Physician entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity by doctors and other health professionals using uncontrolled, scarce resources. The goal is to create user/patient/stakeholder value through the design, development, testing, deployment and harvesting of biomedical and health innovation. Unfortunately, in my view, only about 1% of doctors and biomedical scientists have an entrepreneurial mindset and there are several misperceptions about those that do.
1. They are egotistical, self-centered and greedy. Some might be, but most are generally interested in moving forward biomedical innovation to help patients and leverage their skills. Most physician entrepreneurs practice the belief that you can do well by doing good. They try to be compassionate capitalists, resolving the ethics of medicine with the ethics of business.
2. They are mostly 24- to 35-year-old techies. In terms of medical education, people in that age range are just completing their residencies and just starting to practice independently. A few dabble in entrepreneurial ventures during undergraduate, medical school, or residency, but most have their hands full with medical training and have little time, money, or energy for anything else. In addition, many physicians start their entrepreneurial careers later in life as part of a portfolio career or an encore career after retirement from clinical practice. There are 3 main demographics.
3. Physician entrepreneurs have an inherent conflict of interest that makes them all suspect. All physicians, particularly those in private practice billing fee for service, have a conflict of interest and always have throughout the history of medicine. The world has become more complicated, further clouding the air. The idea is to declare, manage, mitigate, or eliminate conflicts of interest, not ignore them.
4. Physician entrepreneurs have to quit the practice of medicine. In fact, there are many ways clinicians can practice entrepreneurship, adding value at a profit, by engaging in part-time or transitional activities. They include working with early stage companies as advisors, serving on boards, mentoring others, and teaching.
5. Most physician entrepreneurs are millionaires. Like other entrepreneurs, most will fail if they create a new venture. In fact, the failure rate for bioscience new ventures is higher than other new ventures given the regulatory, intellectual property, reimbursement, and clinical trial requirements to get a product to market. In fact, most doctors make mid- to high-six-figure salaries and the opportunity cost of pursuing an entrepreneurial venture is a barrier to participation.
6. Most doctors are lousy businesspeople. Sorry, but it’s just not true. In fact, most doctors, whether they are in private practice, technopreneurs, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, or investors, create substantial value at a profit and there are many good reasons why.
7. Certain specialists make better entrepreneurs than others. Some say surgeons, some say emergency physicians. There are many examples of doctors from all specialties creating products and services.
8. Most physician entrepreneurs are one and done. In fact, like most billionaire entrepreneurs, they are serial entrepreneurs. While focusing on one business, they are always open to pursuing new opportunities.
9. Physician entrepreneurs become more and more risk averse as they become more successful. Again, it is untrue. Take a look at Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in Los Angeles, who is investing billions in his latest cancer treatment business after making billions from his first biotech venture.
10. Physician entrepreneurship is only for a select few. In fact, based on the different types of physician entrepreneurs mentioned above, almost every doctor in the world has the potential to be one.
Our sick-care system is sick and the prescribed treatment is biomedical, digital health, care delivery, and process innovation. Physician entrepreneurs will play an increasingly important role in making sure that the patient takes their medicine.
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org