Jessica Grossman, M.D., is a fan of the calculated risk. Taking one to change careers after medical school landed her in a role that is helping shape the future of women’s healthcare.
As a med student, Grossman’s career path as an OB/GYN was pretty well set. “I always wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I felt like I had found my tribe.” But as she entered residency, she began to get the nagging feeling that she wasn’t thinking big enough. “There were all these inefficiencies in the system. I always had ideas for new ways of doing things but nobody wanted to hear them because I was a young female,” she says. “I felt as though there was no room for innovation or entrepreneurship at the time.”
So, Grossman started thinking bigger. “I knew that I loved women’s health, but I also love technology,” she says. “I wanted to get things done and invent things.”
Trading stethoscopes for a startups
Grossman’s rebel with a cause moment came right at the height of the dot com allure in 2000, so she decamped for Silicon Valley. “When I came out here and met all these people who were doing very nontraditional things, it was like a whole new world,” she says. “There were physician entrepreneurs running companies, raising money, inventing things. I thought as a physician, you either worked in a hospital or you did research in a laboratory and that was it. In my world that was all there was.”
Spurred by the infectious energy of the startup scene, Grossman turned her sights on some of outmoded systems in women’s healthcare that had frustrated her during residency; In 2005, she started her own company called Gynesonics, built around a minimally invasive treatment for uterine fibroid tumors. “Being involved in the med tech industry was really a great spot for me,” she says. “It felt like I’d found my place among people who are like me; who love medicine, want to do things with healthcare and want to bridge the gap with technology.”
Two successful rounds of fundraising for Gynesonics and a host of other projects later, Grossman began consulting for Medicines360, a donor-funded, global non-profit pharmaceutical company, in 2010. Eventually, Grossman joined the board and in 2015, took the helm as CEO.
Unlike other pharmaceutical companies, Medicines360 has a specific aim. “I see us in some ways as a technology company with a mission,” says Grossman. Via the launch of their first product Liletta, a low-cost progesterone IUD, the company is making moves to expand women’s access to healthcare and contraception regardless of socioeconomic status or insurance.
“One of the things I love about Medicines360 is that we’re doing something completely novel and different,” Grossman says. “In my heart, I’m an entrepreneur; as a non-profit pharmaceutical company, there is so much uncharted water. We’ve made fantastic progress against our mission with our first product, but there’s so much more to do. I’m committed to making this company a powerhouse solution for unmet needs in women’s health.”
Bridging the gap
When Grossman talks about Liletta, Medicines360’s hero product, her unique talent for combining time-honored medical know-how with Silicon Valley’s tech-savvy aptitude for disruption becomes clear.
The result is real change in the beleaguered women’s healthcare space.
“There is a perception that birth control is free. It’s not free,” says Grossman. “Maybe that’s true for you today, but it’s not true in every city across the United States and it may not be true tomorrow.” (While the Affordable Care Act remains in effect, insurers are required to cover birth control. For uninsured women, and under the American Health Care Act proposed by the Trump Administration, birth control may be prohibitively expensive for many.)
In 2017, healthcare transparency company Amino analyzed a database of over nine billion health claims from 225 million Americans to get a pulse on the real cost of women’s healthcare. According to Amino’s report, the national median cost of Mirena (another type of progesterone IUD) was $1,111.
These sky high costs have led to an unequal system in medicine, says Grossman, where “only the women who are insured and who have money can afford the most effective forms of birth control. “That is incredibly unfair,” she says.
Liletta (which is currently commercially licensed by Allergan), is deliberately disruptive. Public sector pricing for Liletta, regardless of insurance status, is just $50. That income then goes straight back into R&D, helping to fuel a cycle of women helping women with further expanded access to healthcare. “We developed all this technology in service of this mission to decrease unintended pregnancy and give women a choice,” says Grossman.
Grossman’s next challenge is to take the ethos of Liletta—affordable, accessible, game-changing for women’s healthcare—and create an entire suite of products that will change women’s health. “Any product that low-income or uninsured women have difficulty accessing would be in our sweet spot to look at,” says Grossman. Wherever there’s a gap in women’s healthcare, Grossman is out to bridge it.
“What we’re doing is even more important under the current administration. It’s very scary, but for us, it helps strengthen our resolve,” she says. “We’re here to give women choice. To give women hope.”
Charting her own course
Morphing a career in medicine into a career in tech hasn’t been without challenges—especially as Grossman takes on the increasing politically charged world of women’s healthcare. Luckily, Grossman got used to facing challenges as soon as she took that first risk to change careers. “At the time, it was very unusual to not only be a young female entrepreneur, but also to be starting a women’s healthcare company,” she says.
In the decade plus since the M.D. first turned CEO, many of the challenges Grossman faces as a female in a male-dominated industry haven’t changed. “Even today I’ll get these comments like, ‘Oh sweetie, what do you do?’,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m the CEO.’”
Recharting her career after med school required courage, creativity and tenacity, she says—not bad skills to have as entrepreneur out to change an entire industry. “I am living proof that you can do it. You can build this career path for yourself. It might be bumpy, there might be twists and turns but you absolutely can figure it out for yourself.”
Here’s Grossman’s advice for changing course and charting a career path you love:
- Listen to your gut. “It’s so important to know yourself, rather than letting existing career paths determine what’s right for you,” says Grossman. “I knew that I needed to listen to my own inner voice, which was telling me to follow a different path.”
- Adopt a can-do attitude. Grossman arrived in Silicon Valley ready to learn. “I had zero business background,” she says. “I was on those very determined type of people—just give me any job to do and I’ll do it!”
- Make “settle” a dirty word. “Why settle for ‘good enough’?” asks Grossman. “If you dig deeper, learn more and push for unique opportunities, you’ll find ways to realize your best and fullest life—and help others do the same.”