California physician writes his own ticket with ergonomic pen

Racked by severe hand pain and frustrated by his search for a comfortable instrument, the anesthesiologist designed his own.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Jan. 16, 2012

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: James Lee, MD

Specialty: Anesthesiology

Location: San Diego

Company: UGLee Pen sells the Ultimate Grip Pen by Dr. James Lee through his website and some specialty stores. A pack of three sells for $19.99 plus shipping and handling (link).

Annual revenue: $30,000

Why he started the business: During medical training, Dr. Lee developed severe hand pain and cramping from all the chart notes he had to write. Seeking an end to his discomfort, he spent hundreds of dollars on various writing instruments that claimed to be ergonomic. "None of them worked," he said.

Usually a right-hander, Dr. Lee taught himself to write with his left hand but was unable to do so quickly enough to complete his work. At one point, he covered a pen with masking tape and taped it to his hand in an attempt to write without pain. "You name it, I tried it," he said.

So Dr. Lee decided to design his own pen. He x-rayed his hand and created pens in his garage workshop that would fit the bones of his fingers. He ended up with a plastic pen that has a gel cover and ridges to reduce the pressure his fingers exert when writing.

Initially, the pen he designed about nine years ago was only for his use. But co-workers asked to try it out and, after doing so, offered to buy it from him.

"There was no way I was selling that pen. I made it for me," said Dr. Lee, who still experiences pain when using other writing instruments because of neurapraxia.

The larger-scale business launched about three years ago. He recently secured a distributor and is talking with large retail chains interested in carrying the UGLee pen. Manufacturing was initially carried out by a San Diego company but has since moved to Taiwan.

"It's a challenge," Dr. Lee said. "You need to get volume to get prices down, but in order to get the demand to get the volume up, you need to get prices down."

He also is an executive producer of the weekly talk show "RSVP," co-hosted by his wife, Tess Mauricio, MD, on the Filipino Channel, which is available on cable and satellite. He and his wife, a dermatologist, practice at their Scripps Ranch Dermatology and Cosmetic Center.

Why he still practices: "Considering the amount of time and effort becoming a physician, it would be a shame to waste it doing something else."

Words of wisdom: "You just have to love what you do. My pen will always be successful because it works. If you only set up a business for the money, you will get depressed and frustrated, and you will give up very quickly."

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