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SBN Mentor in the Spotlight: Hal Gunn

Sophia Peng - Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Cody Lo, February 2, 2015.

This month’s Mentor in the Spotlight is Hal Gunn! Dr. Gunn is a physician-entrepreneur and current Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC. In addition to his commitments as a physician, he co-founded and is former CEO of InspireHealth and founded and is CEO Qu Biologics. Dr. Gunn is an expert and world leader in supportive cancer care, a large focus of both companies he founded. In this interview I chat with Dr. Gunn about how he developed the business skills needed to run two successful companies as well as the advice he has for aspiring physician-entrepreneurs.

1) You are the founder and current CEO of Qu Biologics, a Vancouver-based biotech company developing a number of immunotherapies. How did you develop the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to run a successful company while juggling your commitments as a physician? What recommendations do you have for aspiring physician-entrepreneurs who may find it difficult to pursue their entrepreneurial interests in conjunction with their medical training?

Great question. Leadership and business skills were not part of my medical school training. I've had the opportunity to learn through experience - often by trial and error - managing a busy multi-physician clinical practice, founding and leading InspireHealth (supportive cancer care centres), founding a technology company, and founding and leading Qu Biologics. Experience is the best teacher. I've also tried to learn from the experience of others - it can be helpful to learn from the mistakes and wisdom of others - by finding wise mentors. Early on I realized that I can accomplish more if I engage others rather than dedicating all my time to my own individual work as a physician, so I've ensured that I have sufficient time, outside my clinical hours, for leadership. My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: you can accomplish so much more by engaging and leading others in a shared vision than you can by focusing solely on your individual clinical or professional pursuits. Great leaders engage people who are smarter and better than them, and they delegate, so leadership can take less time than many people might think.

2) Increasingly medical schools are starting to offer joint MD/MBA programs to presumably cater towards future physicians who are also interested in the business side of medicine and healthcare. Can you comment on how useful such programs might be for aspiring physician-entrepreneurs? As someone who has started several successful business ventures without an MBA, can you perhaps comment on the advantages and disadvantages of getting an MBA?

Another great question. Not having done an MBA, it's hard to know whether I could have learned through education what took me trial and error to learn and whether I would have been so open to trying my own intuitive leadership and entrepreneurial ideas if I had learned the 'right way' to do things in an MBA. I have no doubt that learning about different leadership/management frameworks and what has worked for others would have been helpful, as long as I remained open to my own intuition and discoveries and remained unafraid of trying new things that weren't the accepted or 'normal' way of doing things. Innovation lies outside the 'box'. It's always a balance between learning from others and learning from your own experience, unafraid to try out your own ideas.

3) Your medical practice and past business ventures have often focused on the concept of promoting health and wellness as opposed to treating disease. Correct me if I'm wrong but I would say that this idea is gaining increasing prevalence in the healthcare and tech fields, such as the introduction of various health tracking wearable devices. Can you comment on how you see this field evolving over the next 5-10 years?

Historically, physicians were the 'experts' and patients played a passive role in their own treatment, deferring to the expertise of their physician and playing little active role in their own care. With the advent of the internet and social media and the growing evidence that supporting health is as important as medical treatment in the care of most diseases, this old model is rapidly transforming. People are increasingly more empowered and engaged through information and devices that allow them to track their health and people living with illness are increasingly demanding to play an active role in their own care and choice of treatments. These growing movements will revolutionize medicine, rendering obsolete old physician-centric models of treatment. It is an exciting time in medicine as new information technologies and novel patient-centered models of care are emerging. At Qu, we believe that the future of medicine lies in treatments that restore our body's innate capacity to heal and programs that engage people in their own health.

Want to ask Dr. Gunn a question? Dr. Gunn currently serves as a mentor in the SBN’s mentorship program! Register here and be paired up with Dr. Gunn or another one of our other amazing mentors!

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