Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Emphasize entrepreneurship

Author: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA

It is not a surprise that healthcare reform, decreasing reimbursements, electronic health-record systems, expanding patient demands and other stressors are causing doctors to head for the exits. Whether they are the young and the restless or the old and the cynical, doctors are second-guessing their career choices and looking for nonclinical career outlets in which they can use their skills and abilities.

Nonclinical careers are a growth industry with the emergence of social networks, health-related websites, graduate training programs, conferences, seminars and career coaches all vying for a piece of the action. Over 75 medical schools now offer combined M.D./MBA programs, and it is estimated that more than 400 M.D.s each year graduate with dual degrees. Graduate schools are offering a host of degrees at high prices designed to attract doctors who have business interests.

The result has been the emergence of a biobusiness ecosystem that supports and cultivates physician entrepreneurs, physician executives and clinical leaders. But is there really a difference in how physician-businesspeople contribute value, or does the development represent just another way to garner revenue from those wanting to participate in the bioindustrial complex?

Physicians with business or leadership roles occupy different spaces. Leadership is the process of providing vision, direction and inspiration to followers in an attempt to reach a goal or objective. Management is the art of maximizing effectiveness and efficiency given a certain level of inputs or resources. Bioentrepreneurship is the process of creating value, as designated by the customer, by exploiting biomedical innovation. The common thread of all of these roles and titles is the pursuit of better care for patients, whether by improving internal processes or commercializing a drug, device or diagnostic tool.

The skill sets for each of these overlap and are part of the learn-be-act continuum. Education and training are different. Entrepreneurship education, specifically, is designed to provide an understanding of core entrepreneurial skills and attitudes, including such people skills as leadership, team building, conflict resolution and the use of power. Entrepreneurial training is about how to start a business.

In addition, while entrepreneurs focus primarily on creating value in the external marketplace, they can certainly contribute to improving their organization by focusing inward and participating in "intrapreneurial" projects. The differentiation between physician executives, leaders and entrepreneurs is not so much about where or how they work but rather how they participate in the innovation value chain.

Regardless of the title, career path or initials after their names, doctors with an interest in leadership, management, business or entrepreneurship are striving to make the healthcare system better through service, process, IT and product innovation. To that end, obtaining entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and abilities should be a part of every physician's education.

Medical school graduates and postgraduates should demonstrate clearly defined entrepreneurial outcomes. Schools should recruit faculty with industry or entrepreneurial backgrounds and experiences. Medical schools should recruit students who have little or no intention of practicing medicine—a controversial stance given the physician shortage, but these students can contribute enormous value to the healthcare system in a nonclinical role. A medical school slot is not “wasted” on someone who will create a company and invent or commercialize something that will help thousands of patients and employs hundreds of people.

How physicians who have business education and backgrounds contribute value to the healthcare system has not been adequately documented. Perhaps, as with advertising, we know that half make a difference. We just don't know which half.

About the author:

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA , President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, is Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry and Engineering at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the cofounder of four companies and is a consultant to several life science, IT and investment firms. Dr. Meyers is a former Harvard-Macy Fellow, a National Library of Medicine Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and was names as one of the 50 most influential healthcare executives of 2011 by Modern Healthcare Magazine.

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