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Doctors in startups?

A good friend of mine is currently in the process of hiring a Doctor for his healthcare startup, but he is very worried that he/she will not be able to transition easily from a rigid Hospital to the ever-changing startup life. What qualities should my friend look for during his recruiting process in order to ensure the Doctor is capable of working in an entrepreneurial environment?


25 Replies

Rebecca Brusch
0
0
Rebecca Brusch Entrepreneur
Director of Sales at Computer Power Group ★ (262) 271-4722 ★ rbrusch@cpg-inc.com
I would have your friend ask the physician what it is that has him or her looking to make the move out of organized healthcare.

With all the schooling involved, many physicians enter medical school thinking it's the golden ticket. You're in high school and pick a college, then you pick a biology major, then you think "medicine!," and before you know it you've been assigned a residency program. All that schooling comes at a price, and most need to start practicing for several years even to be back at zero financially.

Especially in residency and even as an attending physician, these doctors can realize that the bureaucracyand culture of the hospital are not the right fit for them. They might stick around in the short term to pay back loans while they look for something truly fulfilling and where they can better contribute to the betterment of the organization for which they are working. For many, that might be entrepreneurship.

To summarize, discovering motivation and that physician's personal background would be my first question. It might surprise you.
Florian Pestoni
4
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Florian Pestoni Entrepreneur
CEO at Axzo Digital
I've worked with physicians before, and have found that they are OK with the uncertainty of startup life: most physicians are used to a level of "controlled chaos", if you pardon the oxymoron, and many are small business owners/entrepreneurs running their own practice.

In my experience, the biggest challenge that physicians face is thinking in terms of user-centered products and understanding the risk-reward trade offs for startups.There are obviously many exceptions, and I'm sure I'll be called to task by others on this thread, but since you were asking a pretty open question, I'm using a broad generalization.

I would look for a physician that has had more direct business experience. For instance, a Medical Affairs director at a pharma company is going to have a better understanding of "pushing product" than, say, an ER doc. Some have also made a transition to consulting (particularly in the medical devices field) and may have been exposed to more aspects of the business. Lacking that experience, a physician who also has an MBA (there are quite a few out there) could be a better fit; at least they will have a basic understanding of everything that goes into managing a company -- although most MBA programs don't really prepare you for running a startup.

Hope this helps your friend.




Iulian Circo
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0
Iulian Circo Advisor
Social Entrepreneur
My advice is she should look for character/ temperament characteristics. Ability to work in a fast-changing environment. Willigness to do things outside the typical job description. Confort with uncertainty. Commitment to the overall goal. All of these should be tested for, and checked with references (as opposed to "assessing" them in a formal interview). iulian circo @i_circo triggerise.org +27 76 6500071 +44 74 18489744
Maniappan R
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Maniappan R Entrepreneur
Co-founder and Vice President, Engineering, Yos Technologies
I have worked with few of them before, you need to be absolutely sure that they are coming in knowing that their medical practise/experience will be compromised and do not want to use that as excuse to get out later. They do loose out on the 'connect' they have with their peers once the switch from the practice to technology stream that unsettles many when things are tough especially financially in the startups.
Ayelet Hirshfeld, Ph.D.
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3
Co-Founder & CEO Capsoole Inc.; Dr. Hirshfeld; Advisor @ Earn2Learn
I'm happy to be of help and advise re: process & strategy,
Dr. Hirshfeld
Zulfiqar Deo  FRSA
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1
Member winning Team Mipster Hackathon at Kiosk HQ
Funny you should mention a doctor. I am currently updating MBA for Startups, where I use a doctor as a main character in the visual story. My research and opinion would suggest most doctors will find it a difficult move - this isn't to say it cannot be done.

The problem is more than rigid structures, it is also to do with their implicit metal frameworks. These can can be nurtured by gradually migrating them into the startup. Business Coaching / Mentoring would be very useful here.

They will need to understand that compliance is not as big an issue as they feel :)

Hope this helps and your friend finds the right match.
Brett Wayn
3
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Brett Wayn Entrepreneur
Sabbatical
I'm a former MD with experience in both hospital medicine and general practice. I have also worked in tech for the last two decades - teams with fewer than 5 and leadership roles in the C-suite leading hundreds of people. Multiple product launches, brand launches, board meetings, product outages and crises ... you name it, we've all seen it. Nothing in tech comes even close to the pressure of watching someone die and trying to save their life, knowing that what you do really will make a difference. Or telling someone that they have cancer and have a few months to live. Giving someone a diagnosis of HIV or diabetes. Being the sole resident in a rural hospital late at night with hundreds of sick patients, your beeper constantly pinging you and it's not because you forgot to upload the deck to Dropbox ;) In the past I have sometimes said in tech, when stuff looks really hard and people are melting down "Hey folks, take a deep breath. This isn't brain surgery. I know, because I've assisted in brain surgery." So the first assumption I'd challenge is that a hospital environment is rigid - in my experience it's anything but that. Some further thoughts:

Practicing medicine is a real privilege and the intimacy of the doctor/patient relationship teaches you a tremendous amount about people, what motivates them, what they are afraid of, sometimes hearing their closest secrets. You also see patients and their families at what are sometimes the most awful moments in their lives - and if you pay attention and look and listen, you learn so much from being on the journey with those folks. I have many, many times working in tech teams small and large drawn on my professional experience as an MD. I have met many people working in tech especially here in the Bay Area who live in a tech bubble, haven't had broad life experience, really don't understand how to motivate and manage but who - dangerously - think they know much more than they do and they are empowered by their arrogance or by a failed company culture. Instead I find it much more interesting to have team players who have vastly different life experiences and when I hire, I'm always looking for the stuff that's "off the books" as it were. What do people bring to the game apart from their domain expertise. What formed them as a human.

On the more intellectual side, doctors are trained in the scientific method and diagnostic and therapeutic medicine is basically a big-data problem with a relational database of symptoms and signs and investigative results that you carry around in your head. You are trained to do probability analysis and pattern matching on the fly. You form hypotheses and then do experimentation to see which hypothesis is valid and which can likely be discarded. So whilst I have no CS degree and I am not an engineer, I have often found common cause with engineers and PMs in the way they think about problems. As a humanist, seeing how "ordinary" people are sometimes so mishandled and confused by the experience of being a patient, also makes you a better product manager and sensitive to product design and user experience issues.

I hope that is helpful and happy to chat to you or your founder offline.
Steve Everhard
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0
Steve Everhard Advisor
All Things Startup
My experience of working with doctors in a startup situation is strangely enough getting them to think more broadly from a business perspective as they tend to gravitate back to the environment they know. This isn't always the market that the startup needs to enter.
As with all senior hires the first rule is to define the role so that area of primary influence and responsibility is clear. In three cases now I have found doctors to be cautious in terms of business model, which can be a challenge. You also need to acknowledge their contribution even if that advice isn't immediately followed as they are essentially used to being listened to and their advice acted upon.

If you aren't careful debates can be endless and unresolved so if your doctor is involved in strategy development then make it clear than the discussion is time bounded and that actions will result. The major issue is normally identifying a path and moving forward, and that course correction is easier after that. As clinical actions have consequences most physicians don't act like Gregory House so the idea of a slight pivot isn't instinctive.
Colm Murphy
1
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Colm Murphy Entrepreneur
Cardiologist, Cofounder at Zen Medical Innovations
Hi Nate,

Being a physician founding a start up myself I would say there are a few things that your friend should ask:

1. Will there be a clear delineation between the time spent on clinical versus startup commitments. Clinical practice at times can be all consuming. Patients do demand a lot of time and do not not get sick at convenient times. If the doctor has a lot of call responsibilities or is hospital-based, he or she may be up at different hours of the night and this requires time to recover from. Doctors who perform research-clinical career find that they are most effective at research when they have dedicated research time. The same would apply for a start up.
2. Is the physician willing to risk devoting time to a start up recognizing that he or she will be risking stable, and often significant income? The appetite for this financial risk will vary between individuals and will be influenced by their financial situation - i.e. mortgage, dependents, debt, including school debt - which here in the US can be in the hundreds of thousands. The doctor should fully appreciate that start-ups carry significant risk, and may not yield a financial return on investment of time. I would try to understand their motivation for being involved in the start up. If it is primarily financial then I would be cautious.

On the flip side, physicians bring a number of great qualities to startups. First they are generally hard working and have proven their ability to see things through having been able to get through often taxing residency programs. They have a tendency to "undersell" because by nature of their evidence-based training, especially when dealing with patients. This is in contrast to business training where I have found from personal experience that the tendency is to "upsell" or over state, and sometimes you get bullshit instead of real substance. That being said, selling is a key component of a business and so physicians need to learn this art. Finally, many will have adopted mechanisms to handle stress and to think clearly under pressure, depending on their speciality.

I have seen many physicians start successful startups. The Stanford Biodesign program for instance has had many successful medical device startups which pair physicians and engineers. Physicians are increasingly interested in technology and its role in medicine, and I think strong partnerships with those in business, engineering and medicine will ultimately lead to successful startups - each discipline bringing its own strengths.

Best wishes.

Sameer Gupta
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Sameer Gupta Entrepreneur
Physician (Internal Medicine, Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Specialist)
Well As a doctor I think that that most docs can adept to change pretty easily if they have the right background . Most doctors are hard working . The question is do they understand business / financial issues ? Do they understand product market fit ? If they have some of that business background they will be an asset to the company . If they have worked prior to Medical school , that helps. If they have varied experience in the medical field like working for both a small practice and a larger organization it can help them to understand different financial incentives for the various groups involved in healthcare . If the person has specific questions have them feel free to email me for more specific inquiry . Hope this helps ! Sameer Drsameergupta@gmail.com
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