Let's Go Yachting: Why EM Providers Can Be Great at Business

Christopher Moag, PA-C


February 12, 2021

Most people hold medical providers in relatively high regard. We went to school for a long time, we're doing a job that is beneficial to the community, and we are generally hard workers. However, people in medicine, especially physicians, have a reputation for being miserable at business: late to meetings, slow email response, zero financial skills, and so on. Some of this is true, but the modern clinician is changing from a head-down patient-care specialist to a tech-savvy problem solver. This is best seen in emergency medicine practitioners.

Emergency medicine is a melting pot of skills: time management, team leadership, constant pivoting to higher priorities or better approaches, continuous patient engagement, and cross-team collaboration unlike anywhere else in the world. Tell me one business other than emergency medicine in which the director, vice president, or chief is managing 10 or more high-stakes problems at a time; making critical — sometimes life-and-death — decisions; delegating high-level tasks; interacting with 20 or more clients (patients); and documenting everything. Outside military combat, there is no comparison.

If you were to take those daily skills and apply them to business, the emergency medicine clinician would succeed beyond all measures. There are, of course, skills in business that are not taught in medical school, but most of these can be learned at home or on the job. In my transition from 18 shifts in the emergency department to full-time at GYANT, a medical technology company, I received exactly no training. Excel, Jira, Monday, Mongo, and YAML were all foreign tools, but my clinical life of learning under high stress how to navigate multiple electronic health records — which seemed to be designed to slow down and frustrate clinicians — had prepared me for learning how to make clunky technical tools work for me.

I also needed to learn the lingo. ARR (accounting rate of return), ROI (return on investment), SOW (statement of work), and RFP (request for proposal) were foreign terms to me, but after years of speaking in similar acronyms and having to learn the languages of neurology, cardiology, orthopedics, and other specialties with unique vernacular, my brain was wired to quickly pick up another language. Within weeks of starting my new gig, I was speaking in the same tongue that my nonclinical college buddies learned in their first jobs.

The stress is also different, with short deadlines, client demands, sudden technical bugs. My new officemates are often biting their nails to get a product ready for launch in time, but no one dies if you don't make the deadline; you just get a new deadline. This isn't to say that there is no stress, just that it is different and never as stressful as when you have three codes running simultaneously and there's someone shouting in the hallway that he needs his juice or he's going to murder someone.

The thought of talking to the CEO about the proposed strategy for getting our new product into client hands can make my coworkers sweat. But as an emergency medicine provider, I am trained to wake up the cardiologist at 2 AM on a Saturday or tell the urologist that he needs to come catheterize a patient who has already presented multiple times this week with urinary retention. If you can't already guess, every CEO in the world is nicer than a cardiologist at 2 AM or a urologist when they need to cath someone in the emergency department.

These skills are translatable but they are low-hanging fruit. Anyone could figure them out. But clinicians are also trained to reach the juiciest fruit way up at the top of the tree. Clinicians are skilled at applying esoteric knowledge to real-world problems, sometimes with very high stakes. This is not common in most industries, but for clinicians it is required. In business, most people struggle with this skill and end up following orders from those who have it.

People in business who can think critically, understand complex situations, and apply their fundamental knowledge to strategically solve problems are all but guaranteed to succeed. Emergency medicine providers do this daily, multiple times, and in settings that are loud, smell bad, and are full of distractions. Imagine having hours to deliberate over a critical decision at work and to do so in a quiet office, in a comfortable seat, with a full belly and a hot coffee. It's like going yachting.

Emergency medicine providers are endowed with skills that are likely to set them up for success in almost any business. But there is still a lot of work, a lot of problem-solving and people management. No high-paying, respectable job is truly easy. But if an emergency medicine clinician wants to pivot to using their abilities in business and they are willing to learn new languages and processes, they will surprise even themselves with how well their clinical skills translate to business and set them up for success.

Christopher Moag, PA-C, is an emergency medicine physician assistant and the medical team lead at GYANT. For more insights like these and tips on how to transition from clinical work to business, check out his free newsletter, Translational Medicine.

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