CEO & founder, Harding Medical Institute
ORLANDO - Deborah Harding has taken the advice of her mother, Elizabeth Fairchild, and made it a way of life: “Work hard, play hard, work harder to achieve your dreams.”
Harding did it when she was a young girl, the oldest of five children working for her parents, who were self-made property developers and bankers in the Washington, D.C., area. She kept doing it as she attended the University of Virginia, medical school at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and as the completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at what was then the Orlando Regional Healthcare System.
Hard work was key to her success again as she and her husband/business partner, Victor Harding, MD, opened Sand Lake Medical Associates in 1987, where she practiced for 19 years while raising six children.
“When we first opened that office, I’d be laying floor tiles and take breaks to see patients,” she remembered. “The practice was very successful and we expanded to Metro West.” But in 2006, Harding decided she not only wanted to take on new challenges, but to shift her paradigm for healthcare. Thus began the dream that has now evolved into the Harding Medical Institute.
“The model we’ve had for medicine was ‘fix it when it’s broken,’ and reimbursement was based on how many patients you see, not how good of a job you did,” said Harding, 58. “My goal was to change the way medicine is practiced. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I think my model is pretty good, and I’m hoping to figure out a way to make it more universal and for people to see the benefits. There’s a way to do it at all different levels,” she said.
The model Harding has built is a concierge practice that is based on the premise there is no one-size-fits-all approach to patient care. Her approach is proactive and uses “advanced technologies, concepts and techniques” as she specializes in preventive and anti-aging medical care, she said.
“We catch things early because we spend more time with our patients and use more sophisticated tests,” she said, likening her tenets for patient care to two of her favorite television shows, Marcus Welby, MD and Star Trek. “We mix traditional with non-traditional” advanced medicine, she said, as she evaluates and treats her patients, many of whom are executives who purchase a monthly or annual subscription that grants them, among other privileges, direct access to the physician and same-day appointments, either in-person or by telephone or Skype. “We’re on time, unhurried … and they have our full attention,” said Harding, who, in addition to internal medicine, is board certified in anti-aging and regenerative medicine, sleep disorder medicine and has earned certification in Cenegenics Age Management Medicine.
Concierge services offered at the Harding Institute vary widely, but all are steeped in disease prevention, early detection and slowing the aging process, including: health evaluations and corporate physicals, hormone replacement therapies (for men and women), medical weight loss programs, nutrition, sleep disorder evaluations and treatments, counseling for stress, comprehensive blood testing, athletic performance and fitness plans, and appearance medicine (BOTOX, skin peels, etc.).
“You’d be amazed at the different types of people I take care of,” said Harding, who also markets her own mixes of vitamins and supplements.
As her patients might expect, Harding also takes a proactive role in her personal fitness and appearance. In 2009 she competed in the Mrs. Florida Pageant, where she received the “People’s Choice Award.” As the oldest contestant in the pageant (52), it reinforced her reason for entering the pageant: “I wanted to show others you are never too old to follow your dreams,” Harding said. “It was an amazing experience. A lot of work, but everything I did for the pageant taught me skills that I use today.”
To stay in shape, Harding spends the first hour of every day alternating weightlifting, running, Pilates and stepping on an elliptical, usually while answering emails on her iPad.
Harding also rows. She and her three sons – two of whom crewed at Ivy League schools – competed in the Southern Indoor Rowing Championships, where Harding placed fifth. Soon she hopes to compete soon in the World Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston. “I’m a big advocate of exercise, especially for women who do so much for so many, but sometimes forget to take care of themselves,” she said.
Harding continues to pass down her mother’s work-hard, play-hard advice to her children, now aged 31-18. The family spends every Thanksgiving in Washington, D.C., to volunteer and raise money for the nonprofit organization Children’s National Medical Center. “This has been an important tradition … I have been able to teach volunteerism to my children and watch (them) learn how to give back, giving my husband and me a wonderful feeling of accomplishment,” said Harding. “Our kids are all over the U.S., so this is a good way for us to get together and do some good work at the same time.”
Harding and her family, especially son David, also a physician, assist the non-profit organization RELIEF (Relieving and Embracing Lives Interrupted by Earth’s Forces). “I have helped raised $1.2 million dollars in food and medical supplies for Haitian earthquake victims,” said Harding. “David has been to Haiti, Mississippi, St. Louis, Colorado and Japan as a second-responder with RELIEF.”
Locally, Harding works with the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the Central Florida Women’s League, which provides scholarships to women who cannot afford college.
Christmas is another holiday the Hardings have designed with family in mind. “We celebrate on Christmas Eve with a special dinner full of many traditions that were passed down by my parents. The father gives each child a small piece of garlic to give them strength for the year. The mother blesses each child with honey to give them sweetness in their lives throughout the year. We eat a small simple unleavened circular bread. The bread symbolizes the circle and importance of family. We eat a simple lentil soup to remind us to be grateful for everything we have in our lives and grateful for the food on the table. We light the same candle every year to continue the light of the family. We also light a candle that sits in corn to hopefully allow us to have food on the table. After, we go on to a normal Christmas dinner,” Harding shared.
She and her husband also have fun observing a hybrid holiday that only Harding’s mother Elizabeth really appreciates. When Harding met Victor she was only 17; he was 25. “Mom said ‘Victor, I like you but … over my dead body!’” Harding laughed. “She loves him like a son now, but we still celebrate “Over My Dead Body Day.” This Aug. 17, the couple will mark that milestone for the 39th time.
As for Mom, she’s 94 years old and exemplifying the “work harder” advice she gave to her daughter by taking a taxi to work five days a week into the nation’s capitol, where she still oversees Fairchild & Company.
Perhaps that longevity suggests Harding’s interest in anti-aging medicine is genetic, as well as scientific.