The business of medicine


Photo: Owen Egan/Joni Dufour

by Juliet Waters

It’s a struggle to find the right adjectives to describe the challenges of innovation in health care, says Dr. Rajesh Aggarwal, Director, Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning (pictured). He finally settles on “slow, inefficient and difficult.” To be fair, it’s an industry that has a mission like no other, to provide the safest, highest quality health care solutions at the lowest cost. Much of the problem, says Aggarwal, is due to medicine’s silo-based culture, which the University and its students are striving to change. “McGill is leading the world in interdisciplinary culture,” he says.

Many of these leaders are emerging from the small but growing number of students and graduates who each year combine their medical and health science expertise with degrees and certificates in business.

Shawn Errunza, BEng, is one such example. An early adopter of virtual reality (VR) technology, he co-founded Jintronix, a biomedical device start-up, which combines VR and gaming software to help rehabilitate victims of strokes and other injuries. Errunza soon realized, however, that cool gadgetry would only take him so far. “I didn’t even know what a stroke was,” he remembers. At McGill, he enrolled in a joint program that allowed him to combine an MBA with a medical degree. The lessons he is learning as an MD-MBA student (and candidate of the Medicine Class of 2019) are helping him to ensure that Jintronix has a genuine impact on motivating stroke victims, who often face excruciatingly slow, incremental and expensive therapy. “If your technology doesn’t solve the problem, you’re not doing care.”

The road to success in the business sector of medicine is not a quick and easy one, concurs Marie Mutabaruka, PhD’16, who is adding a professional development certificate in project management to her doctorate in osteoimmunology. She wanted a career that would use both her expertise in immunology and her people skills—“I have two passions in life, business and science”—but it was six months of discouragement before she was approached by Vancouver-based STEMCELL Technologies Inc., which provides services that support academic and industrial scientists. After seven interviews, they offered her the job she now loves. “It’s really exciting to be involved with people at the beginning of their projects.” Her advice to other Faculty graduates making the move from academia to business is to stay positive. “It’s a lot of work. But that’s nothing new to them!”

Cherif Habib, CEO, EMcision International Inc., and co-founder, Dialogue Technologies, is a member of the Faculty of Medicine’s Advisory Board, as well as Chair of its nascent Innovation Committee. “Sometimes people get the impression that life in start-up culture is sexier and easier than it really is. Like any other endeavour there’s high risk and high reward.” Med students make good entrepreneurs, he says, because they’re used to tough conditions, “but a medical career is a very lucrative one. To leave that and risk it all takes guts and a strong personality.”

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