Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why should I leave medicine or science for business? (650-3)

As they say in philosophy classes. Why not?

Let's assume the business that you are moving toward is a life science business. The first important consideration is to ask yourself "What were my goals when I decided to enter medicine or a life science field?" Presumably, the goal was to have some impact, either regarding patient health or the underlying basis of knowledge related to health or wellness.

Many folks get hung up on the "money" focus of businesses. It's true that the first goal of any company is to be viable and have sufficient cash flow (and thus revenue and limited expense) that it can stay in existence and complete its mission.

But for the physician and others in the field of providing health care, that reality is just as valid for medical practices and hospitals too. Healthcare businesses just happen to be in a market where it is essentially impossible to lose money or go bankrupt. Your customers will get sick and need your services. Healthcare training is a HUGE barrier to entry. Recessions, hurricanes, aging, and a whole host of other challenges to business won't affect your sales. In the end, health is a (BIG) business - 17.14% of GDP in 2014 and 18.4% this year and still climbing (yes, the EU average was only 10.04 in 2014 but let's not go there.

Life science research is the opposite, as described there are 33.1 billion invested in health science research by the NIH (1) and $26.5 billion (2) spent by non-business organizations. But all that support from the perspective of the younger life science researcher is less inspiring; the competitiveness of this market is all too familiar.

WIth NIH and biomedical funding and total awards showing minimal growth (1) and the number of newly minted (e.g., <35 years old) life science PhDs growing (3), getting your academic "business" off the ground using R01 (or other) funding is a struggle. A future research career is uncertain, and indeed many life scientists pursue careers other scientific research (4), including entrepreneurship. In fact, life scientists establish most biomedical startups (5)

The point is you are already in business, some easy some hard.

A business, be it a medical practice or bench life science work must have a mission, an overriding principle, and a goal, a reason for generating revenue, achieving cash flow, and staying solvent. I'm assuming that if you pursue a life science company, the core goal is likely to be categorically the same; that is, to impact the health of a population. In essence, there is no change. If one were to rephrase the question posed in this blog post to be "Why should I stop wanting to affect the health of the population?" the answer would be "Who said you are stopping?" Yes, you would be abandoning practice or laboratory science, but you retain your original (broader) vision.

In fact, migrating to a business direction gives you a vast range of possible impact. Perhaps you could join the digital therapeutic revolution, advance mobile health, and produce information technology directed toward either providers or patients;. Or you could assist in the discovery new devices and pharmaceuticals. Or, potential you could foster new models of care via real-time or non-real-time patient communication with a broad set of potential providers. You could do anything.

A life switch from medicine or science practice to business is not for everyone. As with any significant change the decision should be pursued with both meaning/relevance or "gist" based decision-making processes as well as a factual or verbatim based decision-making processes (6). Trust your intuition (7) but get your facts in order. If you can define an interest in entrepreneurship, then the next step is to more thoroughly investigate entrepreneurial intend and that is the topic of the next blog.

  1. Office of Budget (OB) Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR). FY 2017 Budget in Brief - NIH. February 16, 2016.
  2. Eisenstein Michael. Assessment: Academic return. Nature. May 5, 2016;533(7601):S20-S21. doi:10.1038/533S20a.
  3. Sciences National Research Council (US) Committee on Bridges to Independence: Identifying Opportunities for and Challenges to Fostering the Independence of Young Investigators in the Life. Where Are We Now?. National Academies Press (US). 2005.
  4. Sauermann Henry, Roach Michael. Science PhD Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement. PLOS ONE. May 2, 2012;7(5):e36307. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036307.
  5. Mehta Shreefal. Paths to Entrepreneurship in the Life Sciences. Nat Biotechnol. December 2004;22(12):1609-1612. doi:doi:10.1038/bioent831.
  6. Blalock Susan J, Reyna Valerie F. Using Fuzzy-Trace Theory to Understand and Improve Health Judgments, Decisions, and Behaviors: A Literature Review. Health Psychol Off J Div Health Psychol Am Psychol Assoc. August 2016;35(8):781-792. doi:10.1037/hea0000384.
  7. Reyna Valerie F. A new intuitionism: Meaning, memory, and development in Fuzzy-Trace Theory. Judgm Decis Mak. May 2012;7(3):332-359.
Image: Sally Rockey, NIH Extramural News: Rock Talk. Age Distribution of NIH Principal Investigators and Medical School Faculty. February 13, 2012.


  1. I love reading about all the Health care field has to offer. One of my friends children is looking to get into prosthetics robotics engineering (I am not sure it that is the correct term) but he wants to be able to help people that have lost limbs and is working in robotics engineering to make prosthetic limbs. I am going to have to share your site with them.

    1. Please do. There are and enormous amount of opportunities in health/medicine. Some are because the system we have is so inefficient and stubborn (we're finally moving away from paper). And some are because of the explosion in biotechnology and biomedicine.