Rethinking Medical Student Entrepreneurship

Most medical schools don't teach their student the business of medicine. The omission holds back innovation and leaves students unprepared for the new value-based care

Most medical schools don't teach their students the business of medicine or science. The result is students, residents, and practitioners who struggle to practice profitably or don't have entrepreneurial knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary to survive and thrive in an increasingly value-based environment.

In addition, as more and more undergraduate colleges and universities are creating innovation and entrepreneurship centers, they are educating undergrads who expect to further their innovation and social entrepreneurship ambitions once they are in medical school. Most will be sorely disappointed with the offerings. At that point, DIY biomedical and clinical entrepreneurship is the only viable path.

Here are some things I've learned while building medical student entrepreneurial education programs:

1. Like most doctors very, very few medical students, even those with some former business or entrepreneurship education, have an entrepreneurial mindset. It is not how they are accepted.

2. Medical student schedules, work demands, and curriculum do not easily allow for the "intrusion" of non-basic science or clinical subjects, no matter how important or determinant of future success.

3. Most students (and faculty) think that entrepreneurship is about creating companies, not creating user-defined value. Consequently, those that are interested are focused on creating startups, not supporting startups or participating in a supportive role, like an advisor or future investor, or leading efforts to create patient defined value.

4. Regional innovation ecosystems reinforce the startup mentality.

5. Medical student entrepreneurship should be a platform, not a product. It should include networks, resources, mentors, experiential learning, and industry-academic knowledge exchange.

6. Graduate students and health professional students are different and have different motivations and career ambitions. While there are some core ideas that are relevant to both, the paths rapidly diverge once you start getting into the weeds.

7. Expect resistance from most faculty and administrators. There are exceptions. Those that are willing to experiment with some ideas will demand proof of concept and expect you to do it for free until you have demonstrated results in a short time.

8. First year medical students, usually someone with a Silicon Valley computer science or engineering background, will volunteer to champion an effort to bring informal business education to others in their class. After the first biochemistry exam, however, the focus shifts towards getting top grades so they can be competitive for that difficult to match into dermatology residency. They lose their appetite for anything that will distract them from that goal, such as entrepreneurship or the business of medicine.

9. Because of the disconnectedness of the first two years with the second two years of medical school, it is hard to sustain the programs or have any reliable leadership succession path.

10. Trying to make biomedical or clinical innovation and entrepreneurship education a mandatory part of medical or graduate school education is a non-starter. You have to do the work around.

Despite all these obstacles, there are ways to be successful. Here are some.

We're working on creating an MBE program and Medical Practice Entrepreneurship bootcamps, seminars, and certificate programs at the Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship as part of our Biomedical Entrepreneurship Program.

The medical community is sending a mixed message. On the one hand, we are moving towards value-based practice and payers are saying they won't reimburse for anything short of it. On the other hand, we are saying that we can't be bothered with teaching future doctors how to do it. I guess future doctors will just have to burn out figuring it out on their own, or depend on innovative medical education entrepreneurs to clear the way for them. Either way, it shouldn't be that hard.