What does it take to be a successful woman in healthcare technology?
We've been interviewing the trailblazers of our young industry with the hope that their stories will inspire the next generation of innovators.
Recently, we sat down with Bronwyn Spira, Founder & CEO of Force Therapeutics, to hear her story and learn from her unique path to success.
How did your career in healthcare technology come to be?
I became a physical therapist to help people feel better in their daily lives. At the end of every week, I’d evaluate my professional performance based strictly on how many patients I’d helped feel better and by how much. My performance as a clinician was directly correlated to the size of the impact I’d had on others; my financial reward was secondary. That's how I judged myself, and I chose to move into healthcare technology because I wanted to see if I could scale that impact—could I help 2,000 patients a week instead of 20?
Force Therapeutics’ mission has always been to maximize the impact that physical therapy and education can have on patients’ recovery. The challenge has been to do this without losing the personal touch that I believe must be a part of every healthcare interaction. When you’re a clinician treating patients every day, your brain is wired a certain way. It’s all about the patient. From medical school through residency programs to day-to-day clinical practice, you live everyday with a mindset of “everything I do has to make this patient feel better, move better, live their life better”. It becomes part of your psyche, hard-wired into the synapses of your brain. When I made the transition into health tech, I promised myself never to lose sight of that, never to lose sight of the reason that we started this business—to deliver the best professional care at scale.
What experiences do you attribute to your ability to strive in health tech?
When we set out to build a connective technology for patients and providers, it was extremely helpful to have an in-depth, clinical understanding of the day-to-day challenges of both user groups. Having treated thousands of patients, I saw first-hand the challenges they face: difficult access to care, understanding paper-based instructions, health literacy, lack of engagement and accountability… the list goes on. I also saw how significantly these challenges impacted my patients’ outcomes. Armed with these insights, I felt uniquely positioned to help shape patients’ experiences on our platform, and having been a busy, over-scheduled clinician myself, I understood what was truly needed to tackle the clinical, data collection and workflow challenges of providers.
What were some critical decisions you made in your career that set you up for success?
When you run into the same challenge over and over again, you get frustrated enough to want to do something about it. It was that frustration combined with advances in (and broad access to) immersive technology that drove me to enter tech. I realized that video would be a perfect communication and education tool and an elegant way to maintain a connected-yet-remote patient relationship. It is now possible to deliver video to the patient wherever they might be recovering, and that inspired the early days of our platform development.
What was the reaction from family, friends, and colleagues when you chose to pursue this health tech career?
I think initially my friends, family and mostly my patients thought it was just a hobby and that I’d never leave clinical practice. It was still the early days for health tech—six years ago, health IT wasn’t even a ‘thing’ outside of EHRs, so it was difficult for others to wrap their heads around it. I don’t blame them, though, since back then, I don’t think I did a good job of explaining the breadth and depth of the vision. In fact, parts of it were probably still half-baked and still continue to morph and change as we learn more about patient and provider behavior. That's one of the most interesting aspects of this industry—building technology in healthcare is endlessly iterative.
I was still running my practice when I started developing Force, using my patients as guinea pigs and testing various features of the platform on them for quite a while, so when I finally stepped away to build the company full-time, people were fairly shocked. I had been pretty successful and had built a good reputation as a physical therapist, so to step away at such an advanced stage of my career was difficult for people to conceptualize. Even for me, the transition was tricky—not having that one-on-one patient contact every day took some getting used to.
How are you working to ensure that women are inspired to choose a career in health tech?
Our team at Force is strong and diverse. Half of our engineering team is female, and the vast majority of our client success team is female. We didn’t hire them because of their gender, we hired them (as with every employee at Force) because they are incredibly talented, passionate, and thoughtful people who fit well within our culture, and in some cases, they have really helped define our culture. I have so much respect for women who've chosen to enter the health tech field, knowing the inherent gender biases and misconceptions. I make sure our female employees feel supported and encouraged in every way. I’d love health tech to be a safe and welcoming space for women, and there’s no reason for it not to be. Everyone who works at Force has access to the same opportunities and receives equal treatment, and we are fully transparent about pay scales and benefits.
I believe that the diverse DNA of the people behind the Force experience ensures the product resonates with patients and providers of every ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, and sensibility. So part of our approach to building our incredible team here at Force has been to conciously welcome and celebrate a wide range of thinking styles and perspectives.
Having said that, on the sales side, our primary target market is very male dominated. Our core customers are 95% male—that’s the demographic amongst orthopedic and joint replacement surgeons, and I’m often the only woman at the table. I guess it would be easy to feel outnumbered, but I never think of it that way because the mission of Force Therapeutics is bigger than ego, it’s bigger than gender-bias, and it certainly supersedes any indulgence in personal feelings of insecurity. Besides, it’s never really only me at the table—it’s me as a representative of this powerful team and the product we’ve created together.
We sincerely appreciate Bronwyn for lending her voice to this series and for shining a light on what women can do to break into this emerging field. For more from Bronwyn, check out her interview with StartUp Health.
To learn more about FORCE Therapeutics, the leading post-acute recovery platform, and the services they provide, head over to forcetherapeutics.com