Meet The Surgeon & Entrepreneur Who Became A Last-Minute Columbia MBA Student

Paige Finkelstein and a hospital therapy dog. Courtesy photo


Doctors are natural problem-solvers, Paige Finkelstein says. But while they can get from A to B, they often have trouble going from B to C.

“I lived this experience, where you spend so much time in these science classes, math classes, physics classes, pre-med, going to med school, you become a doctor — and then your whole life just becomes consumed by seeing patients and hospital bureaucracy,” she says. “And even though you might have ideas to fix problems — and healthcare is obviously a hot subject right now, and there’s lots of problems to be fixed — you might have an idea, but you never get to see it commercialized. I would just witness as so many doctors just complaining about this or that, and things we could do to fix it, but they could never sort of close the deal, for lack of a better word.”

She’s determined not to let that happen with her company, ERinfo, a facial-recognition platform to identify patients in emergencies and traumas. The success of the enterprise is, literally, a matter of life and death.

Paige Finkelstein. Courtesy photo

“I was seeing so many Jane and John Does coming through the hospital doors,” Finkelstein says. “And what a lot of people don’t realize is there are state laws, too, that we are supposed to identify patients within 48 hours. Try and reach out to loved ones. And often that’s not the case, not because we don’t want to, but because we’re just not able to. I’ve worked in many metropolitan areas where there’s millions of people. So it’s like, ‘Where do you start?’ I literally had the conversation with police, especially when kids come in. I’m like, ‘Can we get a move-on, finding the parents?’ They are like, ‘Where do you want us to start looking?’

“Normally, the process is you have to wait for someone to file a missing person report, or they have to call the hospitals. And it’s just really not an efficient process. And unfortunately, sometimes that critical window is missed, and people get there too late, and it’s really heartbreaking.”

Finkelstein put a team together to develop a facial recognition algorithm that works on any provider’s cell phone. They joined FirstNet, a joint project between AT&T and the government, becoming its first patient-facing app. They’ve also teamed up with the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation for kids who have Type 1 diabetes. “Every kid who has Type 1 diabetes, if you look at the stats, is going to end up in the emergency room as they’re learning to manage their blood sugar,” she says.

“I knew this technology existed, and I knew it could be leveraged to do some good in the healthcare industry. And I have this engineering background, I have this medical background, and I was able to put the two together. And sort of the next step in the journey was, ‘Okay, how do I make this a business?'”


When she was working with patients dying of coronavirus in Miami, Finkelstein frequently risked her own life.

“There was more than times I can count on my fingers, where it was like, ‘Okay, I can go into the room, do the chest tube and expose myself’ — and keep in mind when you place a chest tube, it’s puncturing a hole in the lung wall, and all that Covid air is just pumped right out at me,” she says, demonstrating with a sweep of her hand. “And this was earlier on in Covid, where you just didn’t know what would happen — ‘I have no idea how this is going to affect me.’

“It was, ‘All right, either I can watch this person just die, because if I don’t do something in the next 30 seconds, that’s what’s going to happen. Or I can put my own life at risk.’ You make a calculated decision. And there were many times I was very scared: ‘Holy crap, what did I just do?’

“Looking back, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ But that’s why I went into medicine. You put others ahead of you, sometimes. And there were times, before we understood the virus as much as we do now, where I thought, ‘Okay, can I go home to see my family after if I’ve had this exposure? Am I just waiting to see if I develop symptoms?’ It was a weird time.”


Courtesy photo

Finkelstein’s first year at Columbia ended the first week of May. It has been a whirlwind, she says. “I honestly can’t believe it because a couple of years ago, me being in business school really wasn’t something I’d ever imagined I’d be able to do, given how medicine is. The process of becoming a doctor is very controlled and very streamlined, and there’s not really a lot of wiggle room for people to branch out and try other things. But honestly, moving (to New York) has been one of the best experiences in my life. I feel like it worked out the way it was supposed to. All the stars aligned for me applying to Columbia, not even to take the GMAT or the GRE. Them having rolling admission still being open.”

Her good fortune didn’t end there. Amid her research into schools, she was advised by her friend from HBS to check out Columbia’s healthcare program and find professors to reach out to. She clicked on one of the first names to come up: Carri Chan, a professor of Decision, Risk, and Operations and faculty director of the school’s Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management program.

“I opened up her bio, and she also went to the same undergrad as me — so I was like destiny,” Finkelstein says. “And I reached out to her, and she was like, ‘Hey, want to just Zoom chat? More than happy to make some time for you.’ And I actually spent a few minutes talking to her, and she was so awesome and welcomed me. She’s like, ‘You’d be a great fit here. Please apply.’ So she kind of sealed the deal.

“And then she actually happened to be our Operations professor in the spring semester! So it was just a full-circle moment.”


Finkelstein was disappointed in one thing: to be the only doctor in her class. The MBA offers a valuable skillset for physicians, she says, but so many feel like they don’t have the time, or don’t want to pay the opportunity costs.

“But I feel like it’s totally worth it,” she says. “And at the very least the word should be out there that you don’t need to come from a business background, you can come from something as far-fetched as medicine and still thrive and do a good job.

When she first showed up to Columbia and discovered that she was the only fully-licensed physician in the class, “I remember people just being like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I was like, ‘This is my first time seeing corporate finance, seeing accounting, seeing operations management.’ A lot of people who come from these backgrounds of finance and private equity, they’ve already seen this all before. So I was like, ‘What are you guys doing here? You already know it all.’

“I know a lot of people come to pivot, but for me, I’m actually here to learn.”


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