Startup Skills: Great for Physicians, Great for Living

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Startup Skills: Great for Physicians, Great for Living

by Dylan Chadwick

“Welcome to the team. Remember, this is a startup. There’s no IT department here. If something goes wrong with your computer, Google it!” And that was it. I was hired. Sure, it seemed a little bit informal, a drastic step down from the stringent interview scenarios for which my guidance counselors had prepared me. However, I was ready. This is just what they told me working at a Startup tech company is like, especially in NYC.


To many, startups seem very appealing. There’s no real dress code, the workspaces are often stuffed with couches, ping pong tables and high-end coffee machines and every Wednesday, employees may be invited to a lauded whiskey tasting atop some fancy SoHo high-rise or an intramural bowling session…in the office. I think the romantics equate it to working with Peter Pan’s “Lost Boys” crew, only instead of fighting pirates, they all got degrees in computer programming. And again, while it may be exciting to flip profanities in a work meeting, "Startup culture" can be a hard sell in the "real world." My Dad thinks it’s an absurd brand of millennial degeneration while others laud it as the future of the American workplace. All I can say is working at a Startup can really suck sometimes. It’s busy, high-pressure, and there aren’t always fully formed systems, protocols or HR sanctions in place which protect the actual employees.


Here’s my silver lining though: working at a startup, and I mean fully investing myself in the process, from the long commutes, late night strategy meetings, work-sanctioned retreats and occasionally sleeping underneath my desk, I’ve managed to key into some universally important personal skills that have helped me maximize the experience. I'm certainly not presumptuous enough to compare mobile app development to legitimate medicine, but I'm prone to believe that these startup-centric skills can apply to any in a high-pressure job scenario. Here's my top 5 startup skills that would benefit any physician.


Productivity Monitoring

As a medical practitioner, whether you’re running your own small practice or working within the organization of a larger medical system, staying on top of your projects, both personal and work related, can be the toughest struggle. Fortunately, working at a startup introduced me to the wide world of productivity and time management apps.


There’s no shortage of these things, many of which have made big names for themselves on the app-store circuits and tech blogs, but in principle, their fundamental aim is to streamline personal workflow. Some apps function as virtual “check off” lists giving users the unparalleled satisfaction of marking “done” items from a list, while some simply send scripted prompts to remind the user of various deadlines. Here’s what I know: your day is really not your own in medicine, and no matter how thoroughly you plan it, it can always get derailed without a moment’s notice. Productivity apps put you back in control of your day, and restructure your own plans and daily occupational goals when the situation grows unruly or unmanageable.


For occupational projects involving multiple collaborators, a new breed of “team based” productivity apps lends an exciting degree of organization and innovation to any project-based work. Apps like Trello allow collaborators to organize their projects into various “boards”, to detail progress made on said boards, keep a running list of “current” and “finished” projects and also to “tag” other team members into various projects. It’s also extremely user friendly, easy to use and functions like virtually any other social media platform, even though it’s an internal workplace software.  


Getting everyone together can be like herding cats, so a move into a team-based productivity software could be the way to go. They allow users to stay on top of their own projects, and to conceptualize more for the future.


(Over) Communication and Documentation

It’s an unwritten rule that communication is key in every workplace, but why not “over communication?” Working in any kind of high-pressure work environment means that pinpointing where your team members are at any given time can be a serious challenge. Of course, for these obstacles, we utilize communicative technologies that keep us in communication across multiple distances and from our own personal devices.


Here’s where over communication comes into play though. Any time you get a correspondence from a team member, someone in the wait staff, a specialist, or even a patient, always reply, even if that reply is simply to say that you received the message. This may seem a tad cumbersome, but the implications reach quite far. For one, when you respond to emails, even those of a routine nature, you give the sender the assurance that you’re contactable, that you’ve received their message and that you take their correspondence seriously. Secondly, it creates a veritable “paper trail” through which the conversation can be referred to later if needs be. Also? Given smartphone integration, it really doesn't take that long to fire off a simple “thanks for reaching out.” Think of it like a small hinge that swings a big door; a door which prevents a whole gaggle of workplace disasters and communication breakdowns.


Fluidity and Data Movement

These days, “access” always trumps “ownership” in the big data discussion. In a time where cloud-based services, streaming networks and high-speed internet connections facilitate information access like no other, the ability to move that data becomes equally important.


Startups have taken to services like GoogleDocs, DropBox and others, and its largely because of these systems' stunning levels of interoperability. These programs allow users to remotely collaborate, move data easily and securely between parties and on multiple devices, all without taking up any physical space on their hard drives. Medicine is going that way too, as new methods for the standard office visit as well as the proliferation of EHR’s take hold. Granted, there’s a few holdups for full on EHR adoption in the medical sphere, including a technological learning curve, security concerns and general hesitancies from parties on all sides. However, as these concerns are pacified, data fluidity will become one of the new barometers by which we measure any system’s value.


When a physician can move valuable medical data seamlessly and remotely between parties, whether between specialists or patients, their effectiveness and reach is virtually infinite.


Self-Care is Tantamount!

It’s an oft-neglected maxim for high-stress work conditions, but anyone in the business of healing must also ensure that they’re in good condition to help others. Sleep deprivation, occupational demands and frazzled nerves can render any day insurmountable, but an old adage from my mother puts things in perspective “it’s nothing a good night sleep can’t fix.”


I've seen my office on the last night following a product launch deadline, and I've trudged through their strewn and sleeping bodies the work morning after. Some companies have taken it upon themselves to provide sleeping facilities to their workers (like those Google sleep pods) while others leave such facilities up to the employees. Regardless of where your day is taking you, you need to ensure that off-the-clock you’re rested, healthy and have your personal business in working order. I won't tell you how to deal with your stresses. Some go fly-fishing while others take to smart phone games. What I am saying is that an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure, so keep yourself running on all cylinders in the day to day, and you’ll have that store of energy saved up when the going gets more frantic.


Thinking on Your Feet

Sometimes the greatest challenge of working at a startup is the lack of clear distinction between job titles. It’s less about who’s “supposed” to do what, and more about the whole team collectively accomplishing a goal. In this regard, one’s “job description” can rapidly change on a moment’s notice as workers are asked to step outside of their comfort zones to accomplish tasks which aren’t inherently in their “wheelhouse.”


Now, this may not directly translate to medicine. If you're specialized in neurosurgery, it’s not likely that you’ll ever be asked to remove someone’s wisdom teeth but the principle has some weight here. Sometimes various holdups enter into our day, and the biggest challenge is figuring out whose job it is to fix them. Pointing a finger may get the job done, but generally speaking, adapting to a new situations and even being able to accomplish straight forward tasks and initiatives on your own, will carry far more weight and improve the efficiency of a practice, even if the obstacle isn't medical.


Job Skills, Life Skills

Though an app development startup and a medical practice may seem like divergent entities, the inherent principles of conceptualizing, strategizing and managing project tasks in a high-pressure work environment are universal. Furthermore, I've a newfound respect for the long and late hours many physicians work through on a daily basis, as well as the technologies which enhance our abilities to accomplish our daily occupational goals.



Peckham, Carol. "Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse."

          Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse. Medscape, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.