“The Doctor’s Art” is a weekly podcast that explores what makes medicine meaningful, featuring profiles and stories from clinicians, patients, educators, leaders, and others working in healthcare. Listen and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, Google, Stitcher, and Podchaser.
While digital technologies now permeate nearly every aspect of our lives, their application to improve medicine remains limited. Still, recent advances in artificial intelligence, telecommunications, and other technologies hold enormous potential to transform how healthcare is delivered.
At the forefront of exploring this potential is Justin Norden, MD, MBA, a physician and investor at the venture capital firm GSR Ventures, where he focuses on investments in digital health companies. With a background in computer science, Norden previously worked on the healthcare team at Apple and helped launch the Center for Digital Health at Stanford University.
He joins Henry Bair and Tyler Johnson, MD, to discuss how he discovered investing and entrepreneurship as a way to tackle problems in medicine, clarifies misconceptions about digital health and venture capital, and explores how technologies are shaping the future of medicine.
In this episode, you will hear about:
- 1:48 A brief introduction to venture capital
- 3:22 How Norden’s experiences during medical training led him to explore entrepreneurship and healthcare investing
- 7:30 How Norden’s passion for computer science influenced his medical education
- 10:18 What it was like to leave a clinical career
- 20:28 The past and current state of technological advancements in medicine
- 28:38 Co-host Johnson’s concerns over the ways technology has impeded the delivery of healthcare at times
- 34:31 Norden’s vision for the ideal balance between humanism and technology in medicine
- 38:28 How Norden considers the reconciliation between the profit motive of companies and the preservation of what makes medicine meaningful
- 44:57 How Norden decides which digital health companies to invest in
- 50:09 Advice to young clinicians who are curious about healthcare innovation
Following is a partial transcript (note errors are possible):
Bair: So uniquely among all of our clinician guests, you are the first we’ve had who decided to forego medical residency entirely after finishing medical school. We will, of course, explore that decision. But first, can you tell us what venture capital is and how it differs from other forms of investing? Although most people have heard of venture capital, I suspect many have a rather vague or incomplete idea of what it is.
Norden: Sure, sure. Venture capital at the most basic is working with entrepreneurs and giving money to companies before they have real financial metrics to really deserve that capital and deserve that funding. So, practically, what does that mean? It means working with founders and people towards the idea stage, maybe concept, when they have something very early and then giving them money to build it out, flesh it out, and grow it into the potential for what you see it could be.
Bair: Can you tell us what kinds of companies and technologies you invest in?
Norden: As you might guess, given kind of the clinical background, I focus on health technology companies, so new ideas around how we can use data, how we might be able to interact with patients, how we might be able to help clinicians, how we might be able to develop drugs, what are ways we can use new technologies to fundamentally change how we’re delivering clinical care or making that clinical care possible?
Johnson: So, as a person who has spent a lot of time reading a lot of application essays, some for medical school, more admittedly for internal medicine residency, because that’s where I’ve done the most interviewing, but it’s just to say that I know for pretty much anybody who gets into Stanford Medical School, part of their application is going to be a very high-minded, idealistic essay about why I want to be a doctor, which almost always focuses, at least in part, on some version of “I want to help people” or “I want to help humanity,” or whatever. So, you know, most people, not everyone, but most people when they write that essay, I think, have at least in part a thought that they really want to be sort of down in the trenches, person to person, stethoscope on the chest, helping a sick person to feel better.
So, I guess I’m going to go ahead and make a presumption that that was playing at least some part in your decision to spend a zillion dollars and a zillion hours to go to medical school and become a doctor. How did you get from that point A to the “no, actually, I want to help turn ideas into companies” point B. Like how did that ideological shift happen? What did it look like for you?
Norden: Absolutely. So, I think we have a fair amount of time together and so I’m happy to try to unpack as much of that as possible because it really was a long journey to make that transition. Like many even choosing to go to medical school, that process starts far before the application. And for me, even since an early age, there was exposure to wanting to be a physician. I saw that my father was a physician. There were multiple physicians on my mother’s side. You know, they actually didn’t say, “hey, you need to go into medicine,” like some families do. But when I showed interest, when I was curious, they were happy to kind of expose me, get me to see what’s going on.
And so from a pretty early age, I was interested in being a clinician and what actually cemented that, you know, like many, was when a family member got sick. And for me it was an interesting experience where I felt powerless. I was in high school, I didn’t know very much. I couldn’t really contribute, you know, to the care of someone I cared about who ultimately ended up going on a clinical trial in oncology and getting the care they needed at the National Cancer Institute, and so saw what emerging new science could actually do to someone I cared about as an early experience in high school.
Obviously, that’s not enough. You double down in college and later and you do your clinical shadowing and understanding, and I was fully convinced by the time I was ready to apply for medical school, this is what I wanted to do.
For the full transcript, visit The Doctor’s Art.
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