Why Physicians and PhDs Make Excellent Founders

Why Physicians and PhDs Make Excellent Founders

It can seem like there is a large barrier for physicians to break into more entrepreneurial projects. At least this is how I felt. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know who to talk to. I also didn’t know that physicians and PhDs are well-equipped to be founders and here is why. 

Grit and Determination

So much of business is choosing a direction and problem solving to get there. It is like walking into the unknown with just an idea and maybe a plan of where you are headed. The step by step process isn’t always as clear. There are risks involved with money and time. It is easy to get discouraged. Sometimes your peers think you are a sell out or are less than. Sometimes projects fail. Physicians, surgeons, PhDs have already passed the test of having an iron will. Because they have endured so much already, they should internalize that evidence that they can overcome the difficulties with starting something new. 

Ability to Learn

No entrepreneur will know everything. Professionals are used to learning on the fly. At least in the medical field it is necessary to have a good sense of what our strengths and weaknesses are. In fact it can be harmful when physicians are not aware of their own limitations. The combination of being able to learn effectively and know our weaknesses can help us know where we should focus on bringing in team members to fill in the gaps to drive growth.


Physicians and PhDs might be so used to just diving into learning something new that they overlook the power of delegation. Depending on the project goals you might need to be more focused on finding contractors or employees might be more efficient than you starting from scratch on wikipedia. That being said, it is helpful when you can dive in and develop an understanding to know how to best utilize and communicate with experts on topics you’re not familiar with.

Team Focused, Teaching, and Communication

This seems straightforward, but the team is one of the most important building blocks of any business project. Communication is also a significant factor. In the book, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, numerous techniques that he discusses for negotiation are what we are taught in medical school. Mirroring statements, using “tactical empathy”, emotional intelligence, to help people be understood and heard. A number of these key components of negating deals, contracts, and so on that were discussed in this book, were somewhat familiar based on concepts discussed in medical school and skills that are necessary on a daily basis in the hospital.


PhDs from early on are expected to be leaders and teachers of graduate and undergraduate students. They are also expected to be organized and set up systems for their lab team to be functional. Training staff as necessary and making things happen. All highly applicable and already practiced skills.

Unique Knowledge and Insight

Even when it comes to bringing specific products into the market. Physicians and PhDs are on the frontline of what they do. Whole industries are extremely well understood by physicians and PhDs, are often completely foreign to outsiders. Even engineers that are building products within the healthcare space can miss the mark because they haven’t experienced it. Fight the imposter syndrome. Never underestimate your ability to give advice within areas that you have unique insight. 

Problem solving

This is a skill that is constantly tested at the PhD and physician level. Problem solving is probably one of the most important components of business. Having a vision for the future, being able to communicate that vision, and working with the team to get it done is key to business building. PhDs are doing this in the lab all the time. There is no perfect study template. They know the end goal and they work step by step to get it done through trial and error to make it happen.


PhDs and physicians are used to making critical decisions, weighing pros and cons, anticipating the outcomes and pivoting based on the available data. Oftentimes in business, critical decisions have to be made based on very little information. Physicians are gathering data from patients, labs, images compiling them and making a diagnosis and treatment plan. Medicine is not always an easy road from diagnosis to treatment. There are many variations. Tests that have false results or that don’t work at all. It takes a certain mindset, drive, and practice to problem solve your way to a solution. It is essentially an experimentation process. This critical thinking and decision-making is a constant factor when building products and developing business strategies. 

Experimentation

There are many concepts from the world of research and experimentation that are directly applicable to business. For example, conducting market research. Or introducing a minimally viable product (MVP) to the market, getting feedback, and then pivoting based on what works and what doesn’t. Physicians and PhDs have developed these skills already, just in a different context. It is like having the playing cards, but deciding to play a different game. This list could go on!


Though many areas are readily applicable, this isn’t to say that stepping outside the lab or hospital will automatically be easy. There are still areas that will require practice. Leading, managing, working with contractors, contracts, money, and more, will still be challenging. I like the approach of starting small, stepping out of your comfort zone and working on that side project everyday. It is essentially like forming a new habit. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits says, 


All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” 


Even if that project you have in mind isn’t something you would consider entrepreneurial. The same concepts apply. Your accomplishment of past challenges will keep you going, and your already well-developed skills will help get you there. 


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