What do the 9 physician billionaires have in common? They're all self-made

Nine U.S. physicians appeared on Forbes' 36th annual list of the world's richest people. They range from company founders to inventors, but all are varying degrees of self-made.

The list featured 33 U.S.-based billionaire entrepreneurs, heirs, inventors and leaders in healthcare, and 2,668 billionaires all together. Below is the list of U.S. physician billionaires and how they made their fortunes.

1. Thomas Frist Jr., MD. Co-founder of HCA Healthcare (Nashville, Tenn.): $21.8 billion

Dr. Frist is a former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon. He founded HCA Healthcare with his father in 1968 and today owns more than 20 percent of the company. Dr. Frist does not have an executive position at HCA, but his sons are board members.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Nashville-based Vanderbilt University and his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He scored a 7 out of 10 on Forbes' 400 Self-Made Score, meaning he is largely self-made but got a head start from wealthy parents.

2. Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD. Founder of NantWorks: $7.3 billion

Dr. Soon-Shiong invented the cancer drug Abraxane and sold his drug companies Abraxis and American Pharmaceutical Partners for a combined $9.1 billion. His all-time highest net worth was $12.2 billion in 2015. Dr. Soon-Shiong owns the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and stakes in Tribune Publishing and the L.A. Lakers.

He graduated high school at 16 and earned his medical degree at 23. His self-made score is a 9 out of 10, meaning he came from a working-class background and rose from little to nothing.

3. Phillip Frost, MD. CEO and Chair of Opko Health: $2.2 billion

Dr. Frost joined Key Pharmaceuticals in 1972 and sold the company 14 years later for $836 million. He founded drugmaker Ivax in 1987 and sold it in 2005 for $7.6 billion. 

He was born during the Great Depression to a shoe store owner. His middle-class background gave him a self-made score of 8 out of 10.

4. Gary Michelson, MD. Retired spine surgeon inventor: $1.8 billion

Dr. Michelson is a retired orthopedic and spinal surgeon with more than 340 patents for surgical instruments. He became a billionaire in 2005 after he reached a settlement with Medtronic. 

He stopped practicing in 2001 and focused on being an inventor. He invented Michelson Technology, a portfolio of devices and procedures that reduce blood loss, pain, disability and recovery time. Forbes gave him a 9 out of 10 self-made score.

5. Keith Dunleavy, MD. Founder and CEO of Inovalon: $1.7 billion

Dr. Dunleavy founded cloud-based healthcare data company Inovalon and retains a 64 percent ownership stake in the company. Inovalon pulled $667.5 million in revenue in 2020.

Dr. Dunleavy earned his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and his medical degree at Boston-based Harvard University. He was not given a Forbes self-made score, though the publication listed "self-made" as a source of wealth.

6. James Leininger, MD. Founder of Kinetic Concepts: $1.7 billion

Dr. Leininger founded wound care device company Kinetic Concepts in a one-bedroom apartment in 1976, and in November 2012 it was acquired for $6.3 billion. Dr. Leininger was the largest shareholder. His Medcare Investment Funds manages $1 billion in assets.

Dr. Leininger owns a small stake in the San Antonio Spurs. He was not given a Forbes self-made score, though the publication listed "self-made" as a source of wealth.

7. George Yancopoulos, MD, PhD. Co-founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals: $1.4 billion

Dr. Yancopoulos is the president, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Regeneron. He led the invention of seven approved drugs and a drug invention technology platform. He earned both his medical degree and his PhD from New York City-based Columbia University and became a biology professor at age 28.

He owns about 2 percent of Regeneron stock and was the first pharmaceutical research chief to become a billionaire. He was not given a Forbes self-made score, though the publication listed "self-made" as a source of wealth.

8. August Troendle, MD. President and CEO of Medpace: $1.3 billion

Dr. Troendle founded clinical research company Medpace in 1992. Today, he is the president and CEO, and he owns a 21 percent stake. He also spent five years as a director of the pharmaceutical company now known as Novartis and briefly worked as a medical review officer with the FDA's division of metabolic and endocrine drug products.

He was not given a Forbes self-made score, though the publication listed "self-made" as a source of wealth.

9. Leonard Schleifer, MD, PhD. Co-founder and CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals: $1.2 billion

Dr. Schleifer co-founded drugmaker Regeneron in 1988 with Dr. Yancopoulos, No. 7 on this list. Dr. Schleifer is currently the CEO of the company. He owns nearly 4 percent of Regeneron's common stock.

He grew up in New York City as the son of a sweater manufacturer. Forbes gave him an 8 out of 10 self-made score.

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