It seems that every other doctor I know wants to get into digital health.
It’s sexy, it’s popular and impactful... and it's a way out of burnout from jobs that they currently hate.
Yet, despite the increasing popularity of health technology among my medical community, I’ve always wondered why relatively few healthtech companies feature a medical doctor in their leadership team.
I have previously consulted with an early-stage healthtech company that enquired about hiring doctors to deliver their service. None of the leadership team was a healthcare professional. This lack of market knowledge eventually meant that the product required a total redesign because many of the fundamentals requiring clinical input had simply been missed due to poor understanding.
McKinsey estimates the global wellness market at more than $1.5tn with an annual growth of 5-10%. For healthtech companies wanting to stand out and thrive in this lucrative arena, hiring a doctor in their founding teams is an essential step.
Why proactively hire a doctor to your leadership?
There are several reasons why you need a doctor on your founding team today:
- Strong communicators: They can quickly embed within different teams in an organisation, explain medical and technical information to non-clinicians whilst also picking up complementary skills quickly.
- Excellent credibility: Companies I’ve worked with claim that having a doctor on the team is essential for fundraising, attending tender meetings or when entering bidding discussions. This is particularly relevant in procurement processes where the client’s chief medical officer will be asking questions that only a medic will fully understand.
- Natural leaders and decision-makers: Much of clinical practice is built on working in teams, providing leadership, analysing information quickly and taking decisions. All of these skills translate well into the business sector.
- A granular understanding of the patient and clinician health journey: This enables you to design the best service and user experience that your clients need, and will actually use.
- Great doctors help you attract great doctors: Hence make sure your first medical hire is one that truly counts! This can also help you to save substantially on recruitment costs further down the line.
Best practices for hiring doctors into leadership roles
If this article has persuaded you to onboard a doctor into your leadership, don’t forget what I mentioned at the beginning of this article: every other doctor I know wants to get into digital health.
Every other doctor I know wants to get into digital health.
It’s important to realise, however, that only a small fraction of those doctors will, in fact, be the right fit for your leadership roles. Many will be experiencing burnout from clinical work and looking for an easy (and perhaps romantic) way out.
Get your hire wrong and it will be a costly mistake.
The most suitable doctors are already primed for leadership, as demonstrated through extracurricular activities, entrepreneurial experiences and qualifications in business, leadership and management.
Three tips for hiring a doctor to your leadership team
- Hire a doctor with a broad clinical background
Many companies make the mistake of thinking they can only hire a specialist in their product area. The strongest doctors can demonstrate their ability to adapt quickly to the needs of any subspecialty, as well as their willingness to leverage the knowledge of a clinical network to help them do so.
- Diversity, equality and inclusion should be central to your recruitment choices
As a Black woman, doctor and entrepreneur with a huge network of doctors, I can count on one finger the number of Black medical doctors I personally know who are in a healthtech leadership position.
Companies with strong diversity and inclusion outperform those that don’t, with ethnic diversity being a greater indicator of success than gender. Hiring a diverse team early on in the life of your organisation will instil a robust, open-minded culture as the company scales.
- Encourage them to keep working as doctors (if they wish)
Your average investor panel would expect any founder to give up their day job and work full time without question. Most of my clinical colleagues who have founded companies or work as chief medical officers maintain some level of clinical practice which in turn benefits their company. As already mentioned, one of the key reasons companies hire doctors is for their granular understanding of the patient and clinician health journey.
One of the key reasons companies hire doctors is for their granular understanding of the patient and clinician health journey.
When you discourage a doctor from maintaining their clinical practice, this can not only impact their licence to practice but also erode their knowledge of day-to-day clinical practice — essential when designing effective health tech products for a fast-changing market.
Not sure how to identify the right doctor? Consider tapping into existing networks of doctors who are interested in entrepreneurship or engaging a headhunter who specialises in recruiting doctors for key healthtech leadership roles.
One of your best hires will be a doctor who is also your biggest fan!
Dr Abeyna Bubbers-Jones is a consultant, occupational health physician and founder of Medic Footprints, a specialist doctor-led organisation connecting doctors with a diverse range of healthtech companies and wider industry opportunities. She tweets at @DrAbeynaJones.