Entrepreneur Physician's Many Hats

When John Shufeldt, MD, JD, MBA, FACEP, was 4 years old he had a book called The Physician. He couldn’t read it, but he looked at all the pictures and knew even then that he wanted to be a doctor. But that doesn’t mean it came easy. In fact, Shufeldt says, there was a time when his goal seemed out of reach.


“I barely passed high school,” he recalls. “There was little hope of me making much of anything out of myself other than saying, ‘Do you want fries with that Coke?’ I got my act together in college, but if you ask my parents, it was very tenuous for a while.”


Things are no longer tenuous, as Shufeldt was recently named the new chief executive officer of Doctors Express, the first nationally franchised urgent care group. It’s the latest chapter in a journey that began nearly 20 years ago.


Founding father

Shufeldt began moonlighting at urgent care centers during his second year in residency, and worked in larger emergency departments after completing his residency in emergency medicine. He recalls those times as a great learning experience.


“How can we get these people out of here so I don’t have to see them anymore?” he would ask himself.


Schufeldt also thought about what a waste of money it was for someone to pay him to see some patients who could be easily treated somewhere else much less expensively. And that was really the genesis.


He moved from Chicago to Arizona, where there were no urgent care centers, in 1990. Three years later, he and two partners founded NextCare Inc., and opened the first center in Phoenix.


“We made every mistake in the urgent care handbook and, fortunately, survived them all,” Shufeldt says.


Today there are 58 clinics in seven states. The reason for the success?


“Perseverance … and not being afraid to make mistakes,” he says.


Business and law

Early on, however, Shufeldt realized that — despite being an entrepreneur as a kid, selling chocolates and mowing lawns — he had no business experience. He had even flunked the only business class he took in high school. He attended Arizona State University and obtained his MBA in 1995, but says the light bulb for growing NextCare really went on during a trip to Moscow and a visit to a local McDonald’s.


“The food was exactly the same as you’d get in the states,” Shufeldt says. “I thought, if you can do this at a McDonald’s in Moscow, we can have multiple urgent care centers run exactly the same way, with the same processes, policies and procedures. I realized I could grow [NextCare] the same way.”


He also realized that there would likely be some point in his life when he might not want to be working in emergency departments, but instead might want to work with physicians who were having legal problems. So, taking classes full-time, Shufeldt blasted through law school in two-and-a-half years, passed the bar, and has been practicing what he calls “light law” ever since. But even that “light” practicing, he says, has made him a better physician.


“Working with physicians as an attorney helps you really be a better physician as well, because you look at others and you say, ‘Man, that could have been me,’” Shufeldt says. “I also think that physicians have a kind of inherent distrust of attorneys. And so being able to bridge the gap and stand on both sides of the riverbank, hopefully, I can change that perception of attorneys because, you know, at the end of the day, they’re simply doing their job. Whether you like it or not, they’re doing what you would do if you were an attorney; they’re just doing their job.”


Not slowing down yet

Shufeldt’s feelings about education have changed a lot since his high school years. Today he is an adjunct professor at the Arizona State University, W.P. Carey School of Business where he teaches Health Law and Ethics to MBA and health sector management students. He is also an adjunct professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law here he teaches a seminar on health law entrepreneurism.


And ever the entrepreneur, he recently founded MeMD, a telehealth service for employers and consumers. The reasoning that brought MeMD to life was that patients usually have an idea of what’s wrong with them; they just need someone to validate it.


“I wanted to make it very transparent, very low-cost, and really address a lot of people’s needs, or otherwise they’re going to go through the ER and the urgent care, and spend too much money,” he says.


Shufeldt hasn’t slowed outside the medical field, either. Despite growing up with parents who extolled the dangers of flying, he overcame that fear and obtained his pilot’s license. “It’s pure freedom,” he says of flying. “It’s so liberating not to have to go through a scanner and be patted down; to just jump in the plane and fly.”


The latest challenge

Now Shufeldt comes full circle, taking the reins of Doctors Express — a move he says happened purely by accident. He knew the founders — people he refers to as great franchisers with a great idea who happened to build an incredible business. They were looking for someone to come in and run things. Shufeldt recommended some names, but nothing came to fruition. So he asked if they were interested in selling, and they were. A few months later he was back in the urgent care business.


But Shufeldt doesn’t think of his career as work because he says he’s “figured out a way to just enjoy the hell out of stuff I do.”


Yet, he does recognize the importance of what he’s accomplished in his life.


“Maybe it’s only self-perception, but it’s the ability to think you’re making a difference,” he says. “Being able to take something at its inception and see it through, that’s tremendously rewarding. I mean, wow, I made a difference.”