Doctors Want To Be Innovative, But They Don’t Know How

Since embarking on this journey, I’ve been fortunate to explore innovation in medicine and learn what makes a medical entrepreneur, by talking to people first-hand outside of hospitals and clinical environments.

From working full-time in hospitals, I know first-hand what it’s like to want to create change, but not know how to. The constraints of protocols, hierarchies, specialty college milestones, and expectations of supervisors- not to mention full-time rosters- they all exist for safety and for high-quality medical training. I value my time in that world like nothing else. It made me into the doctor and person I am today.

Yet, I had to forcibly step away in order to figure out my odd journey.

Gaudi, Barcelona. Credit: TheMedicalStartup.com
Looking up at the possibilities. Gaudi built his vision, which millions enjoy today. Credit: The Medical Startup

Medicine is a long road, signposted by those milestones I mentioned earlier. You graduate from med school. You start Internship. You score your first Resident job in the field you want to enter. You gain entry into the specialty college of your choice. You survive your first day as a Registrar. You pass your college exams. You become an Advanced Trainee. Then you’re a Fellow.

Then, one day, you finish that, and you’re finally a Consultant. (What many in the public refer to as a “specialist” or, in the case of General Practitioners, Fellows of the RACGPfully qualified and accredited family doctors.)

It is odd if you step away.

Grand Canyon. Photo credit: TheMedicalStartup.com
Will people point you out for daring to be different? – Grand Canyon. Photo: The Medical Startup

It is odd if you take a break. (Okay, maternity/paternity leave, marriage, other life events, they obviously do happen.) In the recent past, not even five years ago, it may have been more acceptable to take a break for a year. But with the ferocity of job competition amongst junior and senior doctors alike in Australia, the walls are closing in on flexibility.

And now, taking a step away from training; even for just a few months; even by remaining employed but putting off an exam for a year; even if you just need a 6 month “half-gap” of a year, because you’ve not had a proper study break since you were 5 years old – even if – sorry to hear –  a tragic life event has shaken your world – it can be seen as detrimental to a person’s chance of being rehired.

And when you’re surrounded by colleagues and well-meaning friends who don’t understand, and who actually say that those who take a break, even to work on a startup, are “unambitious” or “unmotivated” – is it any wonder, then, why doctors feel isolated and stay under the radar when they come up with an idea?

And, even if a hospital or clinic is supportive (and they usually are; unfortunately, it tends to be particular influential individuals who aren’t) – you have to go a step higher, and try explain to colleges that you’re still doing valuable work in healthcare, by working on your startup- it just doesn’t fit their definition of training.

And this is why doctors find it hard to Innovate.

Seeing through the clouds as you take the leap. Photo: TheMedicalStartup.com
Leaping through the clouds- daring to dream. Photo: The Medical Startup

How can you innovate when you are feeling weighed down by all these pressures?

How can you innovate where your environment is slow to respond to change, and, despite best intentions, has trouble understanding the few (or many) employees who want to do more, but can’t articulate their feelings?

How can you innovate when you risk being penalised or even kicked out of a specialty college that you’ve worked so hard to enter?

How can the medical profession realise that a step away doesn’t equate a permanent career change, and that it is vital for the future of healthcare for motivated health professionals to gain experience building something outside of their day-to-day work environments in order to bring optimal change for their patients and colleagues? 

Entrepreneurship doesn’t suit everyone. This is not a comment on forcing everybody to become entrepreneurial. It’s about creating the supportive ecosystem for those who are motivated and capable of change, to create that good change.

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo Credit: TheMedicalStartup.com
We should connect our different ways of thinking, and allow ourselves to shine. Credit: The Medical Startup

Many Australian hospitals have rotations in Clinical Redesign and Innovation, or other similarly-named Medical Resident positions. A junior doctor has the opportunity, usually for 10-12 weeks (the standard duration for hospital rotations) to work on innovating within the hospital system. They are usually assigned a senior Supervisor and observe, advise, discuss, formulate, and strategise solutions and carry out these solutions during these ten weeks.

Projects are varied. They can improve the efficiency of completing discharge letters sent to the GP when patients go home. They can improve the allocations of night shift duty. They can create more structured Handover meetings at the start of each shift, so the staff finishing can “hand over” outstanding tasks and patient updates to incoming team members. These roles give junior doctors the opportunity to innovate. However, very few of these roles exist, and to be honest, I am not sure of the demand for doctors who want to rotate in these roles over Cardiology, Nephrology or other critical specialties that count towards training and clinical care. (Feel free to let me know.)

I’ve been really fortunate (and also worked hard!) to attend events where I get to meet people in the health tech space; and others who are medical entrepreneurs in non-medical fields; and I find, that non-medical people are, very graciously, applauding those of us who innovate. Those of us who choose to step away. This whole post has been stimulated by yet another Twitter comment by a non-medical entity encouraging more doctors to innovate. It’s fantastic that the non-medical community are eager to see more doctors and health professionals innovate. If they only knew how hard it was, and how much doctors risk by choosing to innovate, they might understand why there are, perhaps, fewer Australian doctors in the entrepreneurial spotlight than in other fields.

Dreaming big at Yosemite National Park. Photo: TheMedicalStartup.com
Dreaming big at Yosemite National Park. Photo: The Medical Startup

I’m going to shine this spotlight on inspiring health professionals who are doing great things with their time, to help normalise this situation, and to celebrate their wins as well as their journeys. And I challenge you, too, to be inspired, to value your time, and give your best to the world, no matter what field you’re in.

Do you agree? How can healthcare ecosystems and communities in general improve inclusion for health professionals to innovate, in and out of their workspaces? What cultural issues need to be addressed and how can they be fixed? Or do you think things are fine as they are? Feel free to comment below, or send us an email via our Contact page. 

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5 Replies to “Doctors Want To Be Innovative, But They Don’t Know How”

  1. If you can get to the point where you no longer depend on healthcare for income, then you can freely innovate. Otherwise you are beholden in both money and ideas to a limited focus.

    1. Thanks for your comment Michael. Do you mean, where hospitals no longer depend on healthcare for income (if that makes sense)? Or do you mean, doctors? It seems contradictory as doctors spend so much time at work, it usually is their primary income. The benefit of spending that time at work, as well as improving on clinical skills, is also in seeing the number of areas where innovation can help.

      I think most of us don’t base our decisions on whether to innovate based on monetary income- it would be a much more stable move to just stay in the ways of working that we know of in hospital. The move is more based on time availability, and having that room for innovation provided for by training colleges and hospitals would help doctors feel more supported if they want to start something. The Sydney Local Health District holding its Pitch event is a great example.

      People also don’t necessarily need money to innovate. There are a great deal of not-for-profits out there, many run on a volunteer basis, where initiatives for healthcare innovation begin. Learning to run a lean startup is another topic but is a great way for people interested in healthcare innovation to start.

  2. Very interesting read. Innovators are needed everywhere. You are the ones who are perceptive enough and smart enough, to do something in a better way. You are the ones who will not settle for what is accepted just because it has worked. You are restless, questioning, challenging, pushing, redrawing the boundaries. You march to a different drum beat. Go for it!!

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