As the pandemic brought intense pressure for all frontline workers, healthcare employees particularly faced an incredible amount of burnout and uncertainty. Since then, there’s been a reckoning of sorts. Overall job dissatisfaction has led to a rise of healthcare workers entering a new career altogether: entrepreneurship.
Looking around the Triangle tech ecosystem, you can find several examples.
Tasha Holland-Kornegay, the founder and CEO of Sanford-based WIRL, knows the challenges of healthcare worker burnout all too well. It’s what inspired her startup, a platform to reduce the mental strain experienced by healthcare professionals. (We first profiled WIRL in March.) And upon founding WIRL, she reduced the size of her mental health practice by over half and went part-time.
“Healthcare has always been a very fragile industry,” Holland-Kornegay said. “Of course, Covid brought it to the forefront. Burnout was already there, but no one really spoke about it or paid attention to it, and we just kept going.”
The fire that was the pandemic just made it so healthcare workers got increasingly burned, according to Holland-Kornegay. Holland-Kornegay said she continues to talk to other healthcare workers who are leaving the industry for new horizons, including building their own businesses.
Leon Adelman, the Founder and CEO of healthcare marketplace platform Ivy Clinicians, also faced a very specific type of burnout when he worked as an emergency medicine doctor. And it in part guided him to start Raleigh-based Ivy Clinicians, which helps healthcare workers find their ideal jobs—likely with less burnout. (We first profiled Ivy Clinicians in March.)
Adelman said many healthcare workers are frustrated that they lack autonomy and ownership as professionals. And since hospitals face such severe staffing shortages and are part of a system that is focused on profits and efficiency, healthcare workers are often unable to provide patients the level of care they feel patients deserve.
Adelman said it’s a kind of moral injury that doctors experience when they know they themselves wouldn’t even want to be a patient where they work.
“Burnout is about the workplace environment,” Adelman said. “It is not about lack of resilience among healthcare providers. We got through med school, we got through residency, we got through PA school. Those were really, really, really hard things. The burnout problem for clinicians is about workplaces that are not allowing them to thrive.”
Jason Duprat, the founder of the Florida-based Healthcare Entrepreneur Academy and a retired nurse anesthetist, echoed these sentiments. He said around 1.7 million healthcare workers quit their jobs in the last year alone. These workers often feel like “cogs in a wheel of money-making factories,” he said, and Covid-19 only exacerbated the problem that was already there.
These workers go many places upon leaving their jobs, Duprat said. Some form their own private practices. Some build software companies, while others create marketing firms. It’s an understandable choice to make considering the level of risk and reward of healthcare work, especially for some nurses who start out at extremely low salaries, according to Duprat.
“The sort of income disparity for the amount of stress and responsibility, the wages are just way too low,” Duprat said. “There’s huge risks. You’re taking care of patients. Their lives are literally in your hands; you have to be on top of your game all day, every day. And to be making under $20 an hour—just a few dollars more than a McDonald’s employee makes—there’s something wrong with that situation.”
All in all, perhaps it’s not surprising so many healthcare workers have gone into the startup world. They are well-poised to succeed: these are the types of people who are used to constantly working in the trenches and taking on long shifts. Plus, in building tech solutions for the healthcare space, they have a unique understanding of the market as an insider, Adelman said.
And there are still so many pros to startup life when compared to the hospital settings many of these workers are coming from.
“It offers flexibility,” Holland-Kornegay said. “That’s one thing you sometimes don’t get in the healthcare field. But you have to be very creative, and you just have to give so much of yourself, but it’s in a different way. It doesn’t feel as mandatory, like you could step back when you need to.”
The ramifications of more healthcare workers leaving their jobs might initially bring difficulties to hospitals, but the innovation that comes from healthcare workers forming their own ventures will be worthwhile, Adelman said.
“I think the more entrepreneurial thinking we can have in healthcare, the better,” Adelman said, adding that life expectancy in the United States is shrinking while infant mortality rates are far higher than other countries with similar levels of income. “The best way out of it is entrepreneurial thinking. The best way out of it is to figure out what we can do instead of just doing the same thing that we’ve always done, find a way to improve patient care at a lower price.”
From this trend towards healthcare entrepreneurship, Duprat also said he’s seeing more happy healthcare workers and what will become a stronger push for hospitals to increase pay, improve autonomy and offer more flexible schedules for employees.
“We spend more than any other developed nation on healthcare, yet we rank at the very bottom,” Duprat said. “We’ve got a lot of hurdles to overcome, and staffing is probably one of the biggest hurdles. But I think, over time, it will eventually get there hopefully.”
In the meantime, though, Duprat encourages healthcare workers not to sacrifice their mental health.
“I like to show them that there’s other opportunities out there,” Duprat said. “They don’t have to work for a healthcare system. They can create their own opportunities, and oftentimes those opportunities can lead to much better autonomy, personal satisfaction, professional satisfaction and oftentimes a far better income.”