Got a good idea? Consider bringing it to market as a physician inventor

By Marcia Travelstead | Career Move | Fall 2015

 

Joseph Schultz, MDName: Joseph Schultz, M.D.

Work: Pediatric Emergency Physician, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite; Owner of Splash Medical Devices, LLC

Undergraduate: Duke University

Med School: Emory University School of Medicine

Residency/Internship: NYU, Bellevue Pediatric Training Program

Schultz is a dedicated physician inventor. Twenty years ago, he invented a meconium suction catheter. SplashCap came 10 years later. Other devices he developed include the Schnozzle (pediatric nasal irrigation adapter), EyeCap (eye irrigation bottle shield), AbscessCap (wound irrigator) and EasiEar (disposable metal curette). Learn more at splashcap.com.

How do you handle being both a physician and an inventor?

I work a lot! The inventions/marketing is my day job, and the ER shifts are my night job. Most people think of their night job as being their secondary job, but having the flexibility with the ER makes it work.

Why did you invent all of these products?

It was the frustration with trying to get things done more efficiently at the hospital. I figured out there was a way to do things better.

I spent years developing my first product, a meconium suction catheter, and getting it licensed. I learned about the product development process along the way: engineering, molds, designing, etc. You find that there are always more steps to take along the way. By the time I developed the SplashCap, I already had the knowledge and contacts to make it easier.

What do you like best about being an inventor?

I have the opportunity to link my knowledge and experience in both of my professional worlds to solve meaningful problems.

What are the challenges?

It takes a lot of time, and having two jobs takes away from other things. However, I really like what I do. Some people I’ve talked to have said they have never found a job they liked. I’m fortunate because I’ve found two jobs I like.

Dr. Schultz shows off one of his inventions

What advice do you have for physicians who want to become inventors?

Get feedback from people about your ideas. Be willing to listen to their input and criticism to put you in the right direction. There is no training program out there for inventors, but there are different inventor associations that will give general help.

However, if your idea is a medical device, the development process is more complex. Once you have your idea, whatever it is, you need to determine if you want to license or to start a business. You need to determine the complexity of the type of technology you are working with. Can you do it on your own? Do you have the time to develop the team you need, or should you go the licensing route?

Is there anything that surprised you or you hadn’t anticipated?

How complex it gets and how many different skills are needed. That can be problematic and challenging. There’s always a lot more to learn.

How would a physician go about becoming an inventor?

It’s different from other things that physicians do because you’re focused not on your own physician skills but on your idea, technology or product.

You’ve developed that idea or product, tested it, prototyped it and now are soliciting feedback. Real feedback, not just the feedback you want to hear. You talk with people who have been down the same road.

There is a very large medical device manufacturing industry and there are medical companies that can manufacture most things that you can dream of. Get some free medical trade journals and look for medical device manufacturer conventions. Walk around and talk with people. That would be a good first step for physicians interested in creating a technology. This gives the physician who has never done this the “nuts and bolts” of the medical device industry. You start to learn the time it takes to do the foundation legwork, material specifications, design work, etc., for creating a medical device.

It sounds like it takes a great deal of patience.

It’s more like perseverance than patience. Patient people wait for things to happen. You have to continually push to make it happen.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Success is not going to happen overnight. If you think it will take a few months, that’s not likely. For me, I enjoy inventing. So I would say, find something you enjoy doing, whether it’s this or something else. There are physicians and a lot of people in general who are frustrated with their jobs. There are many opportunities, so you have to find out what works for you. Coming up with inventions is not necessarily going to be a quick ticket to success. It’s risky and time-consuming, but if you enjoy it, do it. Otherwise, find something else you enjoy doing.

 

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