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Nikki Lang, MD

Dr. Lang was born into this world destined to be a maverick. Her father said to the obstetrician, "A case of scotch if it's a boy!" And the sole sentence that announced her birth was the obstetrician's reply hours later, "I'm not a scotch drinker anyway..." Named after her maternal grandfather, Harry, she hated her name, so she changed it to Nikki. And as early as age seven, her grade school report cards were illustrative of the maverick she was—and would become. They read: "She works very independently," and "She's a very determined young lady."

Although her parents couldn't afford to send her to college, she went anyway, paying her own way through Temple University. While her friends remained in school, she decided to take her second year off to live and travel in France. And because of a friendship with a wealthy Temple student, she spent a lot of time on extravagant yachts, at posh nightclubs, and partying in places like St. Tropez. Having met a large number of unhappy wealthy people, she truly learned that money didn't buy happiness. As Dr. Lang stated, "It helped me put money and wealth into the proper perspective."

She married in her last year of college, so when her husband was shipped off to South Korea—wives not permitted—she went anyway, living on the economy. Returning to the states the following year, she gave birth to her first child, followed closely two years later by her second. Three years later in 1974, when her marriage failed, she retained custody of her three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, and entered medical school as a single mother. When she finished her training, unlike most of her colleagues, and in spite of numerous admonishments about the impossibility of starting her own family practice in Center City Philadelphia, she did just that in 1981.

When numerous practices were moaning about HMOs, Dr. Lang embraced them, publishing a newspaper article, "In Defense of HMOs." She understood that educated patients made better patients and ultimately took up less time in the office. HMO insurers pay the primary care physicians the same monthly fee whether they see the patient zero or a hundred times. Many physicians took the stance of seeing these patients as infrequently as possible, and when they were seen, spending as brief a time as possible. Dr. Lang did the opposite, spending her time teaching patients took less time in the long run. "Educating patients is so rewarding—patients appreciate it, as do the insurance companies."

Dr. Lang wrote her first book, A Novel Diet, as an extension of her desire to teach, and like the rest of her life, it was unconventional. Publishers told her, "We only publish fiction!" or "We only publish nonfiction!" "I wouldn't know how to market it!" said another publisher. Of course, that didn't stop her.

Dr. Lang continues to practice medicine and educating her patients with her writing in the same location where she's been for 26 years. She resides there with her present husband of thirteen years, a retired English seafarer, who sums up his maverick wife this way: "She's scary—she thinks like a man, but is 100 percent feminine!"