7 Reasons Why Doctors Can Make Great Entrepreneurs

Originally published on Linkedin in June 2014.


Richard Branson referred to 2014 as “the year of the entrepreneur”, going on to state “From being a dirty word in the past, entrepreneurship is increasingly being celebrated and encouraged – as it should be.”

In the past few years, there has been a real explosion of health-related technology. There has not been a day when you don’t hear about ‘digital health’ or yet another medical app. Many terms were unheard of at medical school: “Health 2.0”, “mHealth”, “eHealth”. What do they mean? Who came up with them? And who cares anyway when the next appraisal or revalidation are just around the corner?

Back “in my day” in 2008, I used Podmedics (Podmedics.org) for my revision for finals. Listening to the informative podcasts instead of reading heaps of notes to revise was very refreshing indeed. It made me feel extra smart for using something innovative that my peers hadn’t quite caught up with yet. I thought that whoever came up with the idea of podcasts for revision was a genius.

Around the same time, I started noticing that many clinicians were setting up and running educational courses. The humble medic in me would not dream of monetising teaching and training, but there I was paying triple figure sums for a few hours of professional development and not really questioning who were the people behind those businesses.

As we progress through medical training, many of us get so focused on ticking boxes that the ultimate success and professional achievement boils down to a simple formula: the minimum necessary number of hoops jumped in the shortest period of time to allow progression onto the next level. Whilst most of us meekly use this formula over and over again in the hope that “it’ll get better”, or at least “it’ll all be worth it in the end (by the time you are 68)”, some of our peers widen their horizons and enjoy creativity and work fulfilment through entrepreneurship.

Isn’t ‘physician entrepreneurship’ an oxymoron? Indeed, over decades there has been a widely accepted belief that “doctors are lousy businesspeople”. As caring, selfless, compassionate physicians, shouldn’t we be taking care of our patients and leave business to someone with an MBA?

The more I researched on this subject, the more surprised I got: there are hundreds of doctors, just like you and me, who are doing it and succeeding in it. Entrepreneurship. Welcome to the 21 century where physicians can readily apply transferrable skills gained through their medical training to succeed in business, while possibly making even bigger difference in the world than treating individual patients.

As a first step to start learning the Anatomy of a “Doctorpreneur”, I interviewed several doctors who are either combining clinical practice with entrepreneurship or who have left Medicine all together to grow and develop a successful business. I made some interesting observations.

In this article, I would like to share with you the 7 attributes of a doctor that are already at your disposal, should you contemplate starting a business. Managing several competing priorities, communication and negotiation skills, effective utilisation of feedback are some of the obvious skills that span between Medicine and business, but what else can help?

1. Tenacity

Tenacity was one of the qualities that helped Dr Kate Hersov to see her initial idea of creating accessible medical information for children through to the development of a global brand Medikidz (medikidz.com). As a junior doctor working in Paediatrics in New Zealand, she was frustrated by the lack of medical education materials for young patients that would provide information about diagnoses, tests and treatments at such level that children could understand and relate to. Having moved to the UK, Dr Hersov and her business partner Dr Kim Chilman-Blair spent several years researching and developing the ideal ways to communicate with children in order to fill this gap in the market. Their passion, dedication to the cause and countless hours of hard work resulted in the launch of Medikidz in 2009. The company started producing comics featuring ‘cool’ superheroes that explained conditions like epilepsy, cancer and HIV in innovative ways bridging different cultures, levels of literacy and age. Both children and adults alike can enjoy and learn a great deal from Kate’s comics that are now translated into over 30 languages and distributed across 50 countries – from Russia to Israel, and Singapore to Brazil.

2. Commitment to continuous professional development and learning

Dr Michael Brooks, the Chief Medical Officer at PatientSource Ltd (patientsource.co.uk), found that being a fast learner, being able to teach himself and quickly acquire new skills were critical when he was developing his business. Dr Brooks started an electronic medical records company after experiencing a lot of frustration with the way that the patient data is handled in the NHS. PatientSource is the UK’s user-friendly replacement for paper medical records and charts. It runs on a hospital network and can be accessed on the existing computers without needing installation. Through implementation of technology intrinsic to the experiences of the patients and doctors, Dr Brooks’ big vision is to bring the NHS up from its current 1980s technology status to the 21 century.

3. Passion for discovery: research, testing and experimenting

Doctors are good at hypothesising, asking relevant questions, observing, making connections and associations and assessing risk. Dr Gregory Makris graduated from the Medical School of Athens with a distinction before moving to the UK to do a PhD in vascular surgery and imaging at Imperial College London. Over the years working in academic medicine, various locum posts and now training in Radiology, he realised there was a gap in the market in terms of support and useful resources for foreign doctors wishing to work in the UK. He hypothesised that Greek doctors in particular would benefit from career coaching and consulting and set up Medynamic (medynamic.co.uk). His company started small while testing the market. After the initial positive feedback from service users, Medynamic is expanding to run a full service guiding Greek doctors through the entire UK medical careers process: from writing a CV and application forms through to help with GMC registration and going for a job interview.

4. Desire to make a difference

Dr Edward Wallitt, the Founder of Podmedics Ltd, says that both in his medical career as well as in business, it was the desire to make things better that was driving him to success. One year before obtaining his Certificate of Completion of Training, he left Medicine after spotting an opportunity that would allow him to have a much bigger impact on the quality of patients’ care than he ever could as a doctor seeing individual patients. His medical IT consultancy and software development company now runs several projects including online medical revision, ‘Induction App’, and ‘The HouseOfficer App’, which contribute to the professional development and learning needs of thousands of medical students and qualified doctors.

5. Interpersonal skills

Dr Brooks says: “Medicine is a very people-orientated profession and you will find that you’re dealing with all sorts of people – from suppliers to customers and business partners. Being able to deal with a range of personalities is important. Medicine sets you up quite well for that”.
Indeed, your ability to establish rapport, build trust and being able to deal with people from all walks of life will set you up ahead of competition in the business world.

6. Pattern recognition

Doctors are trained in ‘critical thinking ’. They can take a step back and evaluate a problem by looking at the key elements and patterns, while keeping the big picture in mind. For both Drs Wallitt and Brooks, the diagnostic side of medical training, the skills of evaluating evidence to make decisions were very important and helped to assess ideas and form strategies when growing their health technology businesses. An entrepreneur with a medical background is great at “triaging ideas and opportunities”.

7. Dealing with uncertainty

Even though Medicine is associated with stability, a trainee doctor is never 100% sure whether they will get their ideal job in an ideal place. This element of uncertainty is overcome by keeping in mind the big “WHY” that is at the core of what you are doing. If you are passionate about what you do and have a vision of what you are creating – whether that is in Medicine or in business – one thing is certain: you will find the energy and resources in the face of adversity and apparent uncertainty. Dr Brooks summarises the key to resourcefulness in the face of uncertainty: “You’ve got to have the hunger to do what you do”.

The future

Ask your friends and you will be surprised how many people in your own network are themselves into entrepreneurial ventures, or may know others who are. Social platforms such as Linkedin.com and meetup.com have hundreds of entrepreneurial groups where you can bounce your ideas and seek advice from people like yourself, both virtually and face-to-face.

I sense that Richard Branson’s prediction of the year 2014 being “the year of the entrepreneur” is just the beginning of something really big. Doctorpreneurs all over the world are challenging the status quo and creating a revolution that is going to disrupt the conventional thinking within the medical profession about the roles, potential and capabilities of a physician.

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