5 Reasons Why Medical Students Should Join a Digital Health Start-Up

What’s in it for you?

Ameerah P.
Aug 14, 2020 · 5 min read
What does entrepreneurship have to do with clinical medicine?

With schedules spanning lectures, labs, and long tube journeys, the life of a medical student often falls into a predictable routine. We are no strangers to breathing the rarified air of age-old libraries, spending coffee-fuelled nights working towards a research deadline, or memorising reams and reams of Anki flashcards. This very much contrasts to the constant flux of the startup world. It wouldn’t normally attract medical students, myself included, who often avoid time-consuming projects without tangible benefits.

This changed when I faced an unexpected gap year prior to medical school. Outside of full-time administrative work, freelancing, and tutoring, I spent my free time exploring the buzz around digital health. From learning how to analyse trends in brain-targeted drug delivery systems, to designing a mobile app to support patients recovering from TBI, I’ve realised that there’s a great deal of value to be found in startups for medical students.

Here are five reasons why.

Walk like a doctor, talk like an entrepreneur.

I’ve come to understand that clinicians and startup founders are much more alike than I once thought. Triaging tasks, troubleshooting, and being resourceful in high-pressure situations are critical to both professions. Effective and transparent communication, in particular, ensures consultations are patient-centred, SBAR handovers are concise, and family updates are clear and informative. Proper communication is also key to startup success – be this in pitching to VCs or in onboarding new recruits. There are many obvious caveats here, but the surprising overlap between the two has convinced me that strengthening my basic entrepreneurial skills will benefit my future work as a clinician.

How to ask for help.

At times, it feels as though there’s no end to the knowledge and skills we need to absorb as medical students. We all have our limits — in medicine, recognising them saves lives. In theory, this sounds simple; in reality, it takes a degree of courage, self-awareness, and humility to know when to ask for help. No matter how many times we revise the General Medical Council’s principles of working within our competence, this skill is best learned beyond the four walls of our lecture theatres.

Startups often operate as tight-knit families, where each individual’s contributions are visible and almost immediate. This also means that you’re thrust into high-impact tasks that don’t always match your skill-set. Whether you like it or not, everyone’s weaknesses are quickly exposed. But, with time, you’ll learn to laugh at, communicate, and best them — growing not in spite of your faults, but because of them.

Vertical Thinking and Horizontal Skills

In collaborating on projects with developers, graphic designers, and more, you not only learn by doing, but you also engage parts of the brain that medicine doesn’t normally stimulate. The benefits of this can be reaped for months, or even years. For instance, during my first-year of medical school, the COVID-19 pandemic left my family with several unforeseen healthcare costs. While my initial solution to this was returning to full-time admin work, I realised that I could leverage the front-end development and UI/UX design experience I had gained through building mobile and web application prototypes to work as a freelance web designer — this saved me time, covered our healthcare costs, and formed another stream of income to support me through medical school.

Back against the wall.

Faced with decisions of life and death, healthcare professionals are tested to the limit on a routine basis. The pressure is high, the stakes even higher. Developing the grit needed to tackle this takes time and experience — working at a startup allows you both.

Before raising, startups are generally under-resourced, under-funded, and under-staffed. For medics, such environments are double-edged swords: they are undoubtedly challenging to navigate, but you’re allowed much more room for error compared to the clinical setting. While this pressure is very different from caring for another human, the medics at Mindset believe that early exposure to it has made us far better equipped to take the bull by the horns in difficult, high-risk situations — be this in the hospital, or in the conference room.

Networks, Networks, Networks

An ancillary point is that this network has been crucial to building my confidence at medical school — a place where I became all too familiar with imposter syndrome. Without the support that I have been afforded through such individuals, there’s no way I would have sought research projects, like deep learning driven identification of gliomas and mice brain segmentation models, that have become some of the highlights of my journey so far.

So that’s my spiel. Not all startups are going to revolutionise the healthcare industry, nor are they all purely driven by a desire to solve humanity’s biggest problems. But my experiences in working with them has challenged the way I think about my role as a future doctor, the skills I have, and the value of maintaining a sense of childlike curiosity about the healthcare system around me.

P.S. If you’re a medical student interested in learning more about digital health, please feel free to reach out!

P.P.S If anyone is keen on joining a fun, little medical startup, I hear ‘Mindset’ is pretty cool. 😉

Mindset

Dementia care, beyond the clinic.

Mindset

Mindset’s mission is to provide accurate, accessible and affordable dementia care at the touch of a button. Integrating artificial intelligence and an intuitive patient-centric design, Mindset enables patients to take ownership of their health whilst reducing healthcare costs.

Ameerah P.

Written by

Interested in CNS diseases, data science, and public health. UCL Medical School ‘25.

Mindset

Mindset’s mission is to provide accurate, accessible and affordable dementia care at the touch of a button. Integrating artificial intelligence and an intuitive patient-centric design, Mindset enables patients to take ownership of their health whilst reducing healthcare costs.