Thinking Like A Doctor When Addressing Business Issues

Dr. Mary Mason is the CEO and founder of Little Medical School.

As a physician executive, I often confront and solve problems in the business world using the skill sets acquired during my medical school training. For example, doctors identify, recognize and treat not just medical issues but also address the patient’s whole lifestyle and prevention strategies, all while keeping a cool head. This same approach can be beneficial when encountering those fire drills in the business environment. Putting on the doctor’s hat in the workplace and thinking like a physician can help you face challenging problems efficiently and gracefully. Here are the top lessons I learned during my medical training and career that transfer well to the C-suite and executive world.

1. Don’t panic.

One of the first things I learned when certifying for ALS, or Advanced Life Support, is to focus exclusively on the patient and the data on the monitors during an emergency and block out all the other distractions. As a chief resident running a “code,” I would pull up a chair to the bedside and run through the algorithms calmly, even if nurses and medical students were dashing around the room. When we are first alerted to an emergency in our business division, we often initially react with panic. Don’t. Not only is this counterproductive, but it can cause you to miss important information that you need to diagnose and treat the problem.

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2. Keep things in perspective.

More than once, when a crisis in the workplace starts to unfold, I remind my team that nobody has died. While a financial miss or a forgotten step in a process seems like the end of the world, coming from the medical field helps me not overreact to the situation at hand—the mistake did not result in an irreversible poor health outcome or someone losing their life. Chances are, while it can be painful to deal with, the mistake that was made in your business can be fixed.

3. Stay in your lane.

A good doctor knows the right time to call in the appropriate specialists. Often it is human nature to resist reaching for help, thinking that we might look “weak” if we need the assistance of experts to make the diagnosis or solve the problem. That is just not true. Developing the skill set of knowing when to call for help, whether in the operating room or the board room, is key to success in your work.

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4. Ask open-ended questions.

One of the first essential lessons medical students learn when performing a patient history is to ask open-ended questions. These questions allow patients to volunteer information that may be critical for the clinician to make the proper diagnosis and come up with the correct course of treatment. If you ask leading questions, you may miss out on obtaining vital facts and not understand the complete picture. The same applies when gathering information about what went wrong with a business issue.

5. Focusing on prevention is just as important as fixing the problem.

In medical school, we are taught that the highest quality medicine is often the most cost-efficient. In business, I’ve noticed that so often, especially when budgets are tight and time is limited, business executives only address issues when something breaks and must be fixed. But spending time and financial resources upfront reviewing a process to avoid a breakdown or a quality miss is often well worth its weight in gold and the cheapest action in the long run.

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Taking lessons from one industry and applying them to another is not always intuitive. However, as a physician living in the business world, I find my medical training is invaluable when approaching and solving problems that exist beyond the walls of the patient’s exam room.

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