Advice to a Young Physician Entrepreneur

by Arlen Meyers

Advice to a Young Physician Entrepreneur

I’m often asked about how to pursue a physician entrepreneurial career pathway. Like Peter Medawar opined almost 35 years ago in his “Advice to a Young Scientist”, allow me to offer some advice :

1. You will not learn about innovation or entrepreneurship in medical school or residency. Medical education is designed to teach students clinical care and research methods. If you have an entrepreneurial interest, you will have to pursue it using alternative pathways.

2. Physician entrepreneurs need to be physicians first. Complete a residency and get clinical experience. It will provide you with the insights you will need to identify opportunities and the ecosystems that create them. Work on reading about business topics, identify local resources, build your network, find a mentor , get some experience when you can, like taking a gap year or leave of absence, and join social networks of like mined people for social support.

3. Do not pursue being a physician and being an entrepreneur sequentially, but, rather, concomitantly. The time and effort to be a doctor is overwhelming and leaves time for little else. However, begin to develop an entrepreneurial mindset by using free materials and reading outside of your field of interest as often as time allows.

4. Bioentrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity using scarce resources with the goal of creating user defined value through the deployment of innovation. Walk before you run. Involve yourself in projects that address a clear customer need, be they educational, social or otherwise, and participate in creating a solution that adds value.

5. Be a problem seeker, not a problem solver in the early stages. Most businesses fail because they don’t create enough customers willing to pay for a solution that does not solve their problem.

6. To develop as a physician entrepreneur,you will need education, resources, networks, mentors, experience, support networks and policy partners and advocates. Every great entrepreneur is a great networker. Every great entrepreneur stands on the shoulders of advisers and mentors. Every great entrepreneur understands and avoids their blind spots and fills those gaps with people who are smarter. You not only need the right people on your bus, but they need to be sitting in the right seats at the right parts of the trip.

7. Follow your instincts when it comes to getting more involved. There are few ,if any specialties, in medicine you can practice part time and still maintain your diagnostic and therapeutic acumen. On the other hand, there are many ways to get involved as a physician entrepreneurs that will give you the experience and insights you need to know whether you want to get more involved. Serving on advisory boards is a good next step.

8. What got you into medical school and made you a good doctor is different from what you will need to deliver in business. Advisory board members, for example, are expected to deliver management advice, customers, money, new product feedback and key opinion leader marketing help. When it comes to the business of medicine, assume that you don’t know what you don’t know. Find a place to learn what you don’t know and then a place to answer the questions.

9. Don’t kick a dead horse. Only about 1% of physicians have an entrepreneurial mindset. If you don’t have the basic entrepreneurial DNA, then move on. Don’t be a wannapreneur.

10. Surgeons who don’t have complications don’t operate enough. Entrepreneurs who don’t fail haven’t been involved in enough businesses. Business and clinical judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from failing and making mistakes.

11. Sick care cannot be fixed from inside. Go to events and meet people who have nothing to do with biomedicine.

12. Shamelessly steal ideas that work in other industries that can be tweaked to work in medicine.

In a national survey of physicians across all specialties in the United States in 2014, nearly one in five respondents indicated their plan to reduce practice hours within 12 months, and one in four said they would likely leave their current practice within 2 years, Christine A. Sinsky, MD, from the American Medical Association, Chicago, Illinois, and colleagues report in an article published in the November issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

However, you should think twice before throwing away your white coat.

Biomedical and health innovation will be the only way out of our global care crisis. We will need increasing numbers of talented, passionate, dedicated physician entrepreneurs to be part of the solutions. Seeing 20 patients a day for 40 years is one way to add value. Creating a company that changes the lives of millions of patients, employs hundreds and adds a substantial economic boost to the regional economy is another. Good luck with your venture.

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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

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