Physician Entrepreneurship: Valuable Advice to Inventors

Patrick & Kelly O'Malley Physician Entrepreneur

From Nurse Aid to Emergency Medicine Physician

Late in high school I thought about being a teacher or a doctor. I wanted to do something that would always require me to learn more and would allow me to always have a job.  I took the required courses in college and tried to get as much exposure as I could. I went to a small college and the opportunities were sparse, so I had to create my own. I eventually started working as a nurse aide in the ER in Charlotte at Carolinas Medical Center. I had no idea at the time, but it was and is considered one of the top emergency medicine programs in the country. I fell in love with emergency medicine and was very fortunate to develop relationships with some of the best emergency physicians in the country. I was fortunate enough to come back and do residency there. I still keep in touch with many of my former attendings and truly appreciate the training and wisdom they passed along. Emergency medicine is a wonderful field that allows a good life while being able to care for a wide variety of conditions. I love what I do.

Product Development

In residency, I first started playing around with some ideas for a wound irrigation device. Time and money were the limiting factors and it got put on the back burner. After residency, I was working with a gentleman on some other things and we tinkered a little more. Several years later, I had some crazy idea about how to develop a stand-up paddleboard trainer which led me to a few guys in the product development space. My wife was 8 months pregnant and wanted to meet them and see what I was up to. We had lunch together, she mentioned the wound irrigation device. 15 minutes later we had a napkin drawing. Within a month we had started a company and we were off. We helped other physicians develop their product ideas and it was a great learning experience. We eventually sold this product, IRIG-8, to Medline Industries, and they are doing a great job getting it out to emergency departments across the country.

Right when I started doing this work, we had our son. My wife was breastfeeding and pumping, and I noticed how she was struggling to visualize her milk flow when pumping. I came home from work one day and she was using her cellphone light to shine on the bottle. I ran out to the garage and grabbed a piece of foam and a thumb light. I put something together and stuck it in the back of her breast pump flange. She was able to see and it really reduced her stress level. We took this idea to the team I was working with and we went through the process of getting a patent and making prototypes. Eventually my wife and I decided to do it on our own, so we started manufacturing and selling Lactalites online on our website and on Amazon. Our end goal is to sell the company to someone who can really take it to the next level and help it reach more and more moms.

As of right now, there are no more ideas on the horizon!! I am helping the company that bought IRIG-8 with marketing, networking, and to get some research projects going with it. I am open to consulting work and helping others with their ideas, so reach out if I can help.  We have a new baby coming soon and I just don’t have the bandwidth to start anything new.

Juggling Medicine, Entrepreneurship, and Family

By having a very patient wife and partner, Kelly. She coined a term that describes my thought process very well, “millionizing.” I will sometimes have a million ideas and things that I want to do. I have passed this along to my son, so I can see what Kelly has had to put up with!!  She knows how much I enjoy this type of work and has been very supportive. She helps keep me balanced out and forces me to take breaks and not neglect other areas of my life like exercise and making time for us as a family. I am fortunate to have an awesome job with a great schedule, so we are able to spend a lot of time together and see friends and family. It is easy to get sucked into additional projects and I have always had a hard time saying no. With a growing family, it is very important to prioritize what really matters most in the long run. Our parents are very important to us and we want our children to have as much time together with grandparents as possible.

Physicians Can Benefit From a Change of Scenery

When I was at a dead-end position and really unhappy after 7 years in my first job out of residency, I did urgent care for a few years. It was a good change. Once that ran its course, I really missed emergency medicine and found an opportunity in a small town ER. I approached the CEO of the hospital and we came up with a way to staff the ED, if I could get a few other physicians. I reached out to some former colleagues and we made it happen. It’s a great fit for me, and we really created a great situation. Our schedule allows for three full weeks off every month, so it allows for plenty of downtime to recharge. Sometimes a change of scenery can make all the difference in the world.

I think everyone has burnout at some point. Life is hard. Our jobs as physicians are hard. Having a supportive work environment is vital. I think it is important to know when to step back and take inventory of where you are, what you are doing, and that it is okay to leave a place if its not a good fit. Once you get settled into a job and establishing roots, the fear of leaving a job can be overwhelming. You may be led to believe that there is no better place and that you will be more miserable elsewhere. When you start dreading going to work, it’s time for a change. There are so many opportunities for physicians-do some locums gigs and see what else is out there-it is OK!

Funding Ventures

Any new venture takes money. Physicians have unique financial situations and more unique risks and liabilities. We have been very fortunate to have John Dameron and his team to be able to reach out to, bounce ideas around with, and have sound guidance. When it came to funding Lactalite, we decided to use money from our cash value life insurance to make that happen. This ended up being a great way to prevent us from going into debt. We feel that the guidance we have received have allowed us to pursue these outside endeavors, but not put ourselves in a bad financial situation. As with medicine, having financial experts to help guide you is paramount to success.

Advice to Inventors

Most ideas don’t make it. I have read somewhere that 1 out of 10 medical ideas make it to the market. Accept early on that it’s a long hard road that likely will not succeed. Regardless of how great your idea may be, there is absolutely no guarantee of success. It is expensive, frustrating, and time-consuming. People will give you false hope and you will have more rejections and disappointments than accolades and rewards.  If you are passionate about your idea, take your time and surround yourself with people who know what they are doing. You will have to pay for that expertise. Set realistic goals and expectations. Know when to quit. It is better to stop and save thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours rather than to push forward when all signs are pointing to failure. Failure is OK. 

My guest blog is part of a Physician Entrepreneur/Side-gig blog series.

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Patrick O'Malley

Patrick O'Malley Dr. O'Malley is an Emergency and urgent care physician with 11 years of experience in private practice. He is committed to helping improve processes in the emergency department, urgent care, and hospital. Outside of direct patient care, his main ventures include inventing medical products, the IRIG-8 wound irrigation device being his first successful invention. (www.irig8.centurionmp.com) Dr. O'Malley also invented Lactalite, a breast pump light, with his wife. (www.lactalite.com) His entrepreneurial spirit showed at a young age and came into fruition during high school when he began making and selling tie dye t-shirts, and continued his t-shirt business to college. He enjoys networking and connecting good people wanting to do good things. Find him and connect on LinkedIn.