Career Move: Entrepreneur

Personal experience led this physician to become an entrepreneur.

By Marcia Travelstead | Career Move | Winter 2016

 

Name: Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, M.D., MPH

Elizabeth Thompson

Radiation oncologist Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, M.D., MPH, is also founder and CEO of BFFL Co. (Best Friends For Life).

WORK

Radiation oncologist: 21st Century Oncology, Westchester County, New YorkFounder and CEO: Best Friends For Life (BFFL Co.)

EDUCATION

Undergraduate: Yale University

Medical School: Johns Hopkins University

Master’s: Harvard University

Internship: University of California, San Diego Medical Center

Residency: Joint Center for Radiation Therapy, Boston (Harvard Combined Program)

Chabner Thompson has devoted her life to taking care of women. She focused her career on breast cancer when her mother developed the disease. In 2006, after numerous biopsies and consultations, Chabner Thompson underwent prophylactic mastectomies herself. With her firsthand experience in the recovery process, she decided to design a line of fashionable bags, bras and surgical accessories and began a company, Best Friends For Life, or BFFL.

What do you like best about being an entrepreneur?

It’s when I hear from patients and physicians that they appreciate the ideas that I have brought to life. …The thing that makes me the happiest is when I actually hear from the surgeons, hospitals or from patients that they think the products have made a difference. What I really want is for patients to recover faster with more comfort and dignity. The perception has been that maybe patients don’t need products like mine. However, I think people are realizing now that these little things make a huge difference when it comes to patients recovering faster and getting back to their everyday lives and families.

What’s the most challenging part?

Have you ever had people say no to you 20 times a day? …Those “no’s” are just the most frustrating thing to me. That’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur and knowing you have a good thing but not being able to execute. I just have to plug away and keep on trying. I keep asking for one more chance and see what happens.

What advice would you share?

I think you have to be prudent and guard your ideas in some way because there are some people who won’t have noble intentions when you first start out. As physicians, when we ask our colleagues for help and advice on how to treat a patient, our colleagues will answer honestly and try to help us in the best capacity. That’s an adherent principle in medicine. It’s not always an adherent principle in business. So when you are starting out and asking for help, you can’t assume that everyone will have the same intentions you have. Be careful where you go for advice.

What surprised you?

It may not be the fiscally responsible thing, but as physicians, if we follow our good instincts, we would want to give things away. We want patients to get better without any kind of financial hardship. I can’t do that as a business person. …I couldn’t make silly decisions from a business standpoint just because I wanted to be kind. I had to make smart decisions so my kindness can be spread all across the country rather than one place. I had to learn that the primary lesson in being an entrepreneur is that I had to make good business decisions.

Anything else?

I’m not making a pun here, but patients and patience really are the most important things. As an entrepreneur, you have to have patience because things don’t happen very fast. People are busy and don’t necessarily want to take the time to learn about something new. …Just be patient and remember that if it’s really good, it will come together.

 

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