Where can ViTAL take you? Healthcare innovation can seem both narrow and broad in scope, but each individual’s journey through this entrepreneurial space is markedly unique. Our *Grad Spotlights* thus aim to highlight the paths our graduating members have taken so far, to demonstrate the diversity of directions one can take to make a positive impact in healthcare.
As our first ever Grad Spotlight, ViTAL is pleased to feature Shashank Madhu. Shashank powered the success of the club as ViTAL’s Director of Innovation from 2019–2020, and has been instrumental to ViTAL’s operations since the organization’s inception in 2019. In his time at Northeastern, Shashank has carved his path through extensive research in a biomaterials lab, as a clinical assistant at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and in MGH’s Emergency Department to expand access to medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction. Outside of ViTAL, he also became heavily involved in student life through the Northeastern American Red Cross Chapter, UTSAV (Northeastern’s South Asian Association), and numerous hackathons and pitch competitions. Upon graduation this past Spring, Shashank has started work as a pharma R&D analyst at Johnson & Johnson.
Q: What has your journey through healthcare been like — what have been the highlights or turning points throughout your time at Northeastern?
I started Northeastern wanting to be a doctor, plain and simple. I joined the Health Science major because I thought that it would be a good stepping stone to the healthcare field. To be quite honest, I actually didn’t even know what Health Science entailed. I just thought it would be more up my alley than going a traditional biology or biochem route to med school. It was only when I went on a Dialogue to London at the end of my freshman year that I learnt the importance of the Health Science major. Public health has shaped our entire lives in many unseen and unspoken ways, and now we are seeing the consequences of its failing. While I would like to continue on the journey towards being a doctor, I realized that I want to also learn how to effect change on a greater level outside of the patient-provider interaction. I am forever grateful that I went on that Dialogue because it has pushed me to consider getting an MPH or PhD in a public health related discipline alongside an MD. I believe that having both of these experiences will help me become a better clinician and inform me about how to better serve the needs of my community.
I joined Northeastern Healthcare Business Club in my sophomore year because my friend asked me to run for the e-board literally on the day of e-board elections, which I accepted since I needed more leadership experiences. I didn’t know what I was signing up for then, but looking back on that day two years later I am so happy that I did. NUBHC, and later ViTAL, has helped me open my eyes more than any other experience I have had before. Like most people, I thought healthcare was limited to the clinician role and pre-med students were the only ones who really needed to learn about healthcare. Sure, there was pharmacy and biotech and other related majors, but I never thought of them being in the same bucket as traditional healthcare. ViTAL has changed my definition of healthcare. Through all of my ViTAL experiences, I have come to understand the evolving world of healthcare and how pharmacy, biotech, medical devices, clinical roles, and many more are just different sides of a many sided die. ViTAL’s mission is to help people understand this and become more involved in healthcare innovation, regardless of their major. Everyone is impacted by healthcare, and therefore everyone is a stakeholder in healthcare. The future of healthcare will require greater collaborations between people in a wide array of fields in order to meet the changing needs of the world, and I can’t wait to be part of the frontlines of this challenge.
Q: Any specific memories of ViTAL you’ll carry with you?
Planning for the Husky Health Innovation Challenges is both a challenging and rewarding experience. We began HHIC with the vision of having the first undergrad life-science focused case competition in Boston. Northeastern students are exposed to a variety of different experiences and come out being some of the most highly sought after individuals. Yet, they are often overshadowed by peers from other schools due to name recognition. We thought that HHIC would be a great way for them to showcase their talents to the wider community and maybe win some cash prizes along the way. By definition, we didn’t really have any precedents to fall back on and had to spend a lot of time trying to learn along the way. It was difficult work, and even though we tried to plan ahead and begin early, we constantly found ourselves running into roadblocks. Whether we were scrambling for funding, or trying to market the event, or even something as basic as setting up a website for the event, there were a lot of difficulties we faced. We never let this stop us from trying our hardest to make the events a success, and I think I can honestly say that our events have been a success. We proved to ourselves and to the Northeastern community that students from diverse backgrounds can come together and solve the complex problems we threw at them. It makes me very happy to see people with supply chain majors or CS experiences working with health science students to work through these challenges. It is the embodiment of what we want out of ViTAL, and I hope that HHIC continues to foster this sense of interdisciplinary collaboration in grander fashion in the years to come.
Q: What’s next for you?
I have been working at Johnson & Johnson since mid-June as a pharma R&D analyst. The program that I was hired through is a two year rotation program, after which I will probably be applying to medical school. My fingers are crossed that I can get into an MD/MPH program!
Q: What advice do you have for people interested in healthcare innovation?
Always, always, ALWAYS, keep an open mind! Innovation is such a broad term, and therefore it is equally important that you can keep an eye out for anything. Even the smallest things at first glance might not seem like much, but they can change your life. Ask questions, listen more than you speak, and never be afraid to try something out that you might have no experience with. You never know when you will find your life’s passion!
An excerpt of this conversation is included in the ViTAL 2019–20 Recap.