Medupreneurs turning dreams into new career paths

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Emergency physicians are, without a doubt, the most entrepreneurial of all the medical specialists. Natural problem solvers, we’re always looking for novel ways to solve the myriad of daily obstacles we face. We also have the highest burnout rate of any of the medical specialties. As a result, many EPs are constantly creating new inventions, new products, new mobile applications and new companies to bring these products to market.

In this article, we will feature entrepreneurs in four distinct areas of products: clinical innovations, international education, community connectedness and physician wellness. You might be surprised to find yourself saying, “I could do that” or “I have an idea or an invention that could develop into a second career like these guys.”  And you may be right. Take a look at these emergency physicians as they describe their journey in their words. You might find your inspiration for an industry changing product or even a change in career direction.

Bill Green

Invention: The T-RING —The world’s fastest, easiest and safest digit tourniquet.

I had no plans to become a physician entrepreneur. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As department chairman, over a 10-month span, I had the pleasure of reviewing three alleged malpractice cases related to the management of finger lacerations. Two were injuries caused by a finger tourniquet, with one resulting in amputation.

Reviewing the literature I found some eye opening facts. Missed finger injuries were one of the most common causes for ED litigation. Most missed injuries occur on small, innocuous looking lacerations. Using a tourniquet to achieve a completely bloodless field was critical to minimize the risk of missing these injuries and all traditional digit tourniquets had significant risks.

When it came to finger tourniquets it looked like a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” There had to be a better way. So I teamed up with a high school friend with experience in product design and bringing products to market. After a year of testing multiple designs, prototypes and numerous materials, we were successful in creating the T-RING.

t ring

At our first exhibit at ACEP in 2008 our little booth was swamped – physicians just wanted a simple solution to a common problem. We shipped our first order to a small hospital in Minneapolis, in December 2008. Now we’re in over 1,200 facilities in the U.S., and in over 40 countries worldwide.

Next, we addressed the fact that studies demonstrated “no clinical benefit” to suturing uncomplicated finger lacerations less than 2 cm. The T-RINGs ability to immediately provide a bloodless field opened the door to topical skin closure methods, and led me to develop the T-Strip wound closure strip and our Topical Laceration Closure System™. With greater than 80% of the 10-15 million finger injuries seen in U.S. EDs, urgent care clinics and private offices each year meeting the criteria for topical laceration closure, there is great potential for the Topical Laceration Closure System™ to provide better, more efficient and more cost-effective care.

Although a reluctant entrepreneur at the start, the success of the T-RING and the great response from providers for the T-Strip and the Topical Laceration Closure System™ continues to fuel my entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve realized our skill set as emergency physicians: problem solvers, decision makers, innovators and knowing when to call someone when you need help, have suited me well as an entrepreneur.

Rob Rogers

Invention: Medutopia — A creative think tank that offers a variety of mentoring, training courses, coaching and consulting to help people and organizations amplify their social media presence, improve their educational effectiveness and develop an innovative podcasting strategy.

My path to ‘medupreneurship’ began while teaching at The University of Maryland where I first created The International Teaching Course. Although started under the umbrella of the Department of Emergency Medicine, it was transitioned to a privately run course when I moved away from Maryland in 2015.

Creating an innovative and cutting edge curriculum, inviting talented faculty from around the world to teach the course and integrating social media into the course gave me my first taste of what it was like to be a medical education entrepreneur. It was the first time I felt I could be in charge of my destiny and create products that could change the world.

rob rogers

Joining the faculty at the University of Kentucky in 2017 I created Medutopia, a new company with the aim of helping educators around the world become “learning choreographers.” But Medutopia is much more than just a collection of courses. It’s an energetic collection of talented medical educators from multiple countries, a medical education consortium that creates mastermind groups, podcasts and blogs. But just as important, Medutopia provides the tools to budding “medupreneurs” to start their own podcast, blog or even their own business.

Development of Medutopia has made me realize that it might actually be possible to create something that could stand alone, something that might even allow me to reduce my clinical time or even leave the practice of medicine someday and stand on my own.

What are my eventual plans? I’m still a full-time practicing emergency physician at a busy hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and I love teaching residents and students. But, I am not getting any younger and I am not sure how long I want to practice emergency medicine. I would be lying if I said I don’t ever want to leave the practice of medicine. Maybe I never will, but I live my day to day with the dream that someday I could be my own boss. I dream of a world where I can spend more time creating products that truly help healthcare educators. This is my Medutopia. What is yours?

It’s time for the creative, the innovators, to learn how to take their career to the next level, to be happy, to be their own boss. Medupreneurs, rise up!

Ben Mattingly

Invention: Wild Med Adventures — a CME company that fosters group education in a small social and informative setting.

I don’t sit easily and I learn very little from sitting in a big classroom. There are just too many distractions and my mind wanders carelessly. Frustrated with hotel conferences, where I learned very little and met very few people, I decided to create “Wild Med Adventures,” a CME company that fosters small group learning, travel, socializing, wellness and meeting new people.

After working and traveling for a year in New Zealand with our children, we decided it would be really fun to create our own conferences where we share stories, provide hands-on training and foster open-discussions. What we have created over the past four years has been remarkable.

Enterprenuers - Wild Med Ben Mattingly

We have traveled to many extreme and exotic locations. Teaching dive medicine while diving, altitude medicine while climbing, hemorrhage control while hunting and Zika while exploring Costa Rica are just a few examples. We handle almost all the logistics so attendees just show up. Many of our attendees just keep coming back! We truly foster a special camaraderie among our group. Dance parties at base camps, private live bands, yoga sessions, trivia nights, poker sessions, friendly group competitions and fire sing-alongs are just a few of our unique experiences. I literally walk away with new friends from every trip.

Let’s face it. We have a hard job with most experiencing some “burnout” during our careers. But we also have many talents and interests such as art, music, travel, adventure or business which in many cases we neglect or never explore.

I’ve always enjoyed business, teaching, traveling and having a good time and “Wild Med Adventures” satisfies all of these for me! I have learned so much about marketing, website management, travel, teaching, people, cultures, and what makes a unique experience for our clients. Our positive feedback really inspires me to keep improving and adding new trips. I would encourage you to follow your dreams and find that inner spark that really makes you happy. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to show you mine.

Rick Pionkowski

Invention: Julota is a software platform that enables communities to create a virtual safety net and be proactive and identify early warnings of potential diagnoses and life-threatening events in their population.

After ER residency and eventually getting a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois in 1989, I and a couple grad students built a prototype of our current “connected community” program on Steve Job’s NeXT computer. Despite being described by NeXT as “the most amazing thing ever,” one roadblock after another killed the project.

For the next 20 years, I focused on trying to be a good ER doc, raising a family and dreaming. In 2010, I started a new prototype effort. But there was still no clear-cut path forward. Then an ER doc-friend suggested I meet with some engineers from iTriage. Their response was “You should talk to Michael.”

Michael Schaedel and I co-founded Julota. Our first pilot was in 2016. It has now grown from three to 20 cities in Seattle. Julota is the answer to your daily ER headaches.  How many times have you had a patient that had no reason to be admitted, but seems depressed, has no food in his house and his car isn’t running? You send the patient home with the Community Resources sheet we know won’t cut it (it was last “Revised Sep 2009”) and knowing he’ll be back in two days.

Julota brings all community resources to your fingertips. Hook the patient up with the right agency to perform a “loneliness,” “food insecurity” or “fall risk” assessment. Julota will find a “free medical transportation” ride for the office visit. If your community has an outreach team, they can be notified to follow up with the patient. Getting this set up only takes you, the case manager or social worker three minutes. Julota automates, tracks and closes the loop on all processes. Julota is the “connected community” at your fingertips.

Conclusion:

EPM has helped showcase some of these products at InovateED, part of the ACEP Scientific Assembly mHealth Toolbox. This year’s “pitch contest” will focus more on the process of bringing some of these health startups to market. Perhaps you’ll be further inspired to focus on that idea that’s just scraps of paper and turn it into the next great product to be featured at the 2019 InovateED?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

FOUNDER / EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dr. Plaster has been an emergency physician for more than thirty years, working exclusively night shifts for the past twenty years in emergency departments across the country. During that period he joined the U.S. Navy and served two tours in Iraq. Dr. Plaster is the founder and executive editor of Emergency Physicians Monthly and the founder of Plaster Publishing.

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