When Theresa Lewis' husband, Bruce, a physician assistant, first came to her with the idea that they combine their talents and open their own workplace health-care clinic, she didn't immediately jump on board. As an electrical engineer, she had a good job already at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
But Lewis also has the heart of an entrepreneur. In fact, she and Bruce had worked together on several enterprises since their days at Morgan State University, when they started selling sandwiches and chicken boxes to fellow students in the dorms.
"I like a challenge," Lewis says, with a laugh.
And so in June 2004, they opened the doors to Total Urgent Care in Edgewood with the goal of providing health-care services for employees of local businesses. Lewis took on the role of business manager. But things got off to a rough start: They'd been promised a contract with a local business, and it didn't happen. On Day One, remembers Theresa, they had three employees but no clients.
They came up with a plan. A friend had counseled them that people like doing business with people they know, so they got busy. "We starting joining organizations and got active in the community networking," says Lewis, whose family lives in Edgewood.
The strategy worked, and the business grew. And grew. In 2008, they landed a contract with the Harford County government and realized they needed more space. They moved to their current 3,000-square-foot office just minutes from I-95 in Edgewood.
Lewis says that originally she was worried that she might not have the training she needed to manage the business operations, but as time went on, she realized that she had the right problem-solving skills. She studied competitors to see what they offered. She hired staff, insisting on people who "bought into our vision of great customer service." She developed a successful marketing campaign.
One of her goals from the start was to expand their ability to help people who didn't come to them through workplace contracts but who simply needed immediate medical care. The Lewises saw it as their mission to care for even the uninsured, sometimes offering their services for free if the patient had no means to pay.
"I like being able to do that," says Lewis. "We can be a blessing to people." She notes that she and Bruce consider the business their ministry.
This year, Total Urgent Care increased its staff and expanded its office hours into evenings and weekends to better accommodate their urgent care patients. There are now 14 employees who service somewhere between 75 and 100 clients on "the business side," as Lewis calls it.
Theresa and Bruce have won awards for their efforts. In 2010, they received the Harford Award for service. Last November, the Greater Baltimore Committee honored them with a Bridging the Gap Achievement Award for a "Minority/Women-Owned Business that has demonstrated outstanding achievement."
But Lewis is not one to rest on her laurels. She is already focusing on ways to take the business "to the next level." She says she's ready for new challenges, whatever they may be, as "you never know where life is going to take you."
Off the clock with Lewis
Favorite book: The Bible Channels she's most likely to watch: HGTV and Food Network Favorite at-home challenge: Finding healthier ways to cook Southern dishes Favorite ways to spend free time: Traveling and having fun with her husband and their three children What you might not know about her: She went through a "catering phase" and once thought she might open a restaurant.