From working the night shift on a busy NHS ward, to meeting with investors in central London offices; these realities might feel worlds apart. But my background as an A&E doctor has played a more central role in my new career as an entrepreneur than even I might have predicted. In countless situations as a start-up founder, I’ve found myself drawing on the skills intrinsic to being a good doctor. Here are 5 of the most important:
Ability to listen and communicate clearly
Many people believe that to be a good doctor, you need to excel in Chemistry, Physiology, or Anatomy. However, I believe that to be a really great doctor, you need to excel at listening. Patients want to be heard and validated. And just as important as listening is communicating; it’s a doctor’s responsibility to communicate with their colleagues and to keep patients informed on every step of their treatment journey.
Working in the NHS taught me how to communicate with anyone, and the value of welcoming (and learning from) diverse opinions. Now, as a founder, I try to use these skills to build and navigate relationships with colleagues, investors and clients. From conflict resolution to partnership management, listening first and acting second is the rule of thumb I always strive to follow.
Looking beyond symptoms to diagnose and treat problems
As every medical student is taught; to successfully treat a patient you must look beyond surface-level symptoms. This might require a deep dive into the patient’s medical history, consultation with colleagues, or an investigation of seemingly unrelated symptoms. This same dedication to delivering the best possible patient care has also supported me in my role as a founder.
Whatever hurdle I’m facing – and there have been many along the path – I find that remembering to look at the problem from every angle and perspective is key. There might be a design change needed to accommodate a specific team’s workflow. Or perhaps a miscommunication is preventing an internal process from running as smoothly as we’d hoped. Investing time in identifying the real source of the problem has made me better equipped to develop timely, successful resolutions.
Recognising the importance of my own wellbeing
When urgent demands and pressures are coming from all sides, looking after my own mental and physical health can often slip to the bottom of the agenda. This was something that had a serious knock-on impact when I worked full-time in the NHS. Restricted by inflexible rotas, I could rarely take time to recharge. Eventually, I started experiencing symptoms of burnout and thus temporarily stepped back from the career I loved.
This experience is integral to my approach now I’m a founder. I feel passionate about consistently striving to build a culture of open communication and support. I want to ensure that my team can perform to their best and remain happy in their roles. Looking for areas of improvement and developing a supportive infrastructure is therefore a constant priority. This is why Patchwork offers truly flexible working, with wellbeing and mental health support. And on a personal level, I make it a priority to ringfence time and energy to spend with my partner and baby daughter – helping me recharge and lead effectively.
Remembering that people should be your priority
Health and social care is a sector fuelled by the dedication of people who are motivated by helping others. This is what makes the NHS such an inspiring place to work, but it can also be a risk factor for overwork and burnout. Working in hospitals, I’ve seen first-hand how the best systems are those which are designed around the needs of the doctors, nurses, administrators and support staff who use them, making it possible for each to do their jobs properly.
At Patchwork, we’re dedicated to continually developing a people-first culture, something I believe should be a priority for every organisation. Our culture is founded on open communication, shared values and collaboration. Our systems are refined based on colleague feedback, with user-experience a key concern. Put simply, prioritising people at every stage is key.
Confidence in one’s own ability and experience
Last, but definitely not least, is having confidence in your own expertise. As a founder, you’ll barely go a day without a tough decision landing at your feet. To keep moving forwards, you must have faith in your ability to act in the best interests of all stakeholders.
When planning care for patients, it was essential to be secure in my own experience and able to make accurate, timely decisions informed by years of study and training. Similarly, as a founder, I have to know when it’s the right moment to trust in my in-depth knowledge of the company and my understanding of the problems we are trying to solve. This does not mean you ignore others – quite the opposite is true. The real skill lies in being able to synthesise other people’s opinions with your own expertise in order to navigate the way forward.
If, as a young medical student, someone had told me that the skills I was working so hard to develop would one day serve me as a founder of a healthtech company, I’d have struggled to join up the dots. But now, looking back, it’s very clear that medicine and entrepreneurship are two sides of the same coin. From hospitals to startups, organisations thrive when there is clear communication, experience-led leadership, and people who are supported and treated with respect. Founders, let us all take note.
Anas is an A&E doctor and CEO and co-founder of Patchwork Health, an initiative working with the NHS to help boost staff retention.