Dr. James Elist is a urological surgeon who has pioneered breakthroughs in the treatment of male infertility, impotency, and sexual dysfunction. After having completed his residency at Washington Hospital Center, serving as chief resident and chief administrative resident, Dr. Elist became chief of surgery at Westside Hospital in LA, chief of urology at Beverly Hills Medical Center, and chief of urology as well as chairman of the ethics committee at Midway Hospital. In 1982, he also opened his own private practice while serving as Attending Staff at Olympia Medical Center and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Besides his role as a surgeon, Dr. Elist is responsible for over a dozen patents and is the author of Put Impotency in Your Past, A Matter of Size, and numerous medical articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Dr. Elist is perhaps best known for developing a subcutaneous silicone penile implant called Penuma, the first such implant to be cleared by the FDA. Penuma is a permanent and long-lasting yet reversible solution for those who suffer from clinical penile aesthetic issues or for those seeking penile aesthetic enhancement.
Through his roles at these hospitals and in private practice, Dr. Elist has had an impact on thousands of men, dramatically improving their lives as well as the lives of their significant others.
Where did the idea for Penuma come from?
Ever since I was a child, I had dreamt of becoming a surgeon. As I grew up and went to medical school, I became attracted to the field of urology in particular while rotating between different surgery departments during my residency. Urology, specifically the treatment of infertility and erectile dysfunction, is special because it allows the physician to help both the patient and the partner improve their intimacy and their capacity to have children. Combining urology and surgery has been such a blessing as it has enabled me to have an impact on so many people.
I spend every day of my practice trying to figure out ways to better serve my patients. For years, I had been searching for a real solution for men who either had a medical issue or who were dissatisfied with the length and/or girth of their penises. I say a real solution because those that had been available to men were extremely unsatisfactory. One common procedure had been to use an autologous fat or gel injection, which was characterized by the American Urological Association as substandard and which would serve as a temporary solution at best, often producing lumps and nodules on different parts of the penis as well. As a result, I made it my mission to come up with something better. While on a business trip once, I was contemplating how to implement something along the lines of a breast implant and came up with the idea that became Penuma—a permanent, long-lasting penile implant made of high-quality, medical-grade soft silicone and that has since been cleared by the FDA.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually start my day with an hour of meditation and spiritual study and then I go into the office. I meet with both longtime and new patients and then spend the rest of the working day in the operating room performing surgery. To close out the day, I spend about another hour in meditation and self-reflection. When I speak with my patients, I really try to develop as close and as trusting a relationship as possible regarding their personal lives and the issues they may face. I do my best to provide a solution to their pain and to each problem for which they came to me.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I take a good look at the products that I am already using within my daily practice and how I can get the most out of them. I then visualize how they can be improved or what additional products I would like to have and then play out the scenario of how to design them to the best of my ability.
What’s one trend that excites you?
We have seen promising advances in the treatment of cancer. I am hopeful that we will soon find ways for medical professionals to more quickly and efficiently both diagnose and treat cancer by using the body’s own immune system. In fact, I helped run a clinical trial and co-authored a paper on a promising treatment for prostate cancer that will likely have applications to other types of cancer.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
From a very young age, I have always had the habit of questioning everything. Whenever I observed something that wasn’t working, I attempted to find a solution. Curiosity and a desire for constant improvement have always been the key to my success.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say to never be afraid, always be positive, and think big. That is what I tell my children about how to look at life and business.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I personally believe that there is no correlation between knowledge and wealth. You could be the most knowledgeable person about the world yet in quite a low-income bracket. You could also be quite wealthy yet that does not necessarily come as a result of the effort you put into your work. Wealth is really just part of a blessing that one is granted by the Highest Authority. Of course, one has to put in effort and work, but any wealth that results is really just part of a greater blessing and is a gift.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I constantly try to be as persistent as possible. If you fail, just see your failure as another door for success and learn from it. Every time you fall, believe that it happened for a reason, that there is always a reason behind any failure and that success can come as a result of that failure.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I have always tried to be the most honest I could with people, to have the best bedside manner possible, and to employ people who work that way as well. I have also been blessed to have a talented, gifted, and amazing son who works with me as well as assistants who are also extremely caring and helpful to my patients. I make it my business, literally, to be as straightforward as possible and to greet everyone with a smile. I believe that has been a key to my success.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
During my career, I have had opportunities to invest and support ventures outside of medicine. Many of those ventures ended in failure. I quickly learned that I must trust my instincts and stay within my areas of expertise and life experience.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I believe that much of Penuma’s success is not only due to the strong collaboration with fellow urologists, but also due to the collaboration I have been fortunate to have with other medical specialties such as plastic surgery and psychiatrists. In my opinion, the medical specialties often operate in silos, attending their own conferences and publishing papers in their own academic journals. My business idea would be to develop a forum where medical specialties could collaborate with one another, share insights (e.g., on surgical techniques), and spread the word on any promising innovations. I believe a forum like this could help advance the practice of medicine for every medical professional.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best hundred dollars that I spent within the past few months was before Christmas when I gave a waitress a $100 dollar tip. The look of surprise on her face when she said thank you was priceless. I think that was probably the best hundred dollars I ever spent in my life.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The best software program or app that I use and has helped me really be productive in how I go about learning new things is Flipboard. I use it to get a lot of my information. I also try to increase my knowledge by reading and listening to the insights of experts in any subject, specifically through online videos of TED Talks.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I highly recommend reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It is a really valuable work that imparts great life lessons, particularly as to how to be productive, friendly, and positive in your life.
What is your favorite quote?
“This too shall pass.”
• Taking some time every day to meditate and reflect on your actions as well as on how you treated people around you is critical to your improvement as a human being and to success.
• Honesty and treating others with care is part and parcel of professionalism in any business.
• Failure always happens for a reason. The key to succeeding is learning from failures combined with persistence in finding a solution to problems.
• Investing effort in whatever you do is important, but any wealth that results is really just a blessing and gift from the Highest Authority.
• Be open minded to the suggestions of all. Wise individuals make sure to learn from all those they encounter.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.