Digital Pathology Blog

Why Are More Physicians Choosing Startups?

Will more physicians choose startups?Some time ago I came across some videos and a TED talk by Dr. Zubin Damania aka ZDoggMD. Born of Indian parents, educated at the finest colleges, medical schools and residencies, he felt his career had hit a wall. He felt he wasn’t making the impact he’d planned to when he first entered the medical field as a physician. So Dr. Damania transformed himself into an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and social media cult figure.

A recent Forbes article on Doximity talks about Why Physicians are Turning to Startups. What I found most interesting is the historical reasons why physicians have not turned to startups - reasons which mirror my own observations:  

  1. Professional pressure to “stay in the system”.
  2. Institutional pressure to surrender all (promising) IP to the university or hospital, which dampens the entrepreneurial spirit to create IP.
  3. Concern from potential collaborators and perhaps some investors that physicians are actually more a part of the problem rather than solution.
  4. Inertia. The challenge of change.

But while things are changing, I actually think one of the biggest barriers to Drs. contributing to business advances in medicine is the traditional medical educational system that inculcates the belief: “you will feed the system”. You will spend your days healing the wounded, curing the ill and you will have no other careers before or after you. If you are industrious, inventive, want to change policy or processes, good luck to you, but you should probably get those thoughts out of your head right now. There is no place for that within The Halls of Medicine. And if you do, your ideas will not belong to you (including IP claims, IP ownership or potential revenues). Besides - investors will not invest in you. The system systematically beats you down and you can decide to be happy helping people doing what you can with what you have or overcoming the inertia and trying to make it better for yourself, as well as The Halls of Medicine & society.  

A 2012 study found that almost half of the practicing physicians surveyed had one or more symptoms of burnout. An online poll in the same year of more than 24,000 physicians found that only 54 percent would choose medicine again as a career, compared with 69 percent in 2011.  

What appears to resonate with physicians who do collaborate with, or are working full-time with, industries is their enthusiasm that they will dent the universe, make colossal changes to their specialty, industry, and society. There is optimism and conviction that has no place within traditional medicine – a system that has become increasingly shift work, with capitated payments & treatment “plans” or “algorithms”, all within ever larger integrated healthcare delivery.   

I think we will see more physicians, early in their career, or in lieu of a traditional practice model, seek to innovate by invention rather than cure and treat by design within existing frameworks. And this will be good for all of us.


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Posted by Keith Kaplan, MD, Chief Medical Officer on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 @ 10:45 AM