Uli K. Chettipally, MD., MPH. Physician Innovator, Technology Enabled Care
After one of our local SoPE chapter meetings, people come up to me and say some good things and some point out opportunities for improvement. One person said that we were so lucky to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was visiting from out of state. It made me step back and think - Oh my God, it's so true!
After I completed my residency in Los Angeles, my wife and I were looking for a place to relocate. LA was great but, after living there for 5 years, we wanted a change of scene. A place where there is less traffic, better air quality, and cooler weather. That is how we ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I took a stable job, we bought a house and started a family, settling in a quiet neighborhood on the Peninsula.
Now, 25 years later and after going through a few boom and bust cycles, Bay Area is bustling with activity. When we moved here, we did not realize how this area is going to change, with this unexpected growth of the local economy. It became a shining example of a place where entrepreneurial dreams can come true. With the Internet boom, people from all over the country and the world started coming here for a piece of action and start-ups started popping up everywhere. We all know of neighbors, who suddenly became millionaires. Unicorns were being born and bred here!
In the late 90s, I was curious enough to get in on the action and work for a start-up for a year. It was an exhilarating ride. The fact that someone can give you half a million dollars to build on your idea to see if it would work, was thrilling! Thanks to my investors who had so much faith in me. My excitement was short-lived. The market crashed and my 1-year sabbatical came to an end and took with it my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I was lucky enough to be able to do what I did, at a time in history when doing a start-up was exciting if you were in the Bay Area. I have gone to the other side and came back alive. My friends get a kick out of listening to the stories of the dot com boom and bust.
Little did I realize how this place and the experiences have changed me. I always wanted to be a scientist when I was growing up. I wanted to be an inventor and wanted to discover cures for bad diseases. But now, I think and talk about feasibility, market fit, valuation, and scalability. I have learned a lot just by living in the Bay Area. Having friends, neighbors and co-workers working, growing, crashing in this economy, has taught me a lot about the business of start-ups and the life of an entrepreneur in general. I can understand what drives people to take such huge risks and how they feel when they do not succeed. I can also understand the disdain one feels when they are not the beneficiary of this start-up economy.
I have seen firsthand the pain of physicians, who, after completing their training, come to the Bay Area for jobs and are not able to afford to buy a house. With the huge student loan debt on your back, even renting a place becomes challenging. These are some of the smartest, hardworking individuals who have postponed their gratification for years, in order to have a good life. Becoming a physician, which I think is the toughest career one can choose, takes a lot of blood, sweat, guts, and tears. The years and years of study, the high intensity of focus, and the grueling training one has to go through – and suddenly you realize that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I have seen and counseled many who had to leave the Bay Area, as it became unaffordable and uninhabitable. No wonder many recent medical graduates in the Bay Area do not go into residency training.
The turmoil continues as healthcare is going through enormous changes. Traditional medical practices cannot survive the onslaught of new technology, new regulation, and new business models. We hear more and more about physician burnout. How senior physicians are quitting practice and retiring. How can one cope with this high velocity of change, both outside and inside?
There is hope. We as physicians are ingenious at solving problems. We take care of patients with really complex pathology. We navigate a system that will make any normal person shudder with fear. We have found cures, eradicated diseases, and brought hope to the suffering patient. Living in the Bay Area, we have opportunities to innovate. There is a lot of innovation happening in healthcare. According to Rock Health, $4.5 Billion went into digital health investments in 2015 alone. This is on top of the $4.3 Billion that was invested in 2014. Nearly half of the startups are in the Bay Area. I am sure there may be a "correction" coming soon, but still!
We have access to world-class universities and the cream of the talent pool. Biotechnology was born here. Silicon Valley breeds here. Sand Hill Road passes through here. Menlo Park is in our neighborhood. The greatest innovators the modern world has seen worked in their garages here. America is looking up to us to solve its problems. Can we become the change agents? Can we advocate, advise and administer the change? Can we become the innovators that will drive this change? We are the smartest and the brightest. And we understand the systems – both healthcare and human. We have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of us, right in our backyard.
If we take up this challenge, we are in the right place at the right time. We are living in the best place on earth!
Uli Chettipally is an emergency physician, researcher, and innovator. He is the co-founder of Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.