Trained general surgeon Dr. Wendy Ketner couldn’t have been more excited to find The Expert Institute (TEI) over 2 years ago. When she left clinical practice, she was looking for an opportunity on the startup side where she could utilize her 10+ years of medical knowledge and make a real impact on clients. Now she’s the Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs at Expert Institute, helping attorneys understand the narratives behind their malpractice cases and informing better case decisions based on solid interpretation of the medical facts.
We recently caught up with Dr. Ketner to learn more about her journey to Expert Institute and how she’s helped the company grow during her tenure.
How did your medical career lead you to The Expert Institute?
I spent 3 years working in general surgery and during my last year, I realized that I didn’t love being in the operating room as much as I had anticipated. I started speaking to anyone that had left clinical medicine and done something different that would talk to me and ended up working at a company that finds experts for financial investors. For 2 years, I ran their healthcare hedge fund book of business, which was a large book of device and pharma biotech investors who wanted to speak with physicians about what needed to be done to pass clinical trials and how much they would use that device or drug in their practice. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really using my medical training.
One of my current colleagues at TEI had worked with me at my former company for a period of time. When he started at TEI, he told me the company was looking for more physicians. I said I wanted to make a change and the rest is history. Now I run a team of 10 physicians at The Expert Institute.
What was your first impression of the TEI team?
I was excited about and impressed by the energy and the people! [Founder and CEO] Michael Talve’s passion came across very clearly and my interview didn’t even feel like a job interview. It was more like figuring out if this was the right fit: Can I help grow this company? Can I be a part of it? And it was clear that I could bring my medical background and the managerial skills I had learned over to the TEI physician team.
I knew when I left medicine that at some point I wanted to do something on the startup side, but that was established enough that I wasn’t going to be out of a job in 6 months. I was excited about where the company was. I anticipated that it would grow a lot in the next couple of years, and I wanted to be part of that.
Since then the office space and the size of the team have grown, but the caliber of our people has always been really high. Our marketing efforts have improved and our technology has continued to evolve. But I think particularly for us physicians, the level of service we provide to the clients has changed. They’ve come to expect so much more from us across the physician team both with Case Clinics and expert referrals.
You mentioned that clients have come to expect more from our Case Clinic product. Can you give us a brief description of Case Clinics and what you like most about them?
Our attorney clients are phenomenal litigators, but they don’t necessarily know the technical aspects of the medicine behind each case as well as a physician. Case Clinics are an opportunity for us physicians to help our clients make the most of the cases they are working on.
For example, we’ll have a client that’s looking at a complicated ICU course and they don’t know whether infectious disease didn’t get the right antibiotics or if the surgeon should have taken the patient back to the OR sooner. They’re just trying to figure out what’s going on with the case and see if it has merit. Our team reviews the records and explains the story. We tell the client where there could have been deviations in the standard of care and where there weren’t. We also do a lot of work on the front end to confirm our suspicions. We always search across the literature, use UpToDate, and call experts who are practicing to make sure that what we think is right is right.
The best part of the Case Clinic process is that the attorneys are so appreciative of everything that we do for them. The other day, I wrote a client a summary of why he shouldn’t take the case to take back to his clients. I got an email back from the client that said, “Wendy, your summary was not just helpful, it was invaluable.” Another member of my team got feedback from someone who said, “I’ve never worked with a physician of this caliber before.” It’s really nice to know that we’re providing white glove service to our clients. And at the same time, it’s rewarding for us MDs to continue to feel like physicians — to keep up our medical endeavors and actually use all that knowledge that we spent 10 or 15 years acquiring.
What is a typical day like for you?
There isn’t really a typical day. But if I had to say, I usually come in, check my email, and start preparing for a Case Clinic. I’ll probably have at least 2 pitch calls with members of our Business Development team. These will usually be with prospective clients looking to get involved in a trial subscription. I’m very lucky that for a long time I was the only physician traveling to client meetings. I really gained a lot of exposure to what clients respond to, and what makes them go, “Aha, I get it.” The nuances of our service are not always the easiest to explain, which is why I think the 6-month trial has been a great addition to our model. Once the clients hear about it and start using our services, they come to realize the breadth and value of our services; they come to depend on us.
As for the rest of the day, I’m checking over intakes for my team and approving experts. I field questions from analysts about whether expert answers are supportive. I answer client phone calls with case-related questions. I also work directly with our CEO at least a couple of times a week. Whenever he has a special client or a unique case, I’ll hop on the line and conduct a review with him. I also scheduling interviews and organize guides for my team, like best practices for client meetings.
I think I’ve learned the same amount in my 2 years at TEI that I learned in my 3 years of residency. Every time you work on a case and you reach out to an expert, you learn something new. I’m grateful to have the chance to speak with medical experts in our network so often because their insight is so valuable. You really can’t learn to be a physician just by reading.
Can you tell me about yourself and something you like to do in your free time?
When I first left medicine, I didn’t know what to do with 2 days off every weekend. Now I’ve picked up SoulCycle and I love it! I’m a big foodie so I enjoy trying new restaurants. And then on rainy days, I watch a lot of Hulu. I’ve got 2 siblings. My brother is an eye surgeon and my sister just started her own hedge fund in medical tech. So everybody’s in medicine despite the fact that neither one of my parents is.
What’s something that we wouldn’t know about you from first glance?
I was on Babysitters Club poster when I was 7 years old! I went to a studio in Queens and shot a poster for the bookstore Eli’s books. I also tried out for Broadway when I was in the 5th grade. It was the year that Daisy Eagan won the Tony Award for The Secret Garden. She was 11 and the youngest girl ever to win a Tony and I kind of became obsessed. But I was too tall, and had braces, and couldn’t sing. So that was the beginning and end of my Broadway career.
What would you say to physicians who are maybe looking to get out of clinical medicine and are considering The Expert Institute?
TEI is a great environment. The medical team has a really good time together and these people have become some of my best friends — You never lose that bond of being a physician and enduring the training. To the physicians out there thinking about making a change: I think some of the smartest people change careers lots of times in their lives. But as a physician, it’s really hard to go to a place where you’re not working with other physicians or where you’re not using your medical degree. TEI offers a really unique opportunity to continue your learning and to continue interacting not only with the other physicians at TEI, but other top experts in the field that you might otherwise not get to work with.