Doctor And… Healthcare Startup Leader
Today we are excited to launch our new blog series, “Doctor And…,” a showcase of the growing number of medical professionals who pursue hybrid careers that blend medicine and other fields.
In this era of rapid technology-driven innovation and major government-driven healthcare reform, the need for leadership and input from medical professionals is more important than ever before. So, it is inspiring to see doctors across the world rising to meet the needs of medicine and taking on diverse, flexible roles outside their clinical settings. From building entrepreneurial startups to tackling challenging roles in government, business, research, and NGOs, clinicians are pursuing novel ways to achieve their basic mandate to serve people.
Here at Nomad, our aim is to connect clinicians with freelance job opportunities that offer unparalleled flexibility, and we hope that in doing so we will give more clinicians the freedom to pursue all their passions -- in any field. Indeed, this is a cause close to our team’s heart as Nomad itself was founded by “doctorpreneurs.” And so, we are thrilled to celebrate the many outstanding clinicians who -- at least some days of the week -- trade their white coats for business suits and work to make healthcare better.
It is a special privilege to profile Brenton Fargnoli, MD, MBA for the inaugural installment of Nomad’s “Doctor And...” series.
Here’s how this MD/MBA balances meaningful work in both the practice and business of healthcare:
How did you come to combine medicine and business?
My father was an ophthalmologist, and from a young age I was able to see the special relationship he had with his patients. Additionally, I had a lifelong interest in science, and became involved in cancer research in college. While in college at Penn, I also began taking classes at Wharton. In the summer of my first year of medical school, I worked with Blue Cross & Blue Shield to help design a value-based care model, which became the predominant model in the state. That experience showed me that business was a way to positively impact more patients than I could ever personally see in a lifetime of clinical practice.
Once you’d made the decision, what were your next steps?
I joined Penn’s joint MD/MBA program next. Fortunately, through the medical school and Wharton being on the same campus, I was able to weave the two disciplines together. One of my research mentors, Dr. Kevin Volpp, was actually a Penn MD and Wharton PhD. He specialized in healthcare economics research and was also a practicing physician, so I had an early glimpse into how a dual track could work. Additionally, I was on the board of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which helped me understand the importance of aligning business priorities with the clinical perspective. From there I went on to residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital where I continued to hone balancing the two sides. For example, I was part of Brigham’s Management and Leadership Track, which exposed me to the hospital’s leaders and strategic initiatives. I was also involved with local startups through consulting and hackathons.
What was your approach to bringing the two into the workforce?
During residency, I met Dr. Krishna Yeshwant who, in addition to practicing at Brigham and Women’s was general partner at Google Ventures. He was on Flatiron Health’s board and introduced me to the company at an early stage. Shortly after, I started working with Flatiron while I was still a resident in Boston.
My early work with Flatiron meant I that spent a lot of time on Amtrak commuting from Boston to New York. But the experience also put me on a direct path to a career that used both my degrees. I moved to New York when I completed my residency and started full-time at Flatiron Health. I also began practicing as an attending physician on nights and weekends.
How would you describe your work today?
At high level, Flatiron Health is a technology and services company in the oncology space. We build the infrastructure for cancer care. Our software platform enables cancer researchers and care providers to learn from the experience of every patient. Most of my work centers around launching new initiatives and providing leadership for our value-based care work. In addition to my formal role, I’m one of six practicing physicians at Flatiron, so I also serve as a clinical resource to teams. For example, when a new alternative payment model came out for cancer care, I was able to use my experience to dissect what it truly meant to physicians and patients. My hospital work enables me to understand the needs of patients and physicians, while working closely with data and software engineers to create meaningful solutions.
And how would you describe the benefits - and challenges - of the balance?
On a personal level, it’s really satisfying to treat patients on an individual level, and then also work on novel solutions that could help millions of these same patients. Professionally, bringing multiple perspectives together has been critical for prioritizing healthcare challenges, and then also developing solutions that actually work in the real-world.
What advice do you have for young doctors looking to combine medicine and business?
First I’d say do your homework -- seek out a lot of different opinions and then build immersive experiences around what rises to the fore. It’s very hard in the abstract to understand what clinical practice or tech is like, so the best way to validate or identify a creative iteration off that path is to start learning what is possible.
Second is that going down a non-traditional path in medicine is not easy. Look for pioneering institutions and mentors within those organizations that see the big picture. Instead of putting up roadblocks, they should help you clear the way.