Why new doctors should think beyond the stethoscope

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This spring, thousands of medical graduates will cross the stage and become doctors. Yet practicing medicine isn’t the only career for these young professionals; the path to becoming a doctor also provides ample skills for entering the innovation economy.

Today’s medical students are perfectly poised to change the gridlock of the U.S. health care system — and medical schools should empower them with the support and business exposure necessary to tackle these problems. As a practicing physician, an individual could help hundreds of lives over a lifetime. But consider the scale of technology: How many lives can a physician touch if she invents a new medical device, therapy or technology? In any health care startup, that number grows by an order of magnitude into the millions.

Kemp Battle, an expert on building teams within businesses, once told me that an individual is most valuable in the first five days on a job, and again during the last five days of that job. The most surprising insights come from those with fresh eyes, or those leaving with the benefit of hindsight. Young doctors, whether recent grads or residents, are in this position to see medicine’s pain points and then dream up a fix. While established physicians perform important and noble work, they are entrenched in the system. On the flip side, all medical students on rotation and new residents experience a moment when they’ve wondered why things are done a certain way — and the answer is usually just because that’s the way it’s been done forever. But why?

Beyond new attitudes and fresh perspectives, medical school, and residency already teach some of the basic skills necessary to survive a startup, even without entering a combined MD/MBA program. Students handle and analyze massive amounts of data; work effectively inside a team in high-pressure environments, and think on their feet to make fast decisions. They also become used to changing environments as they shift between clinical rotations in schools or different departments in residency. (Plus, being responsible for people’s lives isn’t exactly low-pressure work.) Medical schools should push the envelope here: Let’s teach our medical students business skills, expose them to coding, or place them in internships with local tech companies. All doctors are inherently primed to the mission of many startups: to help the world for the better. And with some of the world’s best medical schools and strong life sciences and tech communities, Boston is a perfect testing ground.

Of course, the path to graduation from medical school isn’t easy. Over a decade of education and $100,000+ in loans later, doctors are just getting started on their careers. After such an investment of time and money, traditional medicine may seem like the only path forward. And becoming a practicing doctor is an admirable mission, especially given the predicted shortage of as many as 90,400 physicians in the U.S. by 2025. Yet, paradoxically, having an MD serves as insurance against the risk of founding or joining a startup. Young companies often fail, but with such a valuable degree, there will always be a job somewhere — whether that’s re-entering medicine, going into consulting, or beyond.

Millennial physicians are ideally positioned to change health care through entrepreneurship — and the medical community should empower them to do just that. Instead of hundreds of articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, what if the doctors teaching at Harvard or Tufts had hundreds of patents to their names? What if more of our young doctors spent time changing lives on a massive scale, not just in the U.S. but all over the world?

The last decade has seen a sea change in health care, with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, rise of online medical resources and apps, and new paradigms in doctor-patient relationships. Patients are active, informed participants in (and consumers of) health care, and the paternalistic model of medicine is breaking down. Young doctors are poised with the unique skillsets and insights to navigate this shifting landscape and continue to change their industry for the better. We should encourage them to think beyond the stethoscope to the possibilities of improving the lives of not just a handful of people, but millions.

Shantanu Gaur is co-founder and chief scientific officer, Allurion.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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