Conventional wisdom has it that “doctors are lousy businesspeople,” and they should just take care of patients and leave the business stuff to someone else. In my opinion, these beliefs are no longer sustainable if doctors are to thrive in the new US healthcare environment. As someone who works with physician entrepreneurs, I know that doctors have the potential to make great entrepreneurs. Admittedly, only a small percentage of the 625,000 actively practicing physicians in the US have an entrepreneurial mindset and even fewer are innovators. However, it only takes a few innovators to disrupt the system and add substantial value.
Here are 10 reasons why doctors have the potential to be terrific entrepreneurs:
1. The know how to build clinical judgment. The process is the same for business. Learning from mistakes is called experience. Learning from experience is called clinical judgment. It’s the same with entrepreneurship. Very few entrepreneurs have not had their share of mistakes of failed startups. The successful ones learn from those mistakes and have judgment about pursuing the next opportunity.
2. Entrepreneurship is about research and experimenting, something doctors do well. Doctors do this every day, day in and day out, with their patients.
3. Doctors are used to dealing with uncertainty. Like businesspeople, doctors make decisions with incomplete information. Sometimes they have to do things based on their gut. In fact, they do so more than they would like to admit. Only about 25-35% of medical decisions are based on scientific evidence.
4. Doctors have a bias to action. While obtaining a patient’s history, doing physical exams and tests are a routine part of care, they are all a means toward an end of solving or relieving the patient’s problem. Doctors are trained, admittedly sometimes unsuccessfully, to not do things that won’t make a difference in how they treat patients.
5. Doctors are excellent at pattern recognition. Doctors basically do three things: They make decisions, communicate/educate, and do procedures. Decision-making, whether in dermatology, pathology or multiple other specialties, relies on pattern recognition skills.
6. Doctors know how to question, observe, connect and associate: core entrepreneurial skills. In The Innovators DNA, Christensen et al. noted the core skills of innovators are: questioning, associating, connecting, experimenting and observing. Doctors have them all.
7. Doctors know how to assess risk and make on the spot cost-benefit decisions. Every medical decision is based on the risks versus the benefits.
8. Doctors can fulfill core entrepreneurial roles. They can be technopreneurs, market perceivers, managers, and/or investors.
9. Doctors have access to patients and understand the clinical issues more than anyone else. They live in a world of market opportunity.
10. Doctors have the courage to know when something won’t work or should be ended. Doctors deal with such circumstance on a routine basis when dealing with patient’s treatment.
So, the next time someone raises their eyebrows when you tell them you are a physician entrepreneur, hand them a card with this list on the back of it. Maybe they’ll offer to invest in your idea.
Arlen Meyers originally published a version of this article on his blog for the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org. and appeared in the MIT Entrepreneurship Review