“Being a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.” — A Patient/Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist — One of the advantages of being the House Physician for Pebble Beach Resorts was meeting all sorts of interesting people. Early in my career, I took care of a successful venture capitalist who said that because I was a doctor, I had “special insight” with healthcare others didn’t, and that I could use that insight to build new healthcare companies. “Being a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t do other things,” he said. That statement changed my life. I began questioning the status quo with everything in healthcare, whether it was medical systems or medical technology. After waking up my inner entrepreneur, I began looking for opportunities everywhere. I’ve never been the same since.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. M. Samir Qamar.
Dr. M. Samir Qamar is the CEO of MedWand. In 2014, after working with Google on telemedicine projects, Samir found a team of medical engineers and invented the MedWand to provide what he thought was the missing link in telemedicine — physical exams. An award-winning family physician with an international upbringing, Samir envisioned MedWand technology being used to examine patients at any location around the world, whether down the street or in the next continent. Samir believes that advanced telemedicine will eventually replace much of what we see in the clinical world today.
Prior to MedWand, Samir was one of the pioneering minds behind the rapidly-rising Direct Primary Care (DPC) industry. He created one of the nation’s first DPC companies, MedLion, in 2009 and helped catapult the industry nationwide by focusing on low-cost, high-quality primary care and advocating for its legislation in several states. Prior to MedLion, Samir pioneered the Concierge Medicine model in California, where for many years he was also the official house doctor for the Pebble Beach Resorts.
Samir completed his medical training at University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Medicine — Lancaster General Hospital, one of the top-ranked primary care residencies in the United States. His visions on the future of primary care have been referenced extensively in national and global media. Samir is a member of the MIT Technology Review Global Panel, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and several other organizations. In his spare time, when not reading tech and medical journals, he serves as healthcare analyst for Woodlock House Family Capital. Samir speaks six languages, and still practices medicine to both help patients and discover new technology to improve healthcare. He currently lives in Las Vegas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was born in Lebanon and grew up around the world in a United Nations family, living in many continents and learning many languages. After college in the U.S., even my medical schooling was international, with studies in England, the Caribbean, and the U.S. Once I fulfilled my goal of becoming a doctor, I became obsessed with improving healthcare wherever I could, whether via new business models or new technology. I am constantly driven by a need to create something better for humanity. I believe my unique childhood has a lot to do with it.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
At MedWand, we’re changing healthcare by allowing patients to be physically examined anywhere, over the Internet.
Imagine if your doctor could examine you anywhere on earth, right through your smartphone or computer. You wouldn’t have to travel to medical facilities when sick, or be exposed to others’ germs. You could access care whether at home, a hotel, or your office. You could even be traveling in a plane or a ship. At MedWand, we created portable technology that allows you to do just that. The size of a large computer mouse, the MedWand device contains multiple diagnostic tools which your doctor can examine you with during a telemedicine video visit. Once plugged in, you essentially convert any phone or computer into a clinic. It’s quite amazing.
When inventing MedWand, I wanted to evaporate geographical barriers when it came to medical examinations. I wanted doctors to have the ability to examine patients anywhere in the world, and patients to have the ability to receive care anywhere as well. My team and I truly feel that we’ve “made a dent” in the healthcare universe.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While doing a medical school year in Europe, because I spoke French, I was selected to accompany a surgical team to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1999. At the airport we were greeted by lots of press, government officials, and local doctors because of the important work we were doing. We also ran into an American gentleman who was there to receive someone at the airport. He was a frail-looking man, wearing a tie dye t-shirt, raggedy shorts, and flip flops. I said a quick hello, then dismissed him for some hippie enjoying the casual Haitian lifestyle.
The next morning at the University Hospital I scrubbed in for my first case, eager to join the other surgeons already operating. When entering the OR, I was recognized by the lead surgeon who said he had met me the day before, though I could not place him. When he later removed his mask, it was the same hippie-looking gentleman from the airport! He was none other than Dr. John Judson, a Yale-trained cardiothoracic surgeon who was one of the best in the country. We ended up becoming close friends, and he mentored me throughout my successful medical career. The lesson? Never dismiss anyone without knowing who they are. It’s a lesson I never forgot.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have been fortunate to have many mentors. In business, there was the late billionaire Richard Rainwater, who was also my patient. In medicine, there was Dr. John Judson, the famous cardiac surgeon who I met in Haiti on a medical mission. Throughout life, however, my mentor has been my own father, Dr. Kalim Qamar, a United Nations diplomat.
In 2018, my healthy father suffered a horrific, surprise heart attack that nearly killed him. His body kept giving up, but his medical teams, which I coordinated, kept fighting for his life. For months he was trapped in a Las Vegas ICU where we battled a never-ending domino-effect of medical complications. After a coma, he lost both his legs, nearly all his fingers, and was so weak he couldn’t even sit. Determined to live, however, he fought. He became a champion in rehab, exercising however he could, never missing a day for two years. Today, using advanced prosthetics that I helped design, he has taught himself how to walk again and has recently begun driving. He just finished his first novel, and will soon return to painting. It’s the ultimate come-back story, and he did it while smiling and laughing. The impact on me has been profound. It reinforced in me that nothing is impossible, and the importance of never giving up.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption, by definition, seeks to reveal flaws with the current model, and replaces those flaws with improvements or novelties that dramatically improve or change the model for the better. It can also mean the creation of an entirely new model, and retiring old models, in a way that changes how we live for the better. Corded telephones, for instance, limited you to being within an arm’s reach of phones to communicate. Cordless phones disrupted corded phones by allowing you to take the call from anywhere within range. Smartphones disrupted cordless phones by using satellites and cell towers to allow you to take calls from practically anywhere. In each case, communication changed for the better. Similarly, I’m always looking for ways to improve healthcare, no matter how radical.
Disruption isn’t useful, however, if a system works just fine already and is without flaws. In fact, disrupting something that already works could have negative consequences. Creative entrepreneurs, however, are always looking for ways to improve on everything.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Don’t invest in other companies if you can invest in your own startup. That’s where you’ll reap the highest returns.” — Christopher Mayer (childhood friend and professional investor)
Chris and I used to live on the same street in Maryland and played tennis in high school together. While I pursued my ambitions to become a doctor, Chris became a successful investor, authoring several books on investment strategies that have helped many multiply their holdings. During one of our many conversations, I asked Chris about good places to invest as he was always highlighting interesting companies. He told me the best place to put my energy and money was my own startups, as they would yield the best returns. It immediately made sense. I’ve followed this advice since and never looked back.
“Being a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.” — A Patient/Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist
One of the advantages of being the House Physician for Pebble Beach Resorts was meeting all sorts of interesting people. Early in my career, I took care of a successful venture capitalist who said that because I was a doctor, I had “special insight” with healthcare others didn’t, and that I could use that insight to build new healthcare companies. “Being a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t do other things,” he said. That statement changed my life. I began questioning the status quo with everything in healthcare, whether it was medical systems or medical technology. After waking up my inner entrepreneur, I began looking for opportunities everywhere. I’ve never been the same since.
“You’ll never stop learning. And you shouldn’t.” — Dr. Nikitas Zervanos (physician and mentor)
Dr. Zervanos was one of the most famous family medicine residency directors of all time, presiding over my program at Penn Medicine — Lancaster General for over 30 years. During my initial interview at his prestigious program in 2002, he asked me what I found interesting to read. In an attempt to impress him, I rattled off a list of medical journals and medical textbooks. “No,” he said. “I want to know what you read that’s not medical.” Worried this was a trick question, I weakly spat out the few business books I had raided from my sister’s closet, and a few books on the history of Rome. To my surprise, he was impressed. “You’ll never stop learning,” he said, “and you shouldn’t.” It was the first time I had “been given permission” to learn things outside medicine, something I hadn’t done in many years. I became a voracious reader, always seeking to satisfy curiosities. Following that advice has allowed me to flourish as a physician, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
One of our greatest strengths at MedWand is our team. Each member of our team is driven by a higher purpose — that to improve healthcare globally through the very technology we created. Our marketing division has done a phenomenal job spotlighting our technology, telling our story, and spreading the word. That, and having a strong network of health-tech contacts amongst all team members have been immensely helpful.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
There are many areas within healthcare that still need reinventing. I have ideas in the fields of medical sensors, robotics, and healthcare delivery. I also have interests in several non-medical fields. We have a responsibility to improve this world for those who will come after us.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
When I was in high school, my father gave me a book he read in his youth — How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I’ve learned many valuable lessons in that book, and I reread it every few years. It’s interesting to me how human nature has essentially remained the same over the last half-century. The lessons taught then apply to us even today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford
I came across this quote in high school and I never forgot it. I always liked cars, and Henry Ford was an icon I’d always admired. He challenged the resistant status quo, and emerged victorious. The quote is about whether or not your inner confidence and beliefs are strong enough to reach your chosen goals. It speaks to me of stubborn resilience, and believing in your vision when others simply cannot see what you are seeing. I have made this quote a part of my life philosophy when embarking on any challenging venture, whether putting myself through medical school, or founding disruptive startups.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s been theorized that we produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet. However, excessive waste, bureaucracy, and poor logistics get in the way and people starve every day. What if we could find a way to redirect resources to help feed everyone on this planet? It’s not that we don’t have enough food, we do. We simply need to channel it properly. Wouldn’t that be something?
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m active on LinkedIn, and Twitter.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!