Everyone has heard of startups. For many of us, the term “startup” is a reference to technology companies in Silicon Valley, companies like Google and Apple. These companies are so well-known to us because their products and services have and continue to significantly shape and define the world we live in today, from how we purchase almost everything we buy to how we communicate with almost everyone we know. But startups seem to have become more than just providers of goods and services — they’ve become lore of our capitalistic society: a standard for what it means to be truly successful. When we think of startups, we sometimes find ourselves dreaming of having the next big idea and then turning our idea into the next big company. This would be our ticket to the top, the membership fee for the one-percenter club. According to Forbes magazine, approximately 90 percent of startups fail, but that is not part of the public’s perception, nor is it part of the dream of walking shoulder-to-shoulder with luminaries such as Musk, Cook, Bezos and Page.
Even as a young physician, I can still recall an era when doctors were viewed with the same admiration reserved in today’s world for CEOs of highly successful startups. Doctors were seen as healers, curers of disease and life-savers. They were considered intelligent, compassionate and dependable. In short, doctors were the best our society had to offer. In my lifetime, this idea that medicine and doctors are to be admired for their positive contributions to society has been replaced by admiration of top startups and their CEOs. Going even further, it seems that the public sentiment towards doctors has shifted all the way from affectionate and appreciative to distrustful and disrespectful, an opinion frequently expressed by doctors.
Unfortunately, in my short career up to this point I have only occasionally experienced the old mentality regarding and belief in the power of medicine. Instead, I am left with patients who don’t trust me or the healthcare system, taught by doctors who miss the “good ol’ days” of medicine and who are plotting their exits from medicine before the next hot startup can take over our lives. My medical decisions are increasingly controlled by administrators and third-party payers. I long for those bygone days when doctors were just doctors, not controlled by outside pressure from third parties with their own financial agendas.
The doctor-patient relationship that was so useful for treating people for decades no longer even exists. I don’t need to look far to find an answer to the question of how this sea change went down — insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the government have slowly taken over the healthcare system and in the process have sidelined doctors. Just follow the money, as the old adage goes, and this is where we find ourselves now: knee-deep in the industrialization of medicine. It is only fair to admit that some of the changes in healthcare have benefited patients. The Affordable Care Act has provided millions of people with access to healthcare and has eliminated preexisting conditions as grounds for insurance companies to reject applicants. However, the practice of medicine is not the same as it used to be and what it means to be a doctor has fundamentally changed.
My desire to help the next generation of doctors — whether currently a pre-med, medical student, resident or fellow — comes from my desire to help my profession as a whole. The recent trends in healthcare are alarming. I write from the perspective of a young physician. Doctors sacrifice a decade on average to reach attending physician status, often times saving lives and curing disease along the way, just like doctors of the past had been doing for generations. However, the serious lack of respect and financial reward make it difficult to justify the toll it takes on our lives to become doctors.
It takes most startups an average of 10 years, employees who work long hours and the ability to survive ups and downs, before success is ultimately achieved. When I hear these stories, the first thing that comes to my mind is the journey I took through medical school and residency. A journey filled with moments of exceedingly long hours and lots of ups and downs: a journey that lasted just about 10 years. So why does a tech company get more respect than a doctor if they’re both putting in the same amount of time, effort and sacrifice to master their respective crafts?
The influence of startups is undeniable, but isn’t the influence of doctors and medicine at least equivalent? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places physiological needs at the base of the pyramid, emphasizing that our health is the most important prerequisite for a fulfilled life: even more so than having an iPhone or owning a self-driving car. So what can we do as current and future physicians to earn back some of the respect we’ve lost? How can we end up on the cover of magazines espousing success rather than be front page news trashing our profession?
It starts with doctors acting more like startup CEOs. We’re all smart enough to do it. Going to medical school already puts us in the highest achieving class, but we cannot stop there. We need to think bigger, the way Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg all have. People that dream capture our imagination. They also ultimately define the future. By embracing the tactics of these successful entrepreneurs, we can help redefine the future of medicine and the roles of doctors for the better. Check out Inc.com’s list of “17 Game-Changing Health Startups” for some inspiration and motivation. It’s our turn to be the next big startup.
Dr. Matthew Bloom, DO (@DrBloomDO) is a PM&R resident and co-founder of Docs of Tomorrow (@docsoftomorrow). He is passionate about helping future physicians dominate their medical training, from medical school to residency and beyond.