By James J. Mangraviti, Jr. 

Typical Paths to a Non-Clinical Career as a Physician Entrepreneur 

Many physicians become successful entrepreneurs.  The most successful chain of bagel shops in our area is owned by a physician.  One of our faculty members started and runs a specialty food company.  Another faculty member launched and runs a business developing and selling his inventions.  Yet another SEAK faculty member runs a series of weight loss clinics (he bought franchise rights to these). 

The typical paths we see to becoming a physician entrepreneur are as follows: 

  1. Starting the business from scratch.  This is the most typical path.  Most often, the business starts as a part-time venture with the goal of transitioning full-time from clinical medicine to running the business.
  2. Buying an existing business.  You would need the financing to do this.  Are you sure of what you are buying?  Why would you run it better than the previous owners?
  3. Launching a business after buying franchise rights. This gives you a business in a box and tremendous support, but it could be very expensive both up front and with continuing franchise fees.

Advantages to Becoming a Physician Entrepreneur 

There are many advantages to being a physician entrepreneur.  These include: 

  • The ability to be creative.
  • Setting your own rules, working conditions, and culture.
  • Being able to work with who you want to work with (for example, family members).
  • Building an organization with inherent value that can later be sold or passed on to children.
  • Creating wealth and jobs.
  • The satisfaction of building and leading a winning team.
  • No limit on earning potential. You are rewarded on your own merits.  You make as much as you can make—nobody else arbitrarily sets your compensation.
  • You don’t need an MBA or other advanced degree that costs tens of thousands of dollars and many years of time commitment to start your own business.
  • Intellectual stimulation.
  • You can give yourself as many perks as are legal, including: favorable retirement plans, jobs for relatives, frequent flyer points, travel, and expense reimbursement.
  • You can leverage yourself.  
  • You have the satisfaction of creating wealth.
  • You don’t have to work with anyone you prefer not to work with.

That said, there are also many drawbacks to becoming a physician entrepreneur.  These include: 

  • There is no guarantee of financial success.
  • You may actually lose money instead of making money.
  • There is no limit to the amount of money you can lose, especially if you have high overhead.
  • Lack of support.  When your computer freezes, you can’t just call the hospital IT department.  You’re on your own.
  • Married to the business.  Depending on the type of business and the team you have helping you, it may be difficult to get away and not run the business.
  • It may be difficult or expensive getting the financing you need to run the business.

Who is a Good Fit to Become a Physician Entrepreneur 

Starting a business is usually a good fit for extroverted, younger, self-starters who have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. It is generally a poor fit for physicians who are mentally exhausted, need a steady income, and are more looking to escape clinical medicine instead of having a real passion for starting and growing a business. 

How a Does a Physician Entrepreneur Come Up With Business Ideas 

New business ideas can come from numerous sources.  Physicians looking for viable business ideas need to be well-read, flexible, and open-minded. 

“Make it a practice to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully.  Your idea must be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.” 

—Thomas Edison 

“Coming up with new business ideas is the result of looking at what everyone else looks at and seeing something different.” 

—Steven Babitsky 

The best ideas have little or no competition; this is where the highest margins can most easily be made. 

Thoroughly vet all ideas.  Play the devil’s advocate.  Not pursuing a flawed idea is a very good thing. 

Keep trying.  You may have to try several business ideas before one takes off.  Even ideas that sound ridiculous may work.  Sometimes such ideas can be very good as no one else is doing them.  Most times, though, these ideas truly are ridiculous and that is why no one else is doing them!  

Turn Problems into Business Ideas: Many physicians encounter problems during their clinical practice.  The physician entrepreneur sees problems as opportunities for inventions, products, and services.  Where can a physician entrepreneur get good ideas for businesses in addition to solving problems they encounter in clinical practice? 

Creative Business Idea Sources for the Physician Entrepreneur: 

  1. Read, read, read.  Read The Wall Street Journal, junk mail and emails, journals, everything.  The physicians who read and are exposed to new and developing trends and concepts are in the best position to come up with successful business ideas.  The Wall Street Journal is an excellent source of business trends and ideas.  If you can’t afford to take time off to get an MBA, reading the Journal each day is your next best bet.

Many physicians throw out their junk mail without opening or reading it.  The physicians looking for business ideas understand that junk mail and advertisements are excellent sources of business ideas.  What is selling?  What can you do better?  What can you adapt, improve, modify, etc.?  All may be gleaned by looking at your junk mail. 

Physicians looking for business ideas are generally voracious readers of journals, business books, and magazines.  They understand that being exposed to many new concepts and trends increases the odds of finding or being able to spot or develop a new business idea. 

  1. Ask what people need/want.  The author has learned an important lesson over the past 25+ years of being an entrepreneur.  Namely, do not sit around your office trying to divine what people might want.  We have learned to directly ask them what they want through interviews, needs assessments, client interactions, and questionnaires.  When coming up with new business ideas, it is best to look for what people want as opposed to what you think they need.
  2. Look for trends in the marketplace.  When looking for business ideas, it is a good idea to try to anticipate the trends and the needs of your customers.  A product or service they need now and will continue to need more of in the future is what you are looking for.
  3. Study industry leaders.  All viable ideas need not be new ones.  Just because one or more companies or people are already providing a product or service does not mean you should not consider providing it.  The question becomes: can you provide a better, higher quality product or service?  Can you make it more accessible?  Can you provide it at a lower cost?
  4. Expand a current idea that is working.  Very often, new ideas are expansions of ones that are already working.  For example, the author of this post co-developed a successful writing course called “Fiction Writing for Physicians.”  The expansion of the idea was simple and logical and worked, namely: “Fiction Writing for Lawyers.”
  5. Find and fill niches.  Locating, identifying, or developing a market niche can lead to many successful business ideas.  The niche opens the doors to the customers.  For example, the author identified physicians who perform independent medical evaluations (IMEs) as a niche.  After the identification of the niche, the business ideas and products were easy and natural (for example, books, conferences, white papers, and directories).
  6. Study an industry and identify problems and needs.  The physician entrepreneur looking for viable business ideas needs to seek out industry problems.  Generally speaking, the solution is the business idea that may be viable.  In healthcare, there are no shortages of major problems and needs.  The solutions to these problems/needs are an excellent source of new business ideas!

Protecting the Idea of a Physician Entrepreneur 

Generally, you cannot copyright, patent, or trademark an idea.  There are, however, various ways to protect an idea.  These include: 

  • Line up your ducks before disclosing your idea to the marketplace so that you are so far ahead of the game that the competition would have a difficult time catching up,
  • Align yourself with established businesses who can serve as distributors,
  • Corner the market, and
  • Keep your mouth shut.

Conclusion: Becoming a Physician Entrepreneur as a Non-Clinical Career 

With healthcare making up 1/6 of the US economy, there is ample opportunity for physician entrepreneurs.  Being a successful physician entrepreneur requires research, thought, insight, hard work and courage. The intellectual, professional and financial rewards of being a successful physician entrepreneur can be tremendous. For the right physician, it may be well worth it to take the plunge.  

James J. Mangraviti, Jr. is the co-founder of SEAK, Inc.’s annual Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians Conference, held each year in Chicago.  SEAK’s Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians Conference features a faculty of dozens of physicians who have experience in non-clinical and alternative careers.  Many of our faculty are SEAK alumni.  SEAK’s Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians conference also includes free 1-1 peer mentoring, the opportunity to interview with employers and recruiters, and a robust networking experience.  Jim can be reached at 508-457-1111 or