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Gaining a Global Perspective: Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Michigan Medicine and Beyond

Seven thousand miles away, I arrived in Samoa, a Pacific Islander Nation with some of the highest rates of chronic disease on our planet. Nearly half of the population in Samoa has diabetes, placing this community at high risk of diabetic retinopathy, a debilitating condition that leads to blindness if left untreated. I boarded the plane to Samoa with a low-cost, portable camera that captures images of the back of the eye, eager to design a creative solution to a costly problem. Nearly 3,000 images later, our team had implemented the first remote eye screening program in the South Pacific, detecting sight-threatening diabetes-associated eye disease and expediting the referral of patients to local care.

In one of the most remote regions of our world, I witnessed the role that medical innovation and capacity-building can serve in addressing barriers in accessing critical screening and specialty care. I knew that I wanted to continue exploring the ways that innovation and entrepreneurship can be used to address global healthcare challenges while in medical school.

Our Ross MBA team alongside members of the TechnoCoRe Catalyst team at the Technological Institute of the Philippines (T.I.P.)

The University of Michigan: A Hub for Healthcare Innovation
Shortly after matriculating at the University of Michigan Medical School, I became involved in Sling Health, a student-run incubator that brings together multidisciplinary teams of medical, business and engineering students to solve problems in healthcare. As an M1, I joined a team focused on addressing ‘pain points’ in the operating room. After speaking with over 160 surgeons in the Department of Surgery at Michigan Medicine to understand the problem more deeply, we developed Surgical ComfORt, an ergonomic surgical retractor system, which was a first-place finalist at Michigan Sling Health Demo Day.

Throughout the discovery and prototype development process, I gained an appreciation for the immense support that the University of Michigan ecosystem provides student entrepreneurs. After my time working with other medical, business and engineering students in our Sling Health team, we were able to participate in the Michigan Business Challenge, gaining additional seed funding for our device development, as well as mentorship and feedback from experts in the field. I learned that the support extends even beyond the medical school. Our team was able to participate in programming through the Zell Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, including the Pinkert Healthcare Accelerator and Dare to Dream Program, which provide a healthcare innovation curriculum coupled with longitudinal mentorship and grant funding. These programs not only sparked an early desire to pursue a dual degree alongside medicine, but also connected me to incredible perspectives related to the business of healthcare.

Group of people sitting on one side of a table smiling at camera

Interviewing students from the College of Electronics Engineering and the College of Business at T.I.P.

At the end of my M1 year, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enroll in a Path of Excellence. The Healthcare Innovation path seemed like the perfect fit to build a strong foundation in innovation and entrepreneurship. From bringing in real patients at Michigan Medicine facing problems requiring an innovative solution to providing a framework for medical students to solve unmet medical needs, the path has served an important role in supporting my innovation work. I’ve been able to serve as a team lead for PostOR, developing a wearable ergonomic sensor to provide real-time, intraoperative feedback on ergonomic behavior to surgeons. Participating in the Michigan Surgical Innovation Accelerator course, led by Dr. Rishi Reddy and Candice Stegink, has been one of the highlights of my time in medical school, allowing me to work with incredible faculty surgeons, Drs. Kristin Chrouser, Tasha Hughes, Jeffrey Kozlow; resident urologists Drs. Mark Farha (MD/MBA ’22) and Renee Cole; and learn from materials science engineers and experts in the sensor space.

Our multidisciplinary action project (MAP) team alongside engineering students at T.I.P.

Global Commercialization: Integrating a Business Lens
Supporting innovation on a global scale, I am now wrapping up a semester-long multidisciplinary action project (MAP) at the Ross School of Business as part of the MBA program. MAP is a unique aspect of the MBA program that allows students to work full-time with companies to solve real business challenges. For the past seven-weeks, I have been working with my classmates to develop a commercialization pathway for technologies stemming from the Technological Institute of the Philippines (T.I.P.). This project is a partnership with the William Davidson Institute, which drives economic development and supports business needs in low- to middle-income countries.

Visiting the world’s smallest active volcano, Taal, in the Batangas, Philippines

Our team was able to travel to Quezon City, Philippines in March to speak with T.I.P. faculty, students and members of their TechnoCoRe Catalyst team to understand how their current curricula and programs are driving commercialization activities. Over the course of our time in the Philippines, we were able to speak with student innovators across all engineering disciplines. From technologies that sense the readiness of cacao for harvesting to those that leverage virtual reality for disaster preparedness, engineering students at T.I.P. provided me with a wealth of knowledge on the commercialization process. Working with T.I.P. has also allowed me to come ‘full circle,’ now focusing on strategies to support student and faculty innovators in bringing their ideas and products to market.

…And of course, our MBA team found time to explore the Philippines, trying lots of Filipino dishes, exploring the incredible biodiversity and finding the world’s smallest active volcano (Taal). I am grateful for the opportunities that UMMS and the Ross School of Business have provided me during my dual degree and for the global perspective to become a more effective physician leader and innovator.

Dual Degree MD: Pursuing an MBA in the UK

In between my M3 and M4 years, I pursued an MBA at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. While obtaining a dual degree at the University of Michigan Medical School is relatively common, running halfway around the world to do so is not. I went through a mix of emotions as I left Ann Arbor to travel to Cambridge, including excitement, fear, and curiosity. I was excited to open up this brand-new chapter of my life in a totally different country at one of the world’s most famous universities. I understood that I would be attending the same institution where individuals such as Newton, Darwin, Hawking, and Mandela (only to name a few) made their mark on humanity. Yet, I was afraid to leave everything and everyone that I knew back in the USA. Suddenly, I would be in a long-distance relationship, six time zones apart from my family, and immersed in a professional and cultural world completely foreign to me. Fortunately, a medical student in the year above me (Steph DeBolle) trailblazed the path for me at Cambridge, but nevertheless, I knew that it would be me and me alone out there for a full year.

On my first day of school, I felt like a Kindergartner starting fifth grade. Prior to business school, I hadn’t even opened up a corporate finance book, and now, I would be in the same classroom as people who oversaw eight-figure transactions at organizations such as Apple, LVMH, and Alibaba. Moreover, as the second youngest person in my class, I felt as if my experience (or lack thereof) could not possibly contribute to the overall diversity of the class. I mean, one of my classmates was an Emmy Award-winning director—come on!!! Nevertheless, I knew that by the program’s completion, I wanted to obtain the strategic toolkit necessary to streamline adequate health care delivery for low-income individuals.

After getting into the stream of things, I began to realize that the business school at Cambridge was a ton of fun. I mean a TON of fun. Cambridge is a unique place. Not only is the city itself breathtakingly beautiful with over a thousand years of heritage, but it also sits just 48 minutes away from the heartbeat of Central London. Therefore, I not only lived in a picturesque city surrounded by the glorious English countryside, but I also had easy access to one of the world’s most buzzing and sought-after cities. My classmates quickly became my friends, and through working alongside them on projects as diverse as innovation benchmarking to pharmaceutical market expansion, they taught me a wide range of skill sets that I would have most likely never learned while in medical school. Additionally, since over 90% of my class was from outside of the UK, my friendship circle became rich in both national and professional diversity.

Crowd surfing at a Coachella themed party in Paris, France.

One of my favorite parts about the University of Cambridge is the college system. The university itself is made up of 31 different colleges that are sort of like Houses in Harry Potter. Each college has a campus, where conference rooms, bars, and boathouses can be found. I was part of St. Catharine’s College, a historic college housed in the center of the city. While at Catz, I played on the football team, where I was continuously ridiculed for calling the game soccer.

However, my sports involvement was not just limited to Catz football. One of the highlights of the MBA was MBAT, a European athletic competition held each year in Paris, France. Imagine something like this: what if all of the universities in the Midwest, such as Michigan State, Northwestern, OSU, and others, each participated in a giant three-day sports tournament that capped every night a massive themed party. Now imagine that this tournament was full of super fun with athletic individuals from all over the world and housed in Paris. That was MBAT. There, I played soccer, basketball, dodgeball, and touch rugby. To say it was a blast is a massive understatement.

With my Global Consulting Team in Beijing, China.

Throughout the course of my MBA, I participated in projects that took me as far as Bangkok and Beijing and as near as East London and Ipswich. I helped organize a conference that featured the former President of South Africa and I met the former CEO of ICBC. I skied in the Swiss Alps and swam in the Albanian Mediterranean. My friends are currently working for Amazon, Google, and Shell, and they live in cities like Tokyo, São Paulo, and Singapore.

Out at the main Souk in Doha, Qatar.

For me, pursuing an MBA at Cambridge was nothing short of remarkable and as a future physician, I plan to translate my business background into equitable health care delivery for low-income patients. Moreover, if I ever choose to partake in global medicine, the world will now be much easier to access due to my personal connections. For me, going to Cambridge made the most sense. Even though I had to temporarily leave everything behind, I certainly gained more than I could have ever imagined. I believe that no matter what you want to do while you are a medical student, a path for you exists. Whether it was pre-formed by someone else or completely off the beaten path, where there is a will, there is a way. Therefore, I say go for it!