Founder and CEO of ERG Enterprises† Nationally recognized opinion leader in entrepreneurship, investment and leadership.
As Peter Drucker once said, “Wherever you see a successful business, someone once made a brave decision.”
If you are a doctor looking to become an entrepreneur, this article is for you. Today, healthcare provides the perfect recipe to build and scale a viable business. First, the industry has built-in, consistent demand for services. The US spends $4 trillion a year on healthcare, and forecasts predict this number to rise sharply in the coming decades.
Healthcare also has many problems that provide lucrative opportunities. A recent McKinsey study found that the nation could save $265 billion each year by addressing the administrative inefficiencies that result from the industry’s strong fragmentation and regulation. In addition, healthcare continues to attract a lot of funding from UK and institutional investors. Digital Health Startups raised $6 billion in the first quarter of 2022, a significant increase from the same period three years earlier. With high demand for healthcare, significant market inefficiencies and significant investor interest, healthcare is a fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
Which brings me back to doctors. While starting a healthcare business doesn’t require any medical credentials or patient care experience, it doesn’t hurt to own them. Physicians have the advantage of understanding health and healthcare systems, from workflows to technology, from healthcare teams to treatments. They also carry the credibility consumers and other stakeholders demand from this important and important industry — one reason healthcare startups are urgently looking to recruit physicians to their executive teams or board of directors. In healthcare, doctors benefit directly from starting a business.
Still, in my conversations and interactions with physicians over the past three decades, I believe that many practitioners tend to overlook or underestimate their capabilities to start a business outside of starting a private practice.
Ever since I can remember I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. This interest in entrepreneurship contributed to university and even medical school, where I found medicine as intriguing as its art and science. Eventually I would take the plunge, first in care and later outside. I would go the traditional way of owning a private practice and the more unconventional way of buying an independent surgical hospital. Later, I would focus on starting a fully diversified investment company and starting others in hospitality, healthcare and technology.
When I look back on my career as an entrepreneur, I think four key factors made this possible. I also believe that they provide other aspiring physician entrepreneurs with tools to make the career leap.
1. Frame the opportunity correctly.
Recognize that entrepreneurship in healthcare does not necessarily mean starting your own practice. While it can focus on providing patient care, it can focus on other areas as well. I know a neurosurgeon who started a healthcare marketing company, as well as a family physician who started a technology education company. In addition to buying a surgical hospital, I also started a company specializing in orthopedic surgical equipment. The opportunities and possibilities remain plentiful. Healthcare has more problems than solutions and not enough people with the know-how or passion to solve them.
2. Feed your connections.
Practicing medicine is a people business: the people are your source for business opportunities and talent. Embrace this reality and approach your work with an inquiring mind and an intention to listen. For me, my work as a hand surgeon has brought me into contact with people from all walks of life. From oil and gas riggers to software engineers, professional athletes to accountants, medicine has nurtured my knowledge of the industry and helped me build a vast network, an invaluable tool for discovering new business ideas and the people to to help them achieve.
3. Recognize the limitations and power of specialization and the power of a versatile team.
Invest in your strengths and blind spots. Strengths: your medical expertise and training. Blind spots (probably): software development, marketing, etc. Lean on your strengths. For your blind spots, surround yourself with the right people who see what you can’t.
Use a valuable exercise from Jim Collins in “Good to Great” to help you:seats in the bus† Get the right people on your bus (your company) and in the right seats before you know where to drive (the direction as a company). The right people are the ones who bring the passion and soft and hard skills to create value no matter the direction of your business. The right seats are where the right people excel. Finding the right people for your bus and placing them in the right way will make your business resilient and agile – two qualities necessary for startups.
4. Stomach the journey.
Entrepreneurship reminds me of a seesaw – only the ups and downs happen unpredictably. You certainly experience your “up” days, just as you undoubtedly face your “down” days as well. Stay optimistic. Keep learning. Recognize that entrepreneurship never follows a linear path of progress. Your business may fail, but don’t let it fail by not learning from it. Use the experience for your next iteration. Eventually you will reach your destination, but not without a doubt, trials and stops along the way.
If you’re aspiring to become a physician entrepreneur, you won’t find a better time to take the plunge. Healthcare needs the people who know best to solve the thorny problems of today and tomorrow. As Drucker would say, it’s time for a ‘brave decision’.