2
Did you always know you want to go into medicine?
00:07:01.280 – Speaker 3
Yeah. At an early age, yeah. I’d say definitely before the age of ten I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. Now when I started to realize how realistic that would be and how difficult would be, you know, now we’re talking about, you know, high school as well as college. And you start to realize, like all the different hoops that you got to go through. But at an early age, yeah, I wanted to be a doc.
00:07:21.260 – Speaker 2
And you had a fairly interesting journey to get there. You’re telling me before you came on the show that you bounced around a little bit from New York to New Jersey to Missouri to to Florida, what was, you know, high level look? What was some of the steps that got you to where you are today?
00:07:35.990 – Speaker 3
Yeah, man. Like basically embracing a concept as you get you get in where you fit in.
00:07:40.100 – Speaker 2
Right? Like, I like that you get in where you fit and you get in where you fit in, you make it happen. So that’s the 30000 macro view, basically a theme of my career. And, you know, like you said, I grew up in New York partially, and in the other half. I grew up in Irvington, New Jersey. And I remember taking a bus from, you know, where I live to my high school, which was in Newark, New Jersey.
00:08:00.920 – Speaker 2
I would take that bus. And along that route, that route there was a medical school at that time was called UMD and NJ, you know, Newark. And I remember, like, just I want to be at that school. I want to go to the school. This is the place that I want to be at. And when I got into college, the same thing. Right. Like I wanted to go to that school and I didn’t get in.
00:08:18.890 – Speaker 2
I didn’t get in. And anybody who knows, you know, getting to medical school is really difficult. About a third of the applicants to any respective medical school will get in. Right. So it’s very, very difficult to get into school. So I ended up going to a medical school, not in New York, New Jersey area. I ended up going to a medical school in Kansas City, Missouri. And initially I thought that man like I can’t get into school in New York, New Jersey, I must have failed.
00:08:43.490 – Speaker 2
So I’m going to go to the school in Kansas City. And it actually changed and put my life in a different career path like this. Medical school was amazing. The way in which we studied medicine was completely different than how I was studying in college. And as a result, I actually found medical school actually quite easy. It was difficult from the rigors of having to memorize. And I liken it to drinking from a water fountain or excuse me, drinking from like a fire hydrant, like drinking water from that in terms of the information you have to consume.
00:09:11.090 – Speaker 2
But the way in which they taught us was something that, you know, was just amazing for me and the people I met and the experiences that I had. And then from there, you know, when I finished medical school, I went down to my residency. This is where I’m focusing on general surgery. I went down to Morehouse School of Medicine, which is in Atlanta, Georgia. That was another phenomenal place. I was there for five years.
00:09:32.240 – Speaker 2
And and from there, I went down even further south to Miami, University of Miami, and I was there for a year. They did trauma to do trauma surgery. You just put up the you.
00:09:40.730 – Speaker 2
I did. I had to throw my you have to have twenty three alone. For those who haven’t heard about that on the podcast, which I probably have spoken about much. All right. So cool career. Great work that you’ve done. Interesting journey to get there. So now one day you’re sitting there, you’re like I think I can start a podcast. What, what is that all about?
00:09:59.450 – Speaker 3
So that is about if you hear how I described my life, I went from here to there to this to there. Like, if you ask anybody who is in health care or anybody who’s a health care professional, particularly medical school medical students and residents, you live your life for years at a time, right? Four years of college, four years of medical school, a certain amount of years of residency and something after that for me, I spent the majority of my time while I was in college just kind of fantasizing of what it’s like to be in medical school, but not really enjoying college Passy, if you know what I mean.
00:10:29.420 – Speaker 3
When I was in medical school, the same thing, loved being in medical school, but I was just like, man, I can’t wait to be a resident, do surgery and so forth. And that thought process kind of continued into I finished. When I finished right, I was in my mind like, well, what else am I going to do? All right. It was just like, no, there’s nothing else. There’s no other challenge.
00:10:46.520 – Speaker 3
Now, the challenges practice become the best surgeon that you can be. And this is what you’re going to do for the next 20, 30 years and then you retire. And that didn’t sit right with me. I don’t know why. I just didn’t sit right with me. I needed something else to do. And I’m not saying that medicine or being a surgeon is not challenging enough. It is. But there’s there’s something else that I just wanted to do.
00:11:05.810 – Speaker 3
There was a way which I wanted to impact society in a different way. Plus, you know, on top of that, I had between me and my wife, we had almost six hundred and sixty two thousand dollars of student loan debt. I didn’t understand my finances and I was just consuming podcast like crazy. But I noticed that there weren’t any podcasts where docs were talking about paying off their debt specifically, as well as kind of just wanting to do other things besides clinical medicine.
00:11:30.890 – Speaker 3
So, you know, I saw an opening, a void, and I just said, let me create the podcast that I always want to listen to. I had some friends who were doctors who were doing some really cool stuff. And I said, let me start interviewing them, put in a wax, start a podcast in 2016, April. I started it and we’re here now.
00:11:47.030 – Speaker 2
Did you say you put it on wax?
00:11:49.010 – Speaker 3
Yeah, well, you know, I’m older, so, you know, that’s the best way I can. That’s the best metaphor I could use.
00:11:54.440 – Speaker 2
And if you want to hear docs in the box, you can sign up for a Columbia subscription. They’ll send you for records for one penny. And then you remember those days. You remember those days? Yes, I remember those days. If you are serious and you want to check that out, it’s Dr. Ne Darko D-R and I’d come to find the podcast. So what did you know about podcasting and what did you have to learn? I mean, obviously you are you’ve got a ton of education, a ton of schooling, a ton of experience.
00:12:21.740 – Speaker 2
But, you know, what did you know about doing this when you decide to jump in and launch the show?
00:12:26.770 – Speaker 3
Nothing nil, if the audience can see I’m putting up zero. I knew nothing about podcasting. I was a horrible public speaker. I considered myself at the time a public, a horrible public speaker. So I had to learn the hard way how to podcast, which means, you know, as anybody knows what podcasting is not like YouTube, which I liken to like the McDonald’s approach to creating video. Right. Like everything is on the same app you create on the app you consume on an app.
00:12:50.980 – Speaker 3
It’s not like that in podcasting. So I had to figure out a way how to make this all happen. But I think the biggest thing that I had to get over was just me being comfortable with me being myself, me interviewing people, me going through to ums, the oz, the awkward pauses. And, you know, just even right now, just kind of just embracing just, you know, awkward silences and asking people, hey, would you want to come on my show to talk about something that’s never really been talked about?
00:13:16.520 – Speaker 3
That was the hardest part. And then when people ask you questions like, dude, like you are a trauma surgeon, like life is really good for you, like, why do you still want to do this? Like, where do you find the time to do that? Those are some of the hard things that I had to embrace and get over. But if you asked me to give this all up and just practice, which, like I said, there’s there’s a lot of nobility in that and I love it, I tell, you know, like, there’s no way I could just go back to just operating.
00:13:41.290 – Speaker 3
I have to do this and operate at the same time. I just I can’t give this up. This is this part of my ethos as operating now.
00:13:47.920 – Speaker 2
It’s so interesting because when all my life I’ve been working in radio, broadcasting, podcasting, and when we would have a bad night or something would go wrong, I remember one of my producers will look at me like, dude, don’t worry, we’re not doctors. Nobody is going to die if we mess up the radio show and like you have this ultra important life saving job. And then you get to do this like are you able to separate the pressure you put on yourself as a surgeon with the pressures you were putting on yourself as a broadcaster?
00:14:20.080 – Speaker 3
I am now. That’s a really good question. Like that can go on so we can go down the rabbit hole. I know time is limited, but that can go down the rabbit hole. So let me just tell you something. Right now in medicine in general, when you’re taught to train as a physician, particularly when you are a resident. So a resident is someone who is learning to do a certain specialty. But they’re they’re kind of doing with training wheels on.
00:14:40.210 – Speaker 3
When you are training in that type of fashion, everything is your fault. From if a lab is not drawn, which is done by a phlebotomist in a hospital or an X-ray is not done on time. It’s always your fault. Always anything that happens to the patient is your fault. And when you start practicing on your own, you kind of take that mindset of everything is my fault. But if you translate that to business or you translate that into podcasting, or if you translate that to anything outside of medicine, you realize that that’s extremely inefficient.
00:15:10.750 – Speaker 3
Right. Like the CEO cannot be the CFO and cannot be the CTO and you can’t do everything you have to delegate. And that’s that was very difficult for me at first to realize that as a podcast there, you know, maybe my job as a podcast, there’s not to be the best editor as well as the best uploader of the information and the best social media person. So I have to be able to just pick one thing and do that really well and be able to separate that mindset of or having to be able to do everything 100 percent.
00:15:39.970 – Speaker 3
And, you know, put that in podcasting. I can’t do that. So that was one of the biggest things that I had to get over. And I think most physicians will tell you the same thing, whether they do business or something, even micro that’s outside of medicine. It’s that mindset of having to be perfect that I think holds us back a lot. Is this perfection is, you know, ultimately the way in which, you know, you have procrastination and so forth.
00:16:02.110 – Speaker 3
So I’ll leave it at that.
00:16:03.850 – Speaker 2
So you talked to other doctors on the show. You try to help them with what you call your three M’s money, mindset and mission. But what have been some of the most positive takeaways of doing the show and I mean, frankly, creating a community of your peers with this project.
00:16:21.820 – Speaker 3
So I think that, you know, when it’s time for me to be in a retirement bed or if I leave, you know, like what I want inscribed on my tombstone or what the legacy I want to leave is that I made it. I participated in making a little bit easier for medical professionals to say that I’m not just the doc or I’m not just a professional, like I can give or have an impact on society outside of just the hospital and the clinic.
00:16:47.650 – Speaker 3
Right. So that’s something that I just want to go down. I want that to be on my tombstone that I helped kind of take that chip away or, you know, decrease the hardness or the armor on that. So for me, it’s literally showcasing doctors who are just doing dope, things like how did doctors get on TV? How did doctors coach other doctors? How did doctors like Sanjay Gupta become Sanjay Gupta? You know, like how the doctors, you know, end up owning, you know, real estate, how do they do all these different things so that medical students and residents can see that, hey, like, there are multiple ways that I can be positive or give a positive effect to society outside of what I do.
00:17:22.810 – Speaker 3
And also with money, that thing is. You know, as you know, student loans are a major issue for doctors, and I think what we’re starting to realize that money confers a certain sense of control. Money is a tool. It’s really not just something that we hoard so that we can buy our favorite car, but it really gives us the freedom to do what we really want to do.
00:17:44.450 – Speaker 2
What has been so after 230 plus episodes, based on when folks are listening to this, I mean, you’ve already given us a ton of great knowledge and wisdom as far as what you’ve learned from your experience as a doctor that you transferred over to doing the podcast. But, you know, for possibly your other peers or the medical professional or just anybody else who is passionate about what they do and they want to give a podcast, they want to give back to others in their community.
00:18:09.590 – Speaker 2
What have been some of the biggest lessons or takeaways from running this project?
00:18:13.820 – Speaker 3
Oh, no doubt. No doubt is, is that everybody has a super power. Everyone who’s listening to this show has a super power. And that super power I’ve learned is your journey, your story, you being to share whatever journey, potholes, highs, lows, whatever it is, there’s someone who will benefit from you sharing that story and whether you’ve been, you know, whether you’ve been bullied, whether you failed at a business or whether you failed in school, whether whatever it may be, the ability for you to share it at someone would definitely benefit from that.
00:18:47.750 – Speaker 3
And I tell that to people who are in the medical profession who want to start a podcast. And I tell that to people who are not who are not in health care, who want to start podcasting. And I tell them that so that they know, look, it’s really important to not bring up or to create this facade of the perfect person that you want your audience to hear from. It’s more important for you to just be you, right, because you got a Ph.D. and that nobody else has a Ph.D. in that.
00:19:11.270 – Speaker 3
And that’s what’s going to resonate with people, not the perfect TED talk version of who you think you should be.
00:19:17.870 – Speaker 2
So as part of your appearance here, we also like to have people raise awareness for their favorite charity or cause. You’ve mentioned the Student National Medical Association and a dog. Tell us about what cinema does and why they’re so important to you.
00:19:32.300 – Speaker 3
Yes. So S.A.M. is a 501 three, C or C three. I forget the numbers, but it’s an organization where it’s the largest student run organization that focuses on getting minorities into health care. So if people don’t know, literally, if you are from a minority background, you’re more likely to go into underserved populations and serve where we have a huge physician or health care shortage. So this organization really focuses on creating programs and initiatives and pipelines to get as many minorities, underrepresented minorities into medical school, as well as to succeed in medical school and ultimately to give back.
00:20:09.800 – Speaker 3
This is an organization that I’ve been involved with literally since 2002. My wife’s been involved in. It also is just something that I want people to consider and think about and to consider supporting, because ultimately we all benefit from that, particularly if we live in rural and really underserved areas of the United States.
00:20:27.110 – Speaker 2
What is the best way for someone to contribute, whether it’s monetarily or with their time or something like that? What’s the best way to help out S.A.M.?
00:20:35.540 – Speaker 3
The best way to help out S.A.M. is to go to the website. There’s an area where you can go and you can fundraise. Just go to the OR support what funds as a place where you can go to and you can learn everything about S.A.M. as well as you can learn and participate with S.A.M.. Now, if you want to talk to someone who is an alumni or who’s participating in that, you can always contact me at Dr. WNY Darko on anywhere on social media.
00:20:58.820 – Speaker 3
And I can I’ll be happy to walk you through and talk you through what cinema does.
00:21:03.120 – Speaker 2
Very, very cool, and so you said your wife is also active. She also a medical professional?
00:21:07.920 – Speaker 3
Yes. Yes. That’s how we got to six hundred sixty two thousand dollars is due to loan debt. So we we met she’s from Brooklyn, New York, East New York. And it’s funny, we never knew each other in New York, but we met all the way in Kansas City, Missouri. We started off as study partners. And the rest is, you know, the rest is history. But we both you know, we’re in medical school together.
00:21:25.440 – Speaker 3
She ended up going into Pobby and I went into surgery and we combined our debts together and we got that paid off. So that’s another thing that we we like to talk to people about.
00:21:34.920 – Speaker 2
And she is she also a hobby for hire, like a freelance hobby, or she have more of a permanent location?
00:21:41.040 – Speaker 3
No, she is an O.B. for hire. She considers herself a stay at home OLBY. So what that means is primarily she’s at home with our two kids helping them, but she’ll take weekends and she’ll do some Olby work, obviously, but she calls herself a stay at home OB. But, you know, once we got our student loans paid off, it really changed the way in which we look at our family. And, you know, what’s really important.
00:22:02.850 – Speaker 3
And once we did that, she was like, you know what? I’d like to spend more time at home. And I said, yeah, let’s do it. You know, we have the financial means to do it. Let’s make it happen.
00:22:11.310 – Speaker 2
So once again, if you want to check out the show, Dr. WNY, Darko, D-R and I, RKO, of course, we’ll be link to it on the show, notes S.A.M., a dog student National Medical Association. Again, a link in the show notes and follow Dr. Darko. Just look for Dr. WNY Darko and I Freney anywhere on the social networks. This has been a fantastic conversation. Such a pleasure to meet you and hear your story and just.
00:22:40.590 – Speaker 2
Yeah, I’m so impressed by everything that you’re doing and wish you continued success in everything. Dr. Darko, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us here today.
00:22:48.360 – Speaker 3
Mathew. This was dope. Thank you for the opportunity. If everybody wants to learn more about how I think and how we talk and what we do, please subscribe to Docs outside the box using your favorite podcast app on Apple podcast, Google podcasts, anywhere where you listen to your favorite podcast.
00:23:00.300 – Speaker 1
Ronder, thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org. There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here. In this episode, you will also find a CausePods.org Barletta subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.
00:23:38.370 – Speaker 1
And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends, a pod page. But you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast.
00:24:02.370 – Speaker 1
Consulted Dotcom once again. If you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.