MEDICAL ENTREPRENEURS: How to Embrace the Key Principles of Entrepreneurial Success
All doctors are medical entrepreneurs to some degree.
A simple definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who has possession of a enterprise
and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome.”
Sound familiar? Physicians, like other professionals, often practice in solo or group settings, where they’re the boss and certainly experience the intrinsic risks and rewards of their medical practice. They may not necessarily feel like an entrepreneur and that’s certainly understandable. A physician’s first and foremost responsibility is obviously patient care. In fact, almost all of medical training prepares physicians just for that task. However, most professionals, including physicians, rarely are trained on how to run their own practices.
During the more than two decades spent operating and working with entrepreneurial business ventures, I’ve had the good fortune to study with and learn from some great mentors in this arena, and I’m passionate about seeing people fulfill their entrepreneurial potential.
I’m excited to share with physicians—you!—in this regular column some of the key principles I’ve learned about entrepreneurial success, and specifically how those can be implemented in a physician practice setting. In future columns, I’ll highlight some notable medical entrepreneurs and offer tips on how to evaluate business opportunities outside the core medical practice.
I begin with the simple premise that your medical practice is an entrepreneurial business, and that your practice shares many common features of any entrepreneurial organization. Common characteristics include people management, implementing systems and processes, taking care of your customers, and financial risks and rewards.
People Management (or Cat Herding)
Rarely do I find an entrepreneur or a physician who operates as a solo act. To run your practice, it takes nurses and staff to operate effectively. Therefore, your success becomes interwoven with your ability to get the most out of the people you work with. Anyone who has managed an employee knows that hiring and developing talent is no easy task. Therefore, the questions become: what kind of leader are you? Are you getting 100 percent from your team or are they giving you the bare minimum to get by? Building a great team around you is a key step in your path to success.
Every medical office, like every business, also has systems for doing things. The question is whether you know what those systems are and how they are working. Are you streamlined and efficient, or are you daily stymied by broken systems? Exemplary practices have written ways to do things that people understand and follow. The way Chic-fil-A can serve up a great chicken sandwich no matter what store you visit in the country is based on one simple thing: a great system!
Your patients and referral partners are your “customers.” Every time one interacts with you, they have a customer experience. Do you know what that customer experience is? Have you thought through your interaction from first contact to final communication? Is there consistency and predictability in what your customers experience with you? Great practices have a well thought out customer experience cycle that is clear and repeatable.
What about the bottom line? While we all hopefully work to pursue a calling and seek personal fulfillment, we’re also trading our time and effort for money. Today’s medical practices are complicated and can be difficult to manage financially. There are lots of expenses, and reimbursements tend to go down and not up. Therefore, keeping a careful eye on the bottom line is critical. Physicians, like many busy entrepreneurs, tend to entrust financial responsibilities to others in the organization. However, I believe it’s also critical for physicians to know and have clear visibility into the key economic drivers of their businesses.
Finally, as entrepreneurs, I encourage physicians to take time to work “on their practice” and not just “in their practice.” Most people are so thankful for a day off that they rarely want to use their free time to think more about work! However, most of us stay in the trees and rarely plan and dedicate time thinking about the forest. The end result is that we often feel like we’re on a treadmill we just can’t seem to get off.
I recently spoke with Robert Harris, MD, a urogynecologist with Women’s Specialty Center in Jackson, who is a well known entrepreneur physician. He shared, “I try to purposefully take time away from my day-to-day practice each week and work on improving both my practice and my life.” For Harris, this has allowed him to not only strategically improve his medical practice, but also to create the time to pursue medical start-up businesses outside of his bread-and-butter practice.
In sum, we give a great deal of ourselves to our work and professions. By becoming entrepreneurially minded, you help not only gain better control over your practice, but also your life.
Martin Willoughby is a business attorney and serial entrepreneur based in Jackson, Miss. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Medical Entrepreneurs marks the first in a series of columns penned by Martin Willoughby and aimed at helping doctors better leverage their entrepreneurial skills to boost the bottom line.