Off the Sidelines : WH magazine – Issue 8
Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, Panagiotis (Panos) Iakovidis took quite a leap. “I decided to venture to the United States,” he says, a glimmer of excitement still in his eyes. Just after graduating high school, at age 19 he moved from Thessaloniki to live with his mother’s brother in Houston, Texas, and pursue a career in the medical field.
Iakovidis knew he wanted to be a surgeon, although, “Originally, I wanted to become a track and field coach. That was the dream.” Of course, at the time, before even arriving to the States, Iakovidis knew vocational track and field coach positions were nearly nonexistent unless one was also a physical education teacher. “And I did not want to become a PE teacher,” he says emphatically. Still, something in that dream seemed a clear foreshadowing of his future career track.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN KAZAKLIS
“The first obstacle was the language,” Iakovidis says. Although, within his first six months in the States, he’d learned “enough English to start college. I started at junior college in Pasadena Texas. I went there for a year, and then I transferred to the University of Houston, what they call the Main Campus.”
After medical school in 1988, Iakovidis went for his general surgery training at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Having completed five years of training and one year of research, he went on to attend the University of West Virginia in 1994 where he studied open heart surgery. He graduated in 1996. That same year, he arrived in Winter Haven and joined Bond Clinic as a vascular and thoracic general surgeon. Quickly, Iakovidis seemed to attain some lofty goals, though he explored many options at a young age. “My parents helped me go through a litany of professions so I could get really exposed. Without their support emotionally and financially, I would not be able to do this.”
A FITTING PARTNERSHIP
A professional medical association, Bond Clinic is made up of over 80 providers, encompassing 28 medical specialties. Iakovidis joined the company 22 years ago, became an asset to the medical team, and within a few years a vital part of the institution. In 2009, he became president and CEO of Bond Clinic.
At the time, the clinic was going through a difficult financial struggle and reached out to Iakovidis to work with the partners in order to restructure the business. The goal was to streamline so the team would be not only financially strong, but able to optimize care to patients. “We’ve been slowly able to change the way we provide healthcare to our community,” says Iakovidis. “We’re still working, because it’s always going to be a work in progress. From the service to the quality of care, we’re always going to strive to be perfect, and that’s the change we’ve made over the last five years. We’ve seen a significant growth in what we do because of that. Everything you see today in this building is because of that. ”
Over the years, Bond Clinic has been able to provide higher quality of care, increase access to patients, and most importantly, decrease the cost of the healthcare provided to the community. “All three components are very important in today’s healthcare,” says Iakovidis, “and this is something I took in my heart as a goal.”
The many new technologies in medicine give the clinic all the tools needed to implement optimal healthcare. “The moment you walk into Bond Clinic,” says Iakovidis, “someone is responsible in caring for you. The individuals that we have to help you get in — their role is just as important as the doctor’s. It’s a full team that works to take care of a patient. It’s not just a doctor or a nurse practitioner.”
The lifestyle for any general surgeon is never one you can put in a box. The education is extensive, usually taking years. The training is rigorous, for what can never be defined as a nine-to-five job. When describing the uncertainties of a general surgeon’s day-to-day schedule, Iakovidis explains few things are certain. “What is certain,” he says, “is that you’re going to have a challenge every day. And sometimes there are multiple challenges. One of the funny sayings that we had in general surgery was that the only problem of being on call every other day was that you missed half of the good cases when you weren’t working. The most important thing I can say about being a surgeon is that you’re able to solve a problem and see the results very fast. That is what gives you immediate satisfaction.”
While still on call most days, Iakovidis has sought to invest in his children’s dreams just as his parents invested in his own. So when his son wanted to go to podiatry medical school at Barry University School of Podiatric Medicine in Miami Shores, Iakovidis encouraged him in his dream. When his daughter said she wanted to act and be a Disney Princess in Tokyo, Japan, her father was completely behind her. And when his other daughter at a young age wanted to play soccer, Iakovidis didn’t just see that she played soccer, but offered himself as her practice partner, week in and week out. Though he’d played recreationally as a child, he hadn’t played in some time, yet in his 30s he was ready to learn again alongside his daughter. “She wanted to know more,” says Iakovidis, “so I started playing myself and getting in better shape.” While Iakovidis would practice afternoons with his daughter, he always joined the Lakeland Adult Soccer League on Fridays and Sundays to keep up his skills. Over the months, Iakovidis not only discovered a new love of the game, but his heart grew with the community that the sport had created for him.
Two years later, Iakovidis’ daughter told her dad she decided to pursue theatre. “And she left me with the soccer,” Iakovidis says with a grin. By that time he was enjoying the exercise and relationships he had developed with other players and decided to stay with it.
“It opened a new chapter in my life that allowed me the opportunity to understand how life is outside of medicine. From when I was 19 until I was 36, the only focus I had was medicine, surgery. Everything else was only a small part of [my life]; it was intermittent and had very little involvement with who I was. It was almost like watching a movie. Yes, I watched the sports and the games. But I was a spectator. Soccer gave me the opportunity to see not just the sport but other people’s lives and how that sport brought people together, how it brought different parts of the community together and created community.”
Though his daughter went on to pursue theatre for a time, Iakovidis’ new venture into the world of recreational soccer seemed to be preparing him especially for a new partnership and venture on which Bond Clinic would soon embark.
A LIKELY PARTNERSHIP
Near the end of 2016, fellow orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Morin reached out to Iakovidis to see if Bond Clinic would be interested in becoming the medical provider for the Lakeland Tropics soccer team. It was just two weeks before the Tropics’ first game.
It didn’t take much convincing for Bond Clinic to join in partnership, and before long Iakovidis became majority owner and CEO of the company. “If it wasn’t for him,” says Iakovidis, “I wouldn’t be involved. I wouldn’t have known.
“I was introduced to the owners of the group through Chris Economides (chief operating officer of the Tropics) and Andrew Haines (previous CEO). They were looking for a partner. I have an amateur team — an adult male team that plays at the national level in Lakeland. I had a team like that for the last 10 to 15 years. So people knew that I was involved in soccer here and knew the different venues. We won many championships at the amateur level, at the state, and went pretty much every year at the regionals.” Last year the team made it to the final four of the U.S. amateur soccer.
Before the Christmas season in 2016, Haines knew he couldn’t financially continue on with the Tropics and asked Iakovidis to take over the operation. While Iakovidis didn’t know too much about indoor soccer, he quickly jumped in as a sponsor with Bond Clinic and as a minor owner of the Tropics. By the end of January 2017, he took over as major owner.
“Once Bond Clinic got involved, what I noticed was that an organization like that can bring a lot of attention to our community, create a spotlight for Polk County, increase the quality of living but attract many entities nationwide,” says Iakovidis. “And I feel that was something unique. At the same time, the more I sat on the bench looking at different individuals and companies, I felt it was a unique time for us to get to know each other better and do a lot more out of a sport.”
The Tropics offer opportunities for both indoor and outdoor soccer, recruiting many players from United Soccer League and Major League Soccer. “They still want to play the game but don’t want to commit themselves to 10 months. Others want to slow down,” says Iakovidis. Some players come from Brazil, while many come from all over the world and some local. “For outdoor soccer, we just had our second tryouts last Saturday, and we had about 36 players try out.”
BEYOND THE GAME
Along with the opportunities for players and fans to enjoy the games, others have developed from the front office. With many athletes studying locally and degrees such as business and sports management on the rise, the Tropics have interns that come to the organization and are able to learn what is really involved in everyday life of the business. “Then you have opportunities as far as marketing and graphics,” says Iakovidis, “and obviously learning the logistics of what it takes to create a game.” A show produced by Southeastern University with the Tropics is currently in the works. The school will produce the show in the coming months and release it on YouTube. “So when we use that show,” says Iakovidis, “interns have the opportunity to go and perform every step, from the video casting, to interviews, to working behind the scenes, to understanding how connections are developed.”
Recently, the Tropics added a ladies’ team and developed a Lakeland Tropics FC Youth team as a part of the entire Tropics’ umbrella.
In addition to connecting with the community, the Tropics also seek to give back. In 2017, a day before Thanksgiving, the front office, players, and Iakovidis volunteered with VISTE to deliver meals to the elderly. And this past year, a roofing company gave away a full roof to a family in need through the Tropics. “So instead of us getting a large sponsorship, part of their marketing involvement is to give this instead us receiving a bigger check. But that’s what this is all about,” explains Iakovidis. “That’s why I’m involved. The soccer part is exciting; it gets people together. But the things around it is what makes it special.”
As for Iakovidis’ daughter who wanted to play soccer, she’s now a junior at the University of Central Florida, with plans to go to medical school. Of course, one shouldn’t be surprised that she would choose to follow in her father’s footsteps.