Physician Entrepreneur Spotlight: Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD
Updated: Apr 17, 2022
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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Today, we have Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, and he’s a very special guest. He's actually a collaborator with one of my former clients. And, he's done a lot of work. He's a physician researcher, he's also an entrepreneur at heart. He's based out of Canada. And he's done a lot of writing. He's published works at the International level. And his passion is that he is trying to help physicians achieve career fulfillment and success. So oftentimes, that's outside of the academic world. And we go into areas such as burnout, psychology, finances, relationships, etc. So he's completed his coaching certification. He's now a coach. He's also created a course, and he's writing his work on a book as well, it's going to come out soon. And as well as collaborating on a podcast. So he's up and coming, and he's doing a lot of interesting stuff. So I'm happy to help elevate him. Without much ado, Ketan, welcome.
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Thank you, Chris. I think it's really a kind introduction. And I've been a big admirer of your work, and you've helped a lot of people, a lot of physicians, not only with your inspiring journey, but also you freely sharing resources that you have. So I think it's a true demonstration of a growth mindset. So I feel very honored to be on your podcast. And I think that was a very kind introduction. So thanks for having me.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, no, no worries. And like I said, I boil it down to four types of freedom. The first is financial freedom. Second is emotional, time, location freedom. And so you are doing a lot of interesting things. So tell us about your journey, and your work, and where it's led to you today. And we'll go from there.
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Oh, yeah, for sure. I think that's a great question. So, I started like any other physician, aspiring to do excellent clinical work, and then slowly developed an interest in research. And, it took me about 14 years to start my first full-time job. And then as I started it, I worked extra hard, like all of us, to try and get my clinical practice established, start my research program, start getting into administrative committees, and over the next five or six years, all of that became very successful, I was able to get my first academic promotion in five years. Well published academically with over 100 papers, and everything went well. But then, suddenly, at the same time, I started finding out that I wasn't feeling that fulfilled and happy. And I started questioning whether the academic track is going to be successful and fulfilling in the long run.
So, I started looking out for other people and found that a lot of other people at all stages of careers, in all specialties, even outside of medicine, in law, in accounting, and even in entrepreneurship; people were rampantly burnt out, and just unfulfilled. I figured that, if I continue on this same journey, I'm gonna probably end up there. We are no smarter than anybody else. So if we just kind of didn't learn and take the time to figure out what it truly means to be successful and fulfilled, we are only going to end up where other people are disgruntled. So, in parallel to sort of my academic journey, I started doing a lot of leadership training. And I was fortunate to find a lot of different funding parts to help me with that leadership training.
So that went on for two to three years. And then I slowly got exposed to coaching and early last year, I got my coaching certification. So I've been sort of developing coaching on the side. Similarly, I was always an entrepreneur at heart, and I probably realized that late in my medical training, and I had to park most of my passions and interests, like most of us, during intensive training. So, as the attending job started unfolding, I also was able to slowly rekindle all my passions and I explored a bunch of different entrepreneurial enterprises and really started connecting with people within and outside of medicine who were similarly who had a similar mindset. So I started with many successes and failures, and slowly I started developing my own entrepreneurial enterprise. And right now we are sort of working on active real estate and some passive investments. I run an art gallery, and I'm really able to connect with a lot of people. And I think that's very enriching as an experience.
So, with all of these things going simultaneously and with the growing family, I really felt the need to connect with other people, other physicians, entrepreneurs, other physician researchers, media physicians, real estate, people like yourself and physician coaches. So I really thought that, if I can connect with my own tribe, it's only going to help everybody. And that's why I was thinking at the beginning that, there's a lot of people out there who are phenomenally successful, and they're very open heartedly willing to share their resources. And I hope and aspire to be one of them in the future. We have opened doors and really tried to bring up our tribe. And hopefully we can, as a secondary endpoint battle, the burnout, and the epidemic of stress and distress that exists in the physician world for many, many reasons. I'm sure that's been talked about, on millions of different platforms.
So that's the long story short. So right now, I'm still sort of working on my academic practice, it's been busier than ever before, but without the burnout, because I'm sort of more intentionally doing things I really want to do more and more each day, I still have a very busy research program, but I'm also working on my entrepreneur journey, developing my real estate, enjoying my art collection and our art gallery as a hobby and a business, and then also working on my coaching, and then doing the book, doing the podcast, and I'm very thankful for you letting me share my journey here.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, that's a great introduction to the way I see a lot of physicians’ and clients’ journeys. They usually have a lot of interests, such as yourself, and they try their hand in a lot of different things, and do a lot of hobbies. And eventually, they come up with their primary purpose and go on a mission. So it's great to see your journey from academia, and then how you're connecting the dots, your all of your passions, interests, your skill sets, and now you're starting to move into helping and coaching physicians. So I love that, and keep it up. So a lot of physicians are on your journey, right before they hit burnout, and what my question is, how do you burnout? How do you recognize that you have burnout? Or that you need to take some time away or do something different?
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Yeah, I mean, can I quickly go back to something you mentioned just before and I think that might lead us into burnout. So I think I said something about really finding your Why, I think that was a big thing. I think as physicians, as sub specialists are super specialists, whatever you want to call it, we are often told what our Why is, that's care for the patients, do your research, do academia, promotions, blah, blah, blah, home, cars, yard, playing whatever you want. But really, I don't think there is a lot of awareness around connecting, truly connecting with your why. So I think that really helped me. When I figured out that it was wise to identify my best version, and live my best self, and also help others do exactly the same things, things became far more clear. So I think, in my experience, when I went through burnout, in 2017, 2018, which I now recognize as burnout, I was noticing that despite having what they call academic success, despite having your first good home, or first permanent home, that one or two nice cars, kids and growing family and supportive spouse, and the so called societal definition of success, there was still the feeling of visceral discontent, it's there was still this feeling of something being missing.
There was still the feeling of Okay, what's next, still the feeling of having the goalpost moving that? I just published a paper in The Lancet Oncology. So when am I going to have the second one? Something like that, there was still that feeling of emptiness or exhaustion or distress that existed, despite what other people would call a lot of success. So I think we have to be very sort of cognizant and aware of recognizing those things, and I also feel that a lot of physicians still shy away from talking about potential burnout or potential distress because it's very cultural in medicine. We are expected to put up with the challenges we expect to jump through the hurdles, you're expected to do the best for your patients. And you have to sort of park all your other things on the side. And I'm sure you've experienced similar things in the past as well. So I think it's, if we are going to truly battle the burnout, then it's going to require systemic change and a culture shift which is difficult, right. So I think our first job would have to be to look deep inside and really figure out who we are, what is it that we want? What are our true core values? What is our mission? What is our reason, and then, hopefully, we can connect more and more people and physicians can connect, and then collectively, a system change culture shift might happen. And that's just the way I see it now.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, I think you're moving from a just very narrow, limited path, and now you're looking into, like, more meaning and more, more depth into, what we're doing in trying to create an impact, as opposed to, just a very narrowly defined definition. So, I love that. Now, let's talk a little bit, you talked about the culture, especially the medical culture, the hustle and all the trappings of success. You published a lot of papers. And now, you're writing your book. So a lot of physicians, they're at a point in their journey. They're like, they hate their work, but they don't see any options. But you're right, good example. So tell us more about that.
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: So you mean, like, the shift from doing just academic work to academic work plus other things?
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah. So, how easily translatable are your skills and your experience into other endeavors?
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Okay, I see the question now, I think you’re 100% right on that one. For the longest period of time, I truly, truly believed that, as a physician, I was only capable of being a physician. And I realized that that was a very wrong and narrow mindset. Like many others, I could name 100 people in the next two minutes, excluding myself, who have shown way better than maybe I currently have, that's completely untrue, right? I mean, physicians are capable of being excellent physicians, they're equally capable of being anything else under the sun that they want. So I think that what it's going to take is really that shift in the mindset, that grit and that interest and the determination and the ability to walk from that point A of being the limited self, to the point B of being the illuminated self, if we want to call it that. And a lot of this is also the central focus of our book. I've always been interested in, so is Francis, in a lot of different fields, including sort of ancient wisdom, Asian philosophy and Ancient Sanskrit texts, modern physics, modern mathematics, quantum physics, psychology, evolutionary biology, and quantum biology, and so on and so forth.
So, we tried to sort of, for lack of a better term, present our perspective and understanding of what could be very applicable, sort of, models to modern life and modern medicine that could lead us to fulfilling lives. And a lot of it works through applying wisdom from all of these different fields to our modern lives. So I am slowly and I'm never saying that, I've already shifted my mindset, I go through my thick and thin and, go through the peaks and the troughs, but certainly, with with all the friends, colleagues, coaches, mentors, like yourself and others, it's easier, faster, effective and efficient, and to bounce back and keep on track.
So I think the first thing that I feel is going to be needed is that shift in mindset, we truly have to trust that we are capable of achieving, deserving what we truly want. I've found so many times that, if I'm trying to coach or talk to somebody about investments, or how do you do sort of a good stock portfolio, most of most of the times, people are in denial, oh, my gosh, I can't do that, it just takes too much time, or I'm not a risk taker, or I'm not this and that. So I think these are reflects answers, right? I mean, a lot of people don't even know what kind of risk they're taking, right? I mean, people are truly sort of deeply involved in thinking that, Oh, higher risk means higher return, I don't want to take any risk. I'm happy with the 5% return, okay. I'm just happy with getting the basic retirement and so on and so forth.
So I think we've somehow acquired this limited mindset that, oh, no, I gotta be 24/7 at my job, everything else is secondary. I can't do anything else. entrepreneurship is not for me. There's the lucky few. Maybe, it's very common in Canada to say, Oh, well, the US is very different. They're capitalistic, they're big. They can do whatever they want. It's not going to happen in Canada. It's funny, I know, most people don't realize that per capita for the population. There are more multimillionaires in Canada than the US. So it's only a myth that people think that.
I mean, money is a tangible asset. That's why I'm using a monetary example. But I think that it is a mindset shift, and more awareness into all of these things. And the more come up with their stories, the better it's going to be like, I think Naveen Gupta just recently published, one of his books, he really outlines this exact thing that, he interviewed a range of physicians who have been successful in other things outside of medicine, including medicine, and he also interviewed me. And I think it's a very inspiring book, it shows beyond doubt that people are capable of a lot and a lot more, he himself transitioned from anesthesia to full time venture cap, which is a very inspiring story.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, he has a very interesting story from anesthesia, into what he's doing. And I love how physicians are just, they're going into new things, and then they're going in with curiosity and an open mind and just exploring things and trying new things. And learning, so I love that growth mindset. So, and then, I know, a lot of clients would be interested in coaching, especially coaching, and tell us more about how you can get into coaching and some of the benefits of coaching, both tangible, for the client and yourself.
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Yeah, I was first introduced to coaching in the formal way we understand it now, probably about two or so years ago, before that, it was all around mentorship. And, I really did not get a lot of the answers I was looking for through mentorship. But then coaching really opened a lot of doors. And I think a lot of coaching concepts come from business and sports, so I think that really goes around, the way I see it is to understand yourself, understand the way you're thinking, understand the way you're processing, and then optimize your performance and output.
So, we could talk so much about coaching, a lot of people tend to think coaching models are linear, like, one of the popular models lately is from The Life Coach School, that you go from, sort of, facts to thinking to feeling to your actions, and then results. I mean, that's one way of coaching, I think there's so many different ways of coaching that can be adapted to the person who needs help. I think, whatever somebody needs help with, there are so many different ways in which you could coach. You could coach emotionally, you could coach based on thoughts, you could coach based on awareness, you could use cognitive behavioral therapy, you could use visualization techniques, you could use the resolution of restrictive emotions and feelings. You could use action oriented coaching, you could use SMART goals.
So I think there's so many different varieties, I think it's a huge upcoming field. And if applied properly, I think it can start moving the needle immediately, you know. So going back to our book, which is coming soon, it's very topical, we talk about sort of a more broad approach to optimizing human performance. And Francis and I were able to come up with a very broad model based on the number of fields I was trying to mention before, that would be applicable to pretty much all of us in any given situation. And our hope is that that model can be widely applied by people immediately to their lives and start moving the needle in a big way.
I mean, there's a lot of hacks, and biohacking and mental hacking, and this and that, or habit formation, but a lot of times people tend to sort of fall back to their initial self, so we've tried to sort of address many of those concerns, using a more broad model, which incorporates a variety of different types or, or easily could incorporate variety of different types of coaching. So I think coaching is quite exciting, because it, it really puts the responsibility, the onus on the person, I think that's why I think it's so powerful that, if I, if I suddenly say, Oh, well, the New York market is hot, there's no real estate deals to be found. Well, mentorship would say, Okay, well, go do something else, this and that. Coaching would say, Well, wait a minute, is that truly correct? Do you think your mindset is correct ? Are you just trying to make an excuse? Is that a limiting belief?
So I think it changes everything right in that instant, it makes us realize that we are ultimately responsible for who we are and what we are and what we are going to become. So I think that's where the power is, right? I mean, a coaching done by the right coach can really catapult our success right? It can rapidly escalate our success. I've been coached by a number of people. And many times, you're just blown away. I've had coaching sessions where you could barely sleep for two days, because they really challenged your limiting beliefs. I mean, it's happened to me that, they really get at you and like, oh, my gosh, like, you just destroyed me in a good way, like, some completely dismantled before it joined again. So I think it's a powerful tool, and we should definitely look at it broadly.
And it's very applicable in our medical world, because I think it's just practice of medicine is such a complicated field, in itself, that, even when we are practicing, we are still humans, we are dealing with complex systems, there's a lot of internal conflicts going on all the time. There's administrative politics, there's academic politics, there's all these complicated things that happen, there's the hospital politics, I mean, I'm not using politics in a good or bad way. I'm just saying the word for its value, there is the complexity of interactions. And, coaching can equip us with this heightened level of awareness, a heightened level of understanding, improve communication, and sort of facilitate our performance so that, so that we can really become a true best selves, right? I mean, people hopefully, if they apply coaching appropriately, can sort of come back from that limited mindset and sort of have this broad perspective that they can be excellent physicians, and whatever XYZ they want to become.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, you've said so eloquently, and you're such a great speaker. So I know a lot of clients would be interested in following you and learning about you. So where can they get in contact with you, your course, your website, as well as any parting words of wisdom?
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Yeah, for sure. Thank you for that feedback. I really appreciate it. Public speaking has been one of my passions, and now I enjoy it on a different level, through these discussions and interviews. So, I think the easiest way to find me is, fortunately, there's not too many people with my name. So you can simply email me at ketanpkulkarni[at]gmail.com. And the other way is to find me on Facebook, as many of you may be aware, I run the Savvy Physician group. So I'm on that, and then, Dr. Francis Yoo and I often post a number of different things. And my personal website is called savvyphysician.ca. So I think those would be the easiest ways to reach me. And I check my email very frequently. So feel free to connect anytime.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yes, yeah, I know, Ketan, he responds very quickly. So we'll be sure to include all of the links and all the show notes in all the resources in there. And thanks so much. I think you're on the cusp, and you're getting your name out there. And I'm really happy to help you grow. And it'll be great to see you and Francis grow in over the next year or two. So, we hope to have you on the podcast as a future guest so I can see what you've been up to.
Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, MD: Yeah, thank you again, Chris. I think this has been a great chat. And I really, really appreciate the support and the kind words of wisdom that you've shared as well. I think there's so many who've been through this journey, so many who are going to be going through this journey. I think all of this helps. And a growth mindset is needed.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah. And you said it perfectly.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.