The journey from hand surgeon to entrepreneur

An excerpt from We: Ditch the Me Mindset and Change the World.

We use them to greet friends, congratulate acquaintances, and embrace loved ones.

To lay bricks, perform surgeries, and sculpt artwork.

Everyone uses them thousands of times a day in a variety of different ways.

It took me years to recognize the essential role they play in everyone’s life, no matter their age, ethnicity, or background. For someone with a passion for meeting new people, learning about them, and caring for them, they proved the perfect focus for my career.

It took a journey through medical school and two fellowships to discover that I wanted to become a hand surgeon, but since then, my decision has never wavered.

For my entire life, I have felt the need to look forward and find ways to meet and help people. The hand serves as the perfect vessel for fulfilling this need. It provides the window into a fascinating world of possibility and opportunity.

My family thinks of me as a hand surgeon; my patients refer to me as such. But truthfully, I find it difficult to put a label on the nature of my profession, because I don’t fit the typical description of a practitioner. Business interests me, something that made me different from my fellow students in medical school. I like people—not to say that most physicians don’t—yet I feel an insatiable curiosity to learn about their lives, perspectives, and ideas.

In many ways, the hand introduced me to the life I currently lead. It includes medicine, but also much more—a role as a caring and devoted father and husband, serial entrepreneur and investor, and philanthropist.

If you met me today, you wouldn’t mistake me for an entrepreneur. Dressed in a white lab coat, notes tucked against my side, I walk briskly down the hall at the Hand Center of Louisiana, the practice for which I am the founder and CEO. My week vacillates between surgeries and hand consultations, and today will focus on meeting with the patients scheduled to see me.

Up ahead, I see my devoted staff enter an exam room. They stay a few rooms and minutes ahead of me as I make my rounds, enough time for them to take patients’ histories, perform X-rays, and complete anything else before I arrive. It allows everything to run smoothly so I can devote my full attention to the time I spend with each patient.

I designed the clinic to support my life of connectedness and maximize the number of people I can meet, learn about, and care for on any given day. Every room supports the exact same configuration, down to the contents of the desk drawers and placement of office supplies, so staff always find what they need. Beside the desk, staff only need to press one of several color-coded buttons to alert their colleagues to bring patients’ medication to the room. A simple action expedites the process, surprising patients and reinforcing their confidence in our ability to provide great care. The floors outside the exam room offer a wayfinding system using colored tiles that even those who are color blind can distinguish. Think how runways use lighting systems to facilitate the takeoff and landing of thousands of airplanes a day, only in this case, the floors provide guidance to hundreds of patients navigating the labyrinth of hallways and exam rooms to locate their next destination (e.g., the X-ray room or waiting area). As a result, staff spend less time directing patients where to go, patients enjoy more autonomy, and the efficiency and experience improves for all. More patients return to our clinic and refer their friends and family. Our reach and impact expands, which further allows me to connect with people from all walks.

The clinic begins to settle from its lively state as the day progresses quickly. The chatter from the waiting room recedes, as does the incessant ringing of the telephones, and the bustle of staff going room to room. I begin to hear the rumblings of the cleaning crew, a sign that it’s nearing time to leave.

My phone pings me with my next appointment on the calendar. ERG Enterprises—Board Meeting—6:00 p.m.

I check the time, calculate for traffic, and soon head out the door to my other life.

In many ways, one could call this way of living—balancing the seemingly opposite worlds of medicine with entrepreneurship—controlled chaos. Certainly, I may have thought so before I stepped into these shoes. But once I did, I discovered all the joy and possibilities that come with it, something I continually remind myself in everything I do.

In many ways, my focus on the hand has taught me the value, importance, and benefits of embracing a mindset of “We versus Me”—a message I hope to spread and the purpose of this book.

I come across many people, in my work as a physician and entrepreneur, who say no without even considering yes. Or who say they can’t because they don’t know how.

My response to them would sound like this. I don’t know hospitality, real estate, education, or other fascinating sectors, but nonetheless, I find myself deeply involved in these industries as an entrepreneur and investor. Had I refused the opportunities presented to me, had I confined myself to practicing medicine, I wouldn’t be engaged in what I am today. I can name numerous examples of remarkable businesses that I wouldn’t know if not for my constant pursuit to expand my world, including the people and possibilities within it.

My focus on the hand brought me to the dance, but my insatiable curiosity for meeting and learning from others, keeping an open mind, and understanding that we can learn any new system has kept me dancing. Today, all my business interests trace their origins to a connection I made in my journey, many in this very clinic.

Eric George is a hand surgeon and author of We: Ditch the Me Mindset and Change the World.

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