Physicians Shouldn't Have to Choose Between Clinical Practice and Entrepreneurship

Physicians are becoming more entrepreneurial in response to threats to their practices and the sick-care innovation imperative. Some, particularly those without a medical background or who have never practiced medicine, ask whether doctors should be doctors or entrepreneurs and press them to commit to being “all in” if they are to be successful as a physician entrepreneur. We need to stop thinking “either/or.” Many physicians think they can be both and, in fact, that adopting an entrepreneurial mindset helps them be better doctors. I agree.

International scientists, bioengineers, computer scientists, and healthcare professionals in all specialties and areas of interest are accepting that challenge. Practitioners are in a unique position to identify unmet stakeholder needs and work in an interdisciplinary and cross-industry way to discover, design, develop, and deploy creative solutions. The result is the explosion of new products and services and the ratcheting up of sick-care innovation clock speed. So fast is the pace of innovation that organizations are having a hard time getting things done and shifting their thinking from the now to the new

Entrepreneurs and doctors have a lot to learn from each other and there are many reasons why doctors think they make bad entrepreneurs. In fact, there are many reasons why being entrepreneurial makes doctors better:

1. It keeps the primacy of the patient interest in focus. 

2. It gives doctors the tools and motivation they need to thrive in turbulent times.

3. Getting doctors involved in the discovery and development process might result in killing bad ideas early, those that don't have the right product-market fit potential, and prevent some of the mistakes non-sick-care entrepreneurs make when they try their hands at sick care.

4. The core skills of practicing medicine are similar to the core skills of entrepreneurs. Here are 10 reasons why.

5. Depending on the stage of your career, entrepreneurship is another way to help patients and derive additional meaning to what you do.

6. Value is the new sick-care coin of the realm and those that know how to create, develop, design, provide access to, translate, and harvest it hold the keys to the kingdom.

7. Wicked opportunities drive wicked solutions. The problems and challenges are getting bigger and so are the opportunities.

8. The tools, education, resources, networks, mentors, and support systems are expanding and often free.

9. There are many roles for physician entrepreneurs and many career pathways to find our sweet spot. For many doctors, supplementing clinical practice with entrepreneurial support activities is viable. For others, they might indeed forgo clinical practice to pursue other dreams.

10. Sick care cannot be fixed from inside. Staying in touch with interface industries like tech, communications, and media allow you to be the canary in the coal mine. Similarly, staying in touch with biomedical science gives you an insider's view of the possibilities and collaborative and adaption possibilities.

Ask yourself not whether you should be a doctor or an entrepreneur. Ask yourself, given your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, how you can best be both. Your patients will thank you for it.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at