Putting the Passion in Compassion

By Mehdi Razavi, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist at Baylor College of Medicine and director of clinical arrhythmia research and innovations at Texas Heart Institute. He is also co-founder and faculty advisor for Saranas, a Rice University-based startup delivering novel therapies for cardiac disease.

Money is not the most important thing in life. Time is.

And if you think this is a platitude, you should spend a day in the shoes of the practicing physician who is trying to make the world better. Not only by his or her patient contacts, but by conceiving, nurturing and ultimately bringing to market technologies that — with intelligence, grit and a bit of luck — will impact larger numbers of patients than one will ever meet in an entire career.

Mehdi Razavi, M.D.

So it is that you “doctorpreneurs” serve as parents and midwives of your innovations. It can be as daunting a task as it is an impressive an achievement.

The most obvious positive: The greatest advantage of being a physician-entrepreneur is that no one understands the needs for specific novel technologies better than the physician who is going to use it.

This leads to two distinct advantages: First, you are equipped to hone in on unfulfilled needs. Second, you can very early on judge the applicability of your or someone else’s technology.

This serves as a nice segue to the most obvious negative which was alluded to in the opening lines of this article: In order to have a strong sense of market need and technological applicability in the clinical scenario, it behooves you to be clinically active. Having the letters M.D. stitched at the end of your name does not make you a “doctorpreneur.”

Unfortunately, the term “clinically active” can be — and almost always is — a grueling schedule that leaves very little time for other vocations. Spouses and children of physicians can attest to the fact that medicine is a very, very jealous mistress.

The precious time left over by “frivolities” such as inventing a new device or starting a new company run the risk of a host of collateral damages. It is best that the “doctorpreneurs” and their loved ones be clear-eyed before diving into a project.

Time management, never a strong suit of most physicians (myself included), becomes a requisite skill.

But wait, there’s more.

So far I have touched on some of the more obvious rewards and challenges associated with being a “doctorpreneur.”

More subtle ones abound: There is an intrinsic conflict between being a physician and entrepreneur (maybe that’s why the descriptive word itself doesn’t roll off the tongue roll off the tongue effortlessly; nothing is effortless about it). As physicians, we have been trained from the moment we set foot on medical school to be risk averse. There is nothing wrong about this. It has been said, after all, that we bury our mistakes.

The problem is that same trait is usually fatal to the career of any aspiring entrepreneur. The single most important trait of a successful entrepreneur is the possession of an almost preternatural ability to accept defeat.

This crystallizes what, in my opinion, is the single greatest factor that precludes the caring, inquisitive, energetic, empathetic and even industrious physician from becoming an entrepreneur. Most of our lives we have been at the top of our classes, have scored at the top of endless standardized exams, and have not tasted real failure.

Sure, we may not have gotten into our top choices of medical schools or residencies. But that is not the same as the astringent castor oil that most others have had poured down their throats when they were unceremoniously rejected from every school after getting only a single chance to take one of those many exams I alluded to earlier.

We physicians don’t do failure well.

So what’s the solution? I will put it crassly because there really is no other way around it: Get over it. Don’t compare a failed technology or company with failed patient care. It’s not even apples to oranges. It’s colors to fruits. Realize that the greatest service you are providing your patient is taking a chance on something that — if worthwhile at all — is high risk.

You would never offer your patients a surgery that would be as high risk as development of a new technology. But you owe it to them. Because if de Vinci and Harvey and Fleming and Pauling and DeBakey and Cooley had not taken chances, we would still be using leeches to treat blood borne infections.

We physicians need to put aside the fear of failure when it comes to entrepreneurship. We have to embrace the fact that there is an inverse proportion between the frequency of initial success and the incremental benefit afforded to the patient.

Don’t just think outside the box. Draw a new one. You will be wrong more often than not. But soon enough, you will strike gold. For your patients, your profession and maybe even a little bit for yourself.

Put the passion that years of study have sucked out of some us back in the compassion that our patients deserve.

In my next post, I will try to provide a concrete, tangible strategy that has at least worked for myself.