Doctors and other health professionals can’t learn everything in the classroom — at least half of a student’s undergraduate medical education happens in hospitals and clinics. But the system for deciding which undergraduates train at which facilities can be chaotic and difficult to manage — something that Minneapolis entrepreneur Katrina Anderson, 29, saw firsthand while working at a local health system. The result is frustrated students and missed opportunities for hospitals interested in training and hiring bright minds. Anderson cofounded the startup ClinicianNexus to provide a solution that is described as being like Airbnb for undergraduate clinical rotations. The nascent system is now in use in 57 hospitals and 100 colleges in 11 states, and the company recorded its first-ever revenue late last year. Following is a condensed, edited transcript of an interview with Anderson.
Q: What service does ClinicianNexus provide?
A: We provide software as a service to health systems. It’s a platform that allows the health system to carve out their capacity to teach and then manage it all the way through the student exiting their hospital system, in a quick nutshell.
Q: So it must be difficult to coordinate how a student transitions from that academic environment to a clinical environment?
A: Yes, definitely. And when every hospital, as you can imagine, has a different list of requirements for the student to complete before they come in, that becomes a very time-consuming piece for everybody involved. Because they’re trying to communicate checklists of to-do’s around, and they get lost, and it’s just a lot of data to send in e-mail.
Q: Why is this a big deal for health systems?
A: I think a lot of people are starting to recognize that education is actually a major piece of their workforce strategy. So when you invest in educating clinicians, you are investing in impacting culture and you are also identifying those key hires that could be your potential long-term hires when they graduate. So if you can impact their experience and teach them about how you do things, and then hire them and keep them and they can just teach the next round of clinicians that come in the future.
Q: How much of the building of ClinicianNexus was related to building the technology?
A: It’s not very traditional necessarily in the startup community or in software to build something and then sell it. Usually you sell it and then build it — and we did that in reverse. We wanted to build it and then sell it. So we’ve raised about $650,000 to date. And that’s what funded us, specifically focusing on building out our product. Because we knew what it needed to look like, we just needed to build it. So we beta-tested it with Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley, Calif. And that opportunity made it so that, now that it’s built, we can easily sell it.
I use the analogy of, if you needed a cup of coffee right now and I was selling you a mug, but I wasn’t going to build it until you paid me for it, it wouldn’t be that useful. And in this space, these coordinators who are doing this don’t need me to sell them a potential future mug. They need it today. So the whole strategy has been build the product first and focus on our product.
Q: Do the students have to seek you out, or the company out, to get listed?
A: They just join it. Kind of like Airbnb. Just sign up, look for rotations, apply. And they use it for free. That’s very important to us, that’s it’s free for the students. As there’s a lot of conversation going on about medical education reform, we’re looking to be caregivers of our future caregivers, and not put more burden on them. They usually hear about it through their schools or at residency fairs.
All the students love it because they are frustrated by older systems, or just e-mail. They are used to technology that can do more complex things for them more quickly. So they hear about us, they talk to each other about it all the time.
Q: Looking forward, if what you want to do is successful, how does it fit into the ecosystem long term?
A: We have competitors that have been in the space for quite a few years. And we take the stance that education is valuable when it is something that produces what it is intended to, which is clinicians who deliver awesome, amazing care. And when education is siloed from care delivery, in terms of the strategy and understanding the connections, it just becomes a cost center. So that’s generally how a CFO at a hospital views education — as a cost, not a value-add.
So our plan is to support that student from day one through retirement. And tracking that education. So that the health system can have that really important data on, these are students, now the clinicians, and we have all this information in one location about their education because that’s what’s so critical and provides credibility to those hospitals in delivering the care. And then it gives the leaders of hospital systems the ability to also impact it.