Doctor Goes Entrepreneur – And What Management Consulting Has To Do With It

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In my last posts I laid out why management consulting can be a promising alternative to clinical routine for doctors. However, the question on ‘what happens next?’ remains unresolved. A management-consulting career lasts two to three years on average. And then? What happens after that? One could always go back to being a practicing doctor again. But, of course, there are other exciting alternatives to that. How about becoming a healthcare entrepreneur? Sounds quite fancy, right?

It was a rainy evening in New York City when I entered a colorful loft office in Soho. It was the ZocDoc headquarters. This is where I found them. A bunch of former doctors who, at one point in their careers, left management consulting and are now building one of the most promising start-ups in the healthcare industry. Despite very different personalities and backgrounds, they share the passion of improving people’s healthcare experience and quality of healthcare in their everyday life. Oliver Kharraz, Florian Otto and André Heeg are the three doctors amongst many who have re-defined their way to ‘serve the patient’.

Why did they decide to leave medicine? Why are there so many doctors with a management consulting background at ZocDoc? How do they deal with risk? I couldn’t resist asking them these questions and this is what they said:

Oliver (COO and ZocDoc founder) is the most recent doctor in a 300-year family tradition. After a first taste of clinical practice he joined a global management consulting company. This is where he met his co-founder and ZocDoc CEO Cyrus Massoumi.

Oliver, why did you choose to leave medicine?

I don’t feel that I’ve really left medicine – I just left direct patient care. I’m still thinking about how healthcare gets delivered and how healthcare systems work.

What’s the advantage of having doctors with a consulting background working for ZocDoc?

I think doctors deeply care for patients. That’s something that they don’t shed, even if they move on from direct patient care. This works really well with our mission-driven, patients-first culture here at ZocDoc. The consulting background helps them to speak a common language with people in business, and have a structural familiarity with a lot of the challenges of the day-to-day of running a practice.

How do you deal with risk?

I try to understand it. Once I decide to do something, I stick to it unless one of the factors of my original assessment changes. I think that helps to keep me cool under pressure.

Florian (VP of Sales at ZocDoc), who joined management consulting directly after having completed his University degree in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Soon after, he became Founder and CEO of Groupon Brazil. Now he is managing and building ZocDoc’s sales teams.

Florian, why did you choose to leave medicine?

I think the better you want to be at any given thing in the medical field, the more you need to specialize. This has the potential to make the job monotonous and less diverse. Also, being a clinical doctor is not scalable – treating more patients and having a greater impact is only possible through working more hours or more quickly. Moving into business allowed me to create scalable process and have a broader impact.

What’s the advantage of having doctors with a consulting background working for ZocDoc?

As a doctor, I understand doctor’s needs; I know the value of each patient, and the difficulties of managing a medical practice. My background as a consultant helps me in general business acumen and managing a team. I think the combination of these two lead to unique insights that I am able to apply at ZocDoc.

André (Director of Inside Sales) worked as a surgeon before he decided to switch to management consulting where he exclusively worked on projects in the healthcare space. He now is responsible for growing ZocDoc’s local business.

André, why did you choose to leave medicine?

I wanted to have an impact on patients on a larger scale – I wanted to help many patients rather than just one at a time. I also wanted to try something different, like exploring the business world.

What’s the advantage of having doctors with a consulting background working for ZocDoc?

We can bring knowledge and experience from both worlds: medicine and business. It’s an advantage to be able to recognize the challenges in practicing healthcare and also understanding how to build and run a company.

How do you deal with risk?

I’m a risk-taker. You will never grow without taking risks.

What does that tell us? Going through medical school makes entrepreneurial endeavors seem too far away to seriously consider them. But Oliver, Florian, André and many other people have demonstrated that a glance beyond one owns hospital walls can teach you differently. The skillset you acquire in management consulting becomes undoubtedly very valuable when building your own business.

Stay tuned for the full interviews with Oliver, Florian and André coming up next!

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Sophie C., MD, is based in Berlin. Sophie graduated at the Medical University of Vienna. Her fields of research covered stem cell research in diabetes as well as inflammatory mechanism in heart failure. She was also active in fields of Philosophy of Science with focus on medicine theory, comparing Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine. Sophie joined one of the leading global management consulting firms (McKinsey) in November 2008. She currently works as a project manager with focus on health care topics. She also worked as an editor for an online business news agency during the crisis in 2000/01. Next to her work as management consultant, she is an active member of an NGO in Cambodia, supporting projects to help disabled children and poor rural villages. Sophie is passionate about sports around mountains and water involving snowboarding, rock climbing, hiking, kitesurfing, diving and sailing.