Think Generally, Act Specifically

The question of whether to be a generalist or a specialist occupies not only the minds of medical students about to choose their career paths on Match Day, but also the minds of physician entrepreneurs.

The question of whether to be a generalist or a specialist occupies not only the minds of medical students about to choose their career paths on Match Day, but also the minds of physician entrepreneurs.

One the one hand, being narrow and deep in a particular job function, like regulatory affairs, sales and marketing, or digital health and telemedicine makes you the "expert." However, this can be a problem when your expert job is no longer in market demand because of technological substitutes, macroeconomic forces, and the changing nature of the job market. Being a generalist who is wide but shallow might give you more career latitude but leave you knowing a little about a lot, just like an emergency medicine doctor might know the first 10 minutes of every disease.

When it comes to specializing or remaining a generalist, I recommend thinking “both,” not “either/or.” The future of medicine is increasingly being defined by coherent industries and skills. Those can only be recognized if you have radar and environmental sensors that provide you with the general business and market intelligence you need to shape your future and the future of your venture. We are witnessing a transformation from sick care to healthcare to coherentcare.

On the other hand, entrepreneurial success requires focus, and the skills required to fail it, nail it, scale it and sale it are almost impossible to find in a single person. Entrepreneurship is a relay marathon race, not a sprint. You probably won't be able to hand the baton to yourself.

Think generally, but act specifically. Run your leg with your particular area of expertise and then hand the baton to another specialist who knows how to run the next leg. Generally, your team should cross the finish line first.