How to Think Big and Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship

Physician entrepreneurship—it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? An idea formulates into a vision, a vision transforms into a mission, you invent a product, you scale your business, you make 2 billion dollars a year and you live happily ever after. Uh, not really that easy. A lot of physicians today don’t even make it to the conception phase and it has a lot to do with their lack of training in business, or rather something more complicated… the confidence within themselves to take the entrepreneurship leap.

Physicians often wonder if they have what it takes to build and sustain a business. Most of them think they would be bad at it, others kind of jump right in to find out. Dr. Arlen Meyers, an inventor, serial entrepreneur, and founding President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, believes one of those two types of people have the right attitude—and it very well be impactful enough to confront the problems of healthcare delivery.

The saying that doctors are bad at business is a myth. Physician entrepreneurship is about having the guts to approach a problem with the acknowledgment that you might fail.

Dr. Meyers is constantly asked if there is one specialty that’s better at being a physician entrepreneur than the other. His short answer is “no.” He thinks every physician has the ability to build a business. They just have to dial in what’s required to be successful.

This interview with Dr. Meyers is really insightful. Be sure to check it out and let us know your thoughts @DoctorsUnbound online! Looking forward to reading your feedback or personal stories of physician entrepreneurship.

MORE ON OUR GUEST

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA, is Emeritus Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry and Engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health, and founding President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at http:www.sopenet.org.

He is a serial entrepreneur and life science technology commercialization consultant and advisor.

Connect with him on LinkedIn here. To read works by Dr. Meyers, click here.

 KEY RESOURCES REFERENCED

Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (website)

$15 million Graduate Medical Education Innovation Fund (AMA article)  

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (book)

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Going from the art of medicine to the business of medicine involved an invention for Dr. Meyers.
  • Meyers found an obvious problem that he thought needed a solution while in his role as a full-time practicing academic surgeon—so, he and a team invented a gadget that detects cancer.
  • “Everybody has a good idea, nobody knows what to do with it, and as a health professional, you’re not going to be taught what to do with it.”
  • A vast majority of product ideas fail, so you have to go into it with that understanding.
  • The saying that doctors are bad at business is a myth.
  • Physicians need to be accustomed to the business of medicine because they are providing value and contributing to the bottom-line somewhere.
  • Meyers believes it is educational malpractice by not educating residents how to compete in a business environment.
  • It is important for physicians to have connections outside of medicine, if not, it’s the blind leading the blind.
  • The goal for the delivery of healthcare is to transform “sickcare” to “healthcare.”
  • “I just don’t see a whole lot of other ways to get ourselves out of this mess, given the absorptive demand for care with limited resources.”
  • It’s pretty easy to start a company nowadays given internet technology, communication software, and the cost of doing business for a startup.
  • Physician entrepreneurship means you really have to be globally savvy and be able to function in international teams.
  • You have to have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to add value to a business, which has to do with creating personal brand equity.
  • The business model and the revenue model of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE) is a cross between Match.com and Rotary.
  • “Don’t chase dead leads.”
  • You shouldn’t be a member of your specialty society unless they’re adding value to you.
  • Meyers says if you have extra money to invest, invest it in yourself, not somebody else.
  • “With the advent of the gig economy and the sick care gig economy, the opportunities to get out of your box are infinite. It doesn’t have to be all in. You don’t have to quit your day job from day one and leap off the edge, but there’s lots of ways for you to stick your toe in the water to figure out.”

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Dave

Dr. Arlen Meyers, welcome to Doctors Unbound.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Dave

Absolutely. I’m excited to have you on the show. I’m excited to talk to you about physician entrepreneurship, which is, I think, a very important topic. We’ll get into the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs as well. For those that may be a little bit unfamiliar with it, could you give us a quick background on your experience in this area?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Sure. So, I’m an Emeritus professor of Ear, Nose, and Throat and Facial Plastic Surgery at the University of Colorado. I’ve practiced academic surgery for forty years and then, to make a very long story short, which we could get into, I invented something and then I decided to go from the art of medicine to the business of medicine, and that’s what I do now.

Going from the art of medicine to the business of medicine involved an invention.  

How to Think Big & Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship with Dr. Arlen Meyers

Dr. Dave

Very cool. Can you tell us a little bit about what you invented and how that went for you?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Yeah. So, myself and a couple of other people invented a gadget that optically detects cancer. So, essentially, it was like a Geiger counter for cancer instead of radioactivity, and would optically detect, particularly in the mouth, because that was my area of expertise in oral cancer and head / neck cancer. The basic idea was to optically identify, differentiate, and treat a lesion in the mouth without having to biopsy it.

Dr. Dave

Very interesting. I’d love to kind of dig into this a little bit here, because it’s very fascinating. I had another guest on the show who helps doctors kind of navigate that whole process, but I’d love to get your expertise here. How did you develop that concurrently as you were practicing? What was that like?

Dr. Meyers found an obvious problem that he thought needed a solution while in his role as a full-time practicing academic surgeon—so, he and a team invented a gadget that detects cancer.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, it was an interesting experience. As I said, I was doing this while I was a full-time practicing academic surgeon. It was part of my publish or perish, get grants, do research kind of schtick and as a head/neck surgeon looking inside people’s mouths on a fairly frequent basis, it was a fairly obvious problem that I thought needed a different solution, since most of the preneoplastic lesions, or white lesions, in the mouth are pretty benign. So, then you basically do an unnecessary biopsy and subject the patient to all kinds of heartache and that kind of thing. So, I was interested in figuring out a different way. So, being on the front lines, I was able to at least identify a problem that I thought there was an unmet need. Then, we put together a team and I was working with some engineers and people at Colorado in various departments. One thing led to another and eventually we concocted this gadget.

Now, what that taught me was, number one, everybody has a good idea; number two, nobody, including myself, knows what to do with it; and three, as a health professional, you’re not going to be taught what to do with it. So, I don’t care whether…it’s just not part of the thinking in contemporary medical education. Now, hopefully, that will change and some of the stuff we’ve been doing maybe has influenced some of that. For the vast majority of medical students; residents; fellows; and people in early practice, they get little or no exposure to biomedical or clinical innovation and entrepreneurship, which I think is a big deal. So, that’s why we created the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs to fill that gap.

“Everybody has a good idea, nobody knows what to do with it, and as a health professional, you’re not going to be taught what to do with it.”

Dr. Dave

I think that’s awesome. I think it’s very well-stated and very, very important for doctors to get this training. If I could go back a little bit to that story…how long did it take you to develop this idea?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

About six or seven years. I mean, from the initial inception of the idea to developing something, patenting it, spinning it out, and doing all that other stuff. It was further complicated by the fact that, as an academic surgeon, I had to deal with intellectual property issues; tech transfer issues; who owns what; and all that stuff. The good news is, we all learn from our mistakes and we all learn from “what doesn’t kill you will cure you.” So, I learned a lot and I’m glad I had the experience, because it’s informed my thinking moving forward.

Dr. Dave

Yeah. I know. I definitely agree with that. That was going to be one of my questions is, I’ve heard that these ideas can bankrupt physicians sometimes if it’s handled the wrong way, if you just pour tons of resources, pour their own money in it. I don’t know if being in an academic center maybe shielded you from some of that, but it sounds like there were other issues to kind of wade through, like the IP issues and all the other things that go with being in academia.

A vast majority of product ideas fail, so you have to go into it with that understanding.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Right. So, the vast majority of new product ideas fail, just in general. I don’t care whether it’s retail, a flower shop, or a new drug. Once you start getting involved in drugs; devices; digital healthcare delivery startups, then, the numbers get even smaller…the success rate.

Dr. Dave

Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, when you go into this, you have to go into it with the understanding that the overwhelming likelihood is that you will fail. So, then the question becomes…what’s your risk tolerance, whose money, and how much of it are you willing to put into this idea, and when is enough, enough? Or, when do you persist? Those are all issues that we have to confront.

Dr. Dave

Yeah, definitely. I love how you put that. That really kind of puts the whole situation into nice perspective there. I’ve heard the saying that doctors are bad at business and it sounds like you’re kind of tackling this a little bit. What is your response to that?

The saying that doctors are bad at business is a myth.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

It’s a myth. I think that there’s a couple of issues. First of all, to say that doctors are bad businesspeople just simply ignores the reality, certainly in my world and in the history of medicine, that amazing ideas that have created amazing value, have started in the mind of a doctor. The second point is, physicians by their training are uniquely qualified for a lot of reasons to be great entrepreneurs. Not the least of which is, when you’re doing a startup, it’s really about hypothesis testing and it’s an experiment. So, you think you’ve got an idea that somebody wants to pay you money to buy, and you go through a whole bunch of experiments to, make a long story short, find product market fit. Well, physicians are trained to do scientific method.

So, they’re used to hypotheses; they’re used to creating experiments; they’re used to getting data, analyzing the data, drawing conclusions, and doing new experiments, which is really what a startup is about. To paraphrase Steve Blank, a startup is about finding a scalable and repeatable business model. You do that through experimentation. So, the second point is, docs, that’s how we’re training. That’s what we’re used to doing.

The third point is, I don’t know what people mean when they say, “a terrible businessperson.” Does that mean that doctors make less or more investing than any other profession? Does that mean that they really don’t know how to run a private practice and all of them go out of business? Of course not. Does that mean that they don’t understand sales and marketing? Maybe, but there’s some people who are very good at it, like plastic surgeons; dermatologists; and you people who do cash business.

Dr. Dave

For sure.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

More importantly, I think part of the reason that myth persists is because a lot of doctors actually believe it, because they’ve been told it so many times that they say, “Well, I’m just a lousy businessperson and I don’t need to pay attention to the business of medicine.” Of course, you and I both know that’s not a good idea, because being successful in this day and age as a doctor is not about which new drug you need to prescribe. It’s about how do you deal with the business pros and cons, and the tortuous environment that is going on? That’s what’s going to determine whether you’re going to be able to make payroll.

Physicians need to be accustomed to the business of medicine because they are providing value and contributing to the bottom-line somewhere.

Dr. Dave

Yeah. That’s very, very true. Thank you for delineating all those different points. Going back to our training, I got very little business of medicine or any kind of business entrepreneurship-type exposure when I was in medical. In residency, I don’t think I had anything like that. I mean, do we need to incorporate more of that, do you think, in our medical training for our docs?

How to Think Big & Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship with Dr. Arlen Meyers

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Absolutely, positively. It happens way upstream to when you get into medical school. It actually needs to happen, and is happening, P-20. If you look at what’s going on in stem education, preschool through high school, if you look at the number of entrepreneurship and innovation programs at the undergraduate level, they’ve exploded. Little by little, it’s seeping into medical schools, into bio-entrepreneurship and education training programs, what I call beat programs; little by little they’re growing.

We have several in Colorado, and more recently, an example is that just recently the AMA announced, for example, that they’ve created a fifteen-million-dollar graduate medical education innovation fund, just like they’ve been seeding medical school innovation grants; now, they’re saying, “Well, it’s not good enough just to do it for the medical students, we need to do it for the residents and the fellows.” So, I think, and I’ve expressed this a lot, frequently, we should provide…in fact, I’ve written that being able to practice medicine using a viable business model should be the seventh ACGME competency. I call it educational malpractice, by not educating residents how to compete in this environment, is sending them to the front with blanks in their guns.

Dr. Meyers believes it is educational malpractice by not educating residents how to compete in a business environment.

Dr. Dave

Yeah. I agree. I kind of wonder if somebody just wants to have employed physicians, if that’s one of the goals, because it seems like we’re really not being equipped to understand the business side of medicine.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, what you just said is another misunderstanding. In other words, “Oh, you don’t have to know this stuff if you’re an employed physician.” Well, of course you do, because the reason you’re being hired as an employed physician, and they’re called intrapreneurs, the reason you’re being hired is to generate revenue for the person who’s hiring you. In general, for every dollar they’re paying you, depending on your specialty, the hospital may be making seven to fifteen times downstream revenue from tests, imaging, from all the other stuff that we order. So, what I’m saying is, if you don’t know how to create value through the deployment of innovation; if you don’t know how to put points on the board through innovation, what’s going to happen is what I call “when the white coat gets the pink slip.” While the number of employed physicians continues to grow, we are also seeing turnover for a number of reasons, because the grass isn’t greener when you get into an employed situation. You need to understand how to create value. I don’t care where you’re working.

Dr. Dave

I think you’re spot-on there. So, along this whole line of the education of physicians and the business education of them, for doctors out there that are listening…they’re practicing physicians, they’re out of their residency training, and they’re interested in entrepreneurial endeavors…how do they get started? What are some tips for them?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, probably the biggest tip is that what got you to where you are won’t get you to where you want to go. In other words, just because you have fancy initials after your name and that you supposedly know how to practice medicine, doesn’t mean you understand the business of medicine and know how to add value to an entrepreneurial endeavor like a startup or intrapreneurship. So, you have to essentially, what my friend says, “come down off the mountain.” You have to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to business.

A lot of doctors have a hard time getting their head around that, because we know everything. We’re the smartest in our class, we did all this stuff, blah, blah, blah; and “you can’t tell me what to do, I’m a doctor.” Really? Okay, well try it. How’s that working for you? So, you have to understand that, number one. Secondly, you have to understand that to be successful, you need lots of things: education; resources; networks; mentors; experiential learning; and peer-to-peer support. You’re probably not going to get any of that in medical school or in your residency. Just to take the point of the networks, great innovators, great entrepreneurs are great networkers. Most physicians, if at all, they’re on LinkedIn, probably have connections to other doctors, not to people outside of medicine, which is really where you need to be.

It is important for physicians to have connections outside of medicine, if not, it’s the blind leading the blind.

Dr. Dave

That’s a very interesting point there. Yeah, I would venture to guess that most doctors are just connected to people within their class and then expanding to people within their hospital, etc., etc. Having those connections across disciplines are very important, especially for something entrepreneurial.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

You say, “Well, why is it important to have connections outside of medicine?” Because, if you don’t have connections outside of medicine, it’s the blind leading the blind. In other words, sick care cannot be fixed from inside. It has to be fixed from outside in, and is being fixed from outside in. Just look at Apple, Google, Facebook, etc., etc., etc. That’s what’s happening. So, if you don’t understand and aren’t in touch with these Edge or Interface technologies, you’re being the eight-ball.

Dr. Dave

Let’s talk about that a little bit, because we see all of these disruptive forces, whatever you want to call it, coming into the practice of medicine into the U.S. How do you see this playing out for physicians who are out there on the front lines, whether it’s an employee model or private practice model? How do you see these forces impacting our delivery of healthcare?

The goal for the delivery of healthcare is to transform “sickcare” to “healthcare.”

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, we’re already seeing it. I mean, you’re seeing multiple examples almost every day of another industry that’s putting its toe in the water of sick care. I say sickcare advisably, because 3.2 trillion dollars spent, ninety-three percent spent on taking care of sick people, not chronic disease management, not wellness, not prevention, not etc., etc. So, the goal, in my view, is to change sick care to healthcare. I just don’t see a whole lot of other ways to get ourselves out of this mess, given the absorptive demand for care with limited resources.

Dr. Arlen Meyers on How to Think Big & Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship

“I just don’t see a whole lot of other ways to get ourselves out of this mess, given the absorptive demand for care with limited resources.”

So, we have to be able to make that migration. Now, in order to do that, I think it’s going to take both inside out and outside in collaboration. In other words, open innovation, but if you don’t incorporate the user, the end user, in this case providers and the patient, which traditionally have been ignored up until now. I mean, the bio industrial medical complex basically makes stuff. Sure, have doctors informed orthopedic companies how to make a hip implant? Yes. But in general, most of the time, the stuff that comes out has not had a lot of end user input early in the research and development phase. So, I think that’s a big mistake and I think we’re seeing that play out now.

What that translates into, as a perfect example, are digital health apps; digital health platforms that there’s about three hundred and sixty-five thousand of them now between Android and Apple. The vast majority have undergone no clinical validation in advance, so they don’t really do what they say they’re going to do. What happens is, they wind up on the market and nobody uses them, because they haven’t listened and identified the pain point of the end user. In this case, a lot of it has to do with workflow of the physician. They just say, “Here’s this stuff, go do it, and by the way, in the twelve minutes that you have in the office, twenty percent of which is consumed typing into a computer, we also want you to use this app. Well, it doesn’t work.

Dr. Dave

Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, that’s what’s going on. That’s the conflict. So, consequently what happens is, there’s a lot of failures. So, a lot of digital health companies fail, because there isn’t collaboration early on.

Dr. Dave

So, perhaps if there’s physicians involved, maybe they can help bridge some of that workflow with some of those issues and help them to be more successful.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

The operative work is maybe, because, again, I think a myth is…what typically happens is, that a non-sick care company, and by that, I mean people that are creating digital…again, let’s just take digital health. So, somebody that made two billion dollars creating an E-commerce site figures, “Well, that wasn’t very hard. I can just do this in healthcare and change the whole system.” So, they go build something and, guess what? It doesn’t work for a million different reasons. So, they say, “Oh, gee. So, I learned my lesson. Now, I’m going to get a doctor to help me early on.”

It’s pretty easy to start a company nowadays given internet technology, communication software, and the cost of doing business for a startup.

Well, the problem is that the doctor, just because he or she has MD or DO after their name, doesn’t know anything about creating a business; about product market fit; about business model canvas; about revenue models; about the ins and outs of running a startup and how to scale it. So, again, it’s not a question of engaging physicians. It’s a question of engaging physicians who can add value to the company. You can’t do that unless you have the right knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to do it. Which, they don’t teach you in medical school and you’re not going to learn it in your residency.

Dr. Dave

Exactly. We touched on that part. I heard you speak a little while ago, or at least that’s when I heard it, and to paraphrase, you were talking about a global company starting in Starbucks. I was just hoping that you could kind of expand that concept, because I think you were talking about something starting kind of quickly, but then having international business-like components to it and kind of what that means. I was hoping you could just expand on that, because I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of explaining it.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Yeah. So, this is the notion of born global. These days, it’s pretty easy to start a company now, given internet technology; communication software; and the cost of doing business for a startup. You can literally, and several companies have been created, literally, across the stable at a Starbucks. Somebody with an idea is talking to somebody else, one thing leads to another, before you know it, they’d have a hackathon and a weekend and pretty soon they have a company. Now, it’s always been the case that talent, technology, and money goes where it’s treated best. So, given the present immigration system, given the present flow of capital, given the international flow of technology and how easy it is to go around the world…the world is flat; then, you wind up having software developers in Austonia, you have marketing people in the valley, you have sales and marketing folks in China, you have finance people all over the world. So, the point is that in this day and age you really have to be globally savvy and be able to function in international teams.

Dr. Arlen Meyers on How to Think Big & Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship

Physician entrepreneurship means you really have to be globally savvy and be able to function in international teams.

Dr. Dave

Got it. Thank you for explaining that. One other question that I wanted to ask you regarding your expertise is that of being a medical advisor. How does a doctor go about either gaining the skills or doing the right things to become a valuable medical advisor?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, step number one gets back to the point that we’ve made repeatedly is you have to have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to add value. Number two, then you have to find out…let’s say I have it, but how do I find somebody that I can basically help? That has to do with networking gain. It has to do with creating personal brand equity. There’re literally a million practicing physicians in the United States. So, literally, you’re one of a million people who’s raising their hand saying, “I can help you.”

Well, how do I know you can help me? How do I know you can add value? How do I know this is just another, what I call, “hood ornament,” which is a key opinion leader with their face on a website as part of the advisory committee who does absolutely nothing other than create a halo effect to the startup? They really don’t add anything. A perfect example of that, I just finished reading Bad Blood, which was the story of the Wall Street journalist who popped the story of Theranos. One of the things that came through very clearly in that book was that the board of directors of Theranos included such folks as George Salts, Henry Kissinger, James Maddis to schmoozing with the Clintons the whole deal, but there was no one that understood blood chemistry on the board.

You have to have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to add value to a business, which has to do with creating personal brand equity.

Dr. Dave

Wow.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

That was a red flag and it scared a lot of people away, and then, of course, there are a lot of other stories in the tale of Therantology, but that was one of them.  So, the point is, it’s a relationship. You have to be able to add value and visa versa. There’s a whole lot of elements to, for example, what do you need to know as a CMO and a startup? We don’t send you to CMO school, so how do you learn that stuff? Well, some of it’s trial and error; some of it is think big, start small; some of it is take on little projects, see how you do. There’re lots and lots of different ways to do it and if anyone’s interested in the gory details, they can go to the stuff that I’ve written.

Dr. Dave

Okay. I want to now kind of round off with the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, tell us a little bit more about that…the mission, the purpose, and how things are going with that organization.

The business model and the revenue model of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE) is a cross between Match.com and Rotary.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, as I indicated, the unmet need was good idea; don’t know what to do with it; where to go to find it out. So, we decided to create it. The vision, actually, is to close global health disparities. So, that’s kind of like world peace; hunger; and inequity. It’s a big vision, it’s a big audacious goal; but the mission of SOPE to that end, is to help members get their ideas to patients or to help somebody who is. So, it’s an open innovation network, anybody can join, you don’t have to be a health professional or a doctor; but everybody kind of joins because they’re trying to get an idea.

Now, that idea can be drugs; devices; diagnostics; digital health; care delivery; anything that has the potential to add value through the deployment of innovation. The business model and the revenue model of SOPE is a cross between Match.com and Rotary. In other words, we have chapters around the world that meet on a regular basis and we’re a dating service. So, we try to get as many folks in the innovation supply chain together in the same room, who are likeminded, and we make dates, we don’t make babies. People in the room make babies, but it’s been my experience that when you put together likeminded; dedicated; passionate people in the same room, stuff happens.

Dr. Dave

Very cool. How long has this organization been going?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

We officially launched it as a non…it’s a non-profit. We officially launched it, it cost eighty dollars a year, to join; and then you go to the chapter meetings for free. I think most doctors spend more than that on coffee in a week. Basically, we launched it in January of 2011.

Dr. Dave

Okay. As far as membership, any idea about how big it is at this point?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, there’s three audiences. One is the audience…in other words, it’s like public radio. How many people listen to public radio? Like, millions. Well, how many people kind of know what SOPE’s about and look at it on social media? Probably several hundred thousand at this point. How many people actually engage with SOPE? Probably about thirty-five hundred to four thousand based on our SRM and links and all that. How many actual dues-paying members are there? Probably about five hundred to six hundred or something like that, but it’s growing. The point is, we try to move, like any other startup, we try to move prospects to leads to customers. In this case, prospects to those who are interested in learning more to dues-paying members. It’s a relatively insignificant amount of money, but the good news is, it prequalifies the people who are actually interested. A friend of mine, who is in sales operations and sales … makes the point, “Don’t chase dead leads.” So, if you’re not interested, you’re not interested, and we’re not going to waste time. I can’t make someone an entrepreneur. I can only provide resources for those who are interested in doing it.

“Don’t chase dead leads.”

Dr. Dave

Well, we’re going to definitely link up to Society of Physician Entrepreneurs in the show notes. So, if you’re out there and you’re a physician listening, or not even a physician, but like Dr. Arlen was saying, you’re interested in this type of thing; check out the website and check out a local chapter and try it out and see if it’s something that you’re interested in. We’re going to go to the second half of the interview, and we may have already covered the first question here, but I was just going to ask your top two or three tips for doctors looking to get more involved in entrepreneurship. You’ll probably say, “Check out SOPE” would be one of them on there.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Right. Well, obviously, check out SOPE is one, but it depends on where you are in your stage of education. Again, if you’re a premed, if you’re a medical student, if you’re a resident; your head is focused on different things and your time commitments have different requirements. So, I’d say think big, start small. Do the stuff that you can do while you’re trying to get through microbiology, anatomy, or whatever it is in school and you’re just trying to pass part one of the national boards. There’s lots of education available for free on the internet, build your networks, identify a mentor, start thinking about this stuff. I wouldn’t say quit and go join a startup; although, we’re seeing that happening more than we used to see. Medical students who graduate in good standing and simply say, “I’m not going to do a residency, I’m going to join a startup.”

Dr. Dave

I’ve heard that’s pretty common in the Bay Area, like Stanford and maybe UCSF as well, the school in that area.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s common, because if you look at all the medical students in medical school, it’s like a very small group that actually do this; but because Stanford and Silicon Valley is what it is, it gets the hype. So, yes, there are a percentage of students that graduate Stanford Medical School that say, “Screw this, I’m just going to go out and do a startup and make two billion dollars in two years.” Well, there’s an argument about whether you should do a residency and how important a residency is. We could get into that discussion for a long time, but my personal view is, do a residency; get some experience in clinical practice; and then knock yourself out.

Dr. Dave

Got it. Is there a resource, other than SOPE, that you would recommend related to these topics?

You shouldn’t be a member of your specialty society unless they’re adding value to you.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Yes. That resource is your state, local, or national medical society or specialty society. Again, these folks, in my opinion, are laggards when it comes to offering bio entrepreneurship and innovation education and training to their members. I think you should pressure, or quit, you shouldn’t be a member of your specialty society unless they’re adding value. In this day and age, you get paid for creating value. It’s cruel and unusual punishment to not teach people how to do it. So, if you’re in a specialty society, I don’t care whether it’s the American Academy of Otolaryngology; the American College of Emergency Physicians; the American Society of Anesthesiologists, if they’re not teaching you how to do that then you should lean on them to do it.

Dr. Dave

Cool. Alright. How about your best money tip or your best parenting tip, or both?

Dr. Arlen Meyers on How to Think Big & Start Small in Physician Entrepreneurship

Dr. Arlen Meyers

So, I’m not good at parenting tips. So, I think my best investment tip is, number one, if you have extra money to invest, invest it in yourself, not somebody else. By that, I mean personal development; lifelong learning; expanding your skills; encore career; expanding your horizons; taking extra courses; etc., etc., etc. If you decide to get into bio entrepreneurship, keep the money to fund your own startup through bootstrapping. It pays and demonstrates your commitment when you have skin in the game. So, my first tip is invest in yourself or charity begins at home. The second is, as an example, just because you’re in healthcare doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to investing as a physician investor, or understand the business of what you think you’re investing in. A good example, again, is digital health. There’s a ton of money being thrown at digital health now, but my guess is, again, given the odds of success, you’re going to lose as much money or make as much or little money as the next guy. So, just because you think you’re a doctor, doesn’t mean you know how to invest.

Dr. Dave

Well, I love that and I love the investing in yourself aspect too. A couple of years ago, I kind of invested in this whole podcasting thing, just because I was very interested in it and I wanted to connect with other doctors like yourself. I’m so happy that I made those investments, whether it was courses or conferences. About a year now, I’ve been doing this and the amount of people that I’ve met and the quality of people that I’ve met, the network that I’m creating, that is invaluable. So, I can echo everything that you’ve said. I’ve been experiencing it the last year and a half. So, I would definitely encourage the listeners to do it.

Dr. Meyers says if you have extra money to invest, invest it in yourself, not somebody else.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Yeah. With the advent of the gig economy and the sick care gig economy, the opportunities to get out of your box are infinite. It doesn’t have to be all in. You don’t have to quit your day job from day one and leap off the edge, but there’s lots of ways for you to stick your toe in the water to figure out…would I like doing this? Is it a good fit? Am I happy doing it, etc., etc.? So, there’s lots of opportunity to do this, like I said, without quitting your day job.

Dr. Dave

Yeah, for sure. Looking back, anything you wish you had done differently in your career so far?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

I think the biggest issue that I run into dealing with companies, dealing with partners, dealing with customers is, frankly, there are a lot of people are there you simply can’t trust. I think if I had to do it over again, I think I would have honed my antennae a little, but you learn that through experience, because whether it’s working with someone as a research and development partner that doesn’t have the same sense of urgency; whether it’s a company that hires you an advisor that doesn’t pay their bills on time; whether it’s somebody who, frankly, is just lying or creating fraud about their product; someone who is so enamored and in love with their product that they don’t listen. I think the basic issues that sabotage these things have to do with people problems. I don’t know how to get through that. I don’t know how you have a sense of who you can trust, but I think as you get older, you kind of realize this just doesn’t taste or smell or feel right, and you bail. Don’t waste time.

Dr. Dave

This is so apropos, listening to a podcast this morning, going into work, and the whole premise was surrounding trust and having trust, whether it’s within a company or organization is huge. If you don’t have it, there’s an economic cost of that lack of trust. So, what you said here just rings so true, especially in light of what I was listening to earlier today. I like to end with this kind of whimsical question. The one place you’d fly to tomorrow if there were no commitments and infinite resources?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Well, I’m a semi-busy person. I’m retired as an academic surgeon, so the great news is, like you, I don’t have to be in the OR at o’dark hundred anymore. So, I can pretty much go where I want, when I want. Fortunately, I have enough bucks to go where I want, when I want. So, I’ve been a lot of places, but actually, I may wind up in Israel and South Africa later on this year. So, I’m interested in seeing those places.

“With the advent of the gig economy and the sick care gig economy, the opportunities to get out of your box are infinite. It doesn’t have to be all in. You don’t have to quit your day job from day one and leap off the edge, but there’s lots of ways for you to stick your toe in the water to figure out.”

Dr. Dave

Have you been to either of those places before?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

I haven’t been to those places, that’s why I’m saying that it would be fun to kind of see a new place.

Dr. Dave

That would be awesome. Anything else that you want to add, either about the topic of entrepreneurship or SOPE that maybe we haven’t covered so far in the interview?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

The only thing I would cover is that sometimes I’m asked, “Is there one specialty that’s better at being a physician entrepreneur than another?” We see a lot of emergency room doctors getting into telemedicine gigs and urgent care, home care, and all that. The short answer is “no.” I think every physician has the ability to do this, they just have to dial in what’s required to be successful, and we’re there to help you at www.sopenet.org.

Dr. Dave

I think that’s fantastic, because I think sometimes, we’re limited by our mindset and those things can be affected by many different things. So, thank you for just putting that out there to all the physicians listening. It really doesn’t matter what specialty you’re in. This is within you if you have the interest and the drive. Is that the best place for people to get in touch with you if they’re looking to do that, at the website?

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Yeah. I mean, if you’re interested in this and you don’t know how to get in touch with me on the internet, you’re just not listening.

Dr. Dave

Alright. Well, we’ll leave it at that. We’ll leave it at that right there. Dr. Arlen Meyers, thank you so much for being on Doctors Unbound and just imparting so much of your wisdom and experience with us. I really did enjoy it. So, thank you.

Dr. Arlen Meyers

Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

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