Kate Tulenko MD, founder of Corvus Health, has had an interesting road on the path to entrepreneurship. She definitely is proud of the company she has built, but she doesn’t sugar coat anything about the hard work that it took to get there.
As a college student, she was strong in the sciences, and also had an interest in Global Health. She received her MD and MPH from Johns Hopkins. During her medical school years, her interest in public health continued, and she decided to pursue pediatrics. She focused on a future in public health by applying to pediatrics residency programs that were attached to public health programs. During her last year of residency, she spent time at the World Bank, where she ended up staying on for a job.
Dr. Tulenko spent 10 years at the World Bank, and for 3 of those years she was coordinator at the World Bank Africa health workforce program. Even with her busy position she did not want to completely let go of patient care. So she kept her clinical skills up to date by doing locums work. After 10 years at the World Bank, she left for a position at IntraHealth International, where she led the US Agency for International Development’s global health workforce project, a $60 million project focused on improving healthcare labor markets and healthcare workforce in developing countries. During that time, she noticed that the private sector was a growing area that could provide even more opportunity to make a difference in emerging markets. And that is where the idea for starting her own business was born.
When Dr. Tulenko left IntraHealth International to start her own company, she says that her networking and contacts throughout the world helped her find clients in need, but that she still needed to continue to do locums and chart review work to pay the bills as she was building the business from the ground up. Corvus Health is a global health workforce company, which helps healthcare facilities, such as clinics, hospitals and pharmacies plan and build their workforce.
Almost all Corvus Health clients are located internationally, in developing nations. A recent project involves setting up the first locums service in Kenya. Dr. Tulenko explains that developing nations have a great need for this service, and she feels good knowing that her company makes a huge difference in the lives of patients who need high quality healthcare. Her company is also beginning to partner with agencies that improve quality of care, such as surgical care.
Another interesting aspect of working with developing nations can be working through the regulations- which often differ from country to country. She has clients in areas as widespread as Latin America, Asia and Africa. Overall, Dr. Tulenko explains, there tends to be less regulation in developing countries than there is the US or in Western Europe when it comes to staffing healthcare systems. For example, medical malpractice expenditures are lower or even non-existent in some countries, which makes hiring doctors and nurses much less costly for healthcare systems.
Currently, Corvus Health has about 20 employees, including doctors, professionals with public health degrees and human resource specialists. Dr. Tulenko explains that, for practical reasons, staff is located all over the world to facilitate relationships with clients.
Kate Tulenko has some advice for entrepreneurial doctors. She says that because physicians are perfectionists who are used to being at the top of their classes, the uncertainty of starting a business can make it seem intimidating. She says that she felt intimidated when she started out as well, but that her confidence grew largely out of knowing that there was such a need. She also says that the time between pitching a service to a client and receiving payment can take months. And, while some business owners take out loans to get their business of the ground, she dealt with the financial risk by continuing to take locums work, despite her busy schedule. Overall, Dr. Tulenko says that it takes patience to build and grow a company, but she feels that the process is well worth it.
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