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A Community of Do-ers

September 5, 2016
When you have weight loss surgery, you expect to be reshaped physically, but for Elizabeth Dovec's patients, it's a mental, emotional and social shift as well.

Since arriving at GBMC in July 2013, Dr. Dovec has performed more 1,500 bariatric weight loss surgeries. But she said the single best thing she did in her career was start a private Facebook group for patients.

"It's the ultimate Angie's List," she said. "It honestly started as a way to get my name out there, but I have learned so much from my patients through interacting with them."

Dr. Dovec came to GBMC to be a bariatric surgeon as her first job out of fellowship. She hit the ground running with letting people know who she was, but the community engagement effort has come full circle.

Betsy Dovec, MD, Bariatric Surgeon at GBMC
Betsy Dovec, MD, Bariatric Surgeon at GBMC
In January 2015, Dr. Dovec, in partnership with GBMC's marketing department, began a 5K training program for those in GBMC's Comprehensive Obesity Management Program to aid in jumpstarting their pre-surgery weight loss as well as promoting GBMC's annual fundraising event – the annual Father's Day 5K. More than 100 people participated in COMPto5K, training once a week, culminating in running the Father's Day 5K – some participants' first race experience.

However, some didn’t stop there. Motivated by the camaraderie they built, 29 participated in the Baltimore Running Festival when GBMC created a fundraising team to support the four-race event on October 15. Some worked on improving their 5K pace, while others opted for longer distances in the relay.

GBMC hosts several fundraising events and community events throughout the year. And while they bring together many different facets of GBMC's family, the participation from the COMP has been the most vigorous and enthusiastic crowd. What makes those in the program so pumped to be involved?

"Surgery changes them," Dr. Dovec said. "Their lives are touched and they are doing things they never thought they would ever do, and they have a strong desire to encourage and inspire others.

"For one random, bariatric surgery information session (which occur monthly), I invited former patients to share their story if they wanted to, and I opened it up to anybody, not really knowing what the response would be. I had 85 patients show up wanting to share their experience. It was mind blowing.

"They feel what it's like to sit in the chair in the audience and feel skeptical and unsure of yourself and your ability to go through the program. They want to say to these people, 'I was you! I sat there and thought the same thing. You can do it!'"

There are 3,300 members of the COMP Facebook group, and Dr. Dovec herself is very active in it. With all of the surgeries she performs annually, the new patient consults, the follow-ups – not to mention the December 28, 2015 addition of a little blonde baby girl named Adrienne to the mix – it must be hard to find time to fit interacting with patients on social media.

"I learn more about their experience through this group," Dr. Dovec said. "It has reshaped the advice I give patients because I now understand where they are coming from and what they have been through. I have never been overweight or had weight loss surgery, so talking and listening to them, watching them interact, informs my approach at times."

In addition to the training program, Dr. Dovec hosted a reunion at Legacy Chase where 200 participants attended, and she has hosted Christmas parties in the past, complete with before/after shots and runway reveals. She also offers cooking classes with a former bariatric patient both in-person and live on Facebook.

GBMC's COMP has the largest market share in Maryland. It might be because of the investment in the program, the resources provided such as two in-house dieticians, or the facility. But most likely it is Dr. Dovec.

"It's a huge responsibility to take care of these patients, and one I don't take lightly," she said. "Some of these people have been struggling for years with their weight and they have to open up to me – a complete stranger – about it. It is humbling, but also incredibly rewarding."
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