The conventional wisdom about doctors is filled with myths. My favorites are 1) Doctors are lousy with money, and 2) Doctors are by their very nature and training risk averse, and 3) Doctors don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur or a business person, and 4) if you are not taking care of patients face to face then you are not a "real doctor." What do they do, tear your epaulettes off of the shoulders of your white coat when you stop and move on to something else?
But, perhaps the worst part of all this mythology is that, in many instances, doctors believe it. Yes, there are notable exceptions.
There are other reasons, too, why doctors don't think they are entrepreneurs:
1. They think entrepreneurship is only about starting a business.
2. They are afraid of what they don't understand.
3. The culture discourages adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.
4. They think money is dirty in medicine.
5. They think it erodes medical professionalism.
6. They are just too busy.
7. They have had a bad experience before or working with "business people."
8. They actually believe doctors are bad business people.
9. They assume the costs exceed the benefits.
10. They are satisfied with what they are doing now and think switching to something else is too risky, particularly when they are, on average, $170,000 in debt when they graduate medical school.
Part of the equation has to do with doctors taking risk and how that impacts entrepreneurship. I agree the conventional wisdom is that doctors are risk averse. But, that’s certainly not true in all instances, both clinically and non-clinically. In my view:
1. Most entrepreneurs are risk managers, not risk takers.
2. Most investors are looking for proposals where the risk has been eliminated, managed, or mitigated. The goal of early design and development is to de-risk the market, technology and execution risk as much as possible.
3. While most doctors will do well and many go into medicine for the job security and money, the high profile few who have declared bankruptcy would disagree.
4. Different specialists have been shown to have different risk profiles under different clinical circumstances. Of course they are not dealing with their own skin in the game.
5. The risk-return spectrum runs from low to outrageous. Most play in the lower left. Those rock star entrepreneurs that the media loves to hype live in the upper right and probably represent a small segment of all entrepreneurs. As far as clinical risk I have expected some risky maneuvers in the OR when, in my clinical judgement, the circumstances warranted it and I was up against it. Sometimes, when faced with a dire emergency or impending complication, taking risk is justified.
Doctors are not lousy business people. There are many reasons why they have the potential to make great entrepreneurs, as has already been demonstrated by many. And, no, in many instances, doctors are not risk averse. They just believe they are. It's one of the reasons why it is so hard to get doctors involved in biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship. Doctors need to find their inner entrepreneur.
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org