For the past 10 years, I have worked as a Physician Assistant in Hospital Medicine at a hospital located in Chicago, Illinois. In this role, I’ve worked to facilitate acute care delivery for patients throughout their stay.
As such, I have firsthand experience seeing nearly every aspect of healthcare and I am distinctly aware of where healthcare is failing people time and time again. There are gaps that have been painfully obvious for far too long, and solutions are not feasible without redefining healthcare at scale, which isn’t something you can do as a front-line healthcare provider.
I see health technology as a way to vastly improve upon the processes we’ve had in place for years, allowing for better and more efficient access to healthcare, which lags far behind in terms of technology adoption and efficiency. To give one example, I counted it as a win to remove the use of a fax machine in accessing the medical records of a recent patient from an out-of-state hospital.
To me, there was a clear opportunity to use technology to build platforms to support clinical decisions, optimize electronic health records, and improve patient outcomes after leaving the hospital — and this is something I worked to do while working on the front lines.
Yet, there was still this nagging feeling that I could be doing more. I began thinking a lot about what my post-clinical career might look like, but clinical medicine is hard to break out of, and often full of guilt when it does happen. That path for me frequently felt like a dead end until I found a Twitter post highlighting a thriving community with new ideas, incredible talent, and the roadmap to redefine my future. What I found was On Deck Health.
How does On Deck translate to healthcare?
It was immediately evident that the On Deck Health Fellowship (ODH) was the right place for me to be, given my interest in finding ways that tech and medicine can intersect and be a force for change in the healthcare system.
Being on the clinical side of healthcare I don’t often have the opportunity to interact with people from wide-ranging backgrounds: product development, engineering, marketing, and other disciplines within the tech ecosystem. ODH brought together folks from all these backgrounds — that wouldn’t normally be working in collaboration — for the betterment of not only our own careers but also for the advancement of the healthcare industry. I am confident that these interdisciplinary connections will seed companies that impact the futures of the patients I take care of on a daily basis.
From the get-go, it was clear there was an emphasis on diversity and inclusion within ODH. Healthcare is not immune to disparities that stem from race, socioeconomic status, and education, and these issues have become increasingly profound during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order for me to be truly concerned about the lives of the patients I see regularly, I need to advocate for these issues to be front and center in a reimagined healthcare system. The cohort displayed a vast array of disciplines and cultural backgrounds, with a collective desire to move healthcare forward. With diverse representation at the table, we were able to deliberate on the critical issues of access, equity, and ensuring that the future of healthcare is not the same as it was in the past.
Not only was ODH a place that brought these incredible voices together, but it also gave me explicit permission to network with them. During the fellowship, I held over 70 unique 1:1 interviews with other fellows.
Never in my life had I networked to that degree before, and honestly, I was terrified of it when I started the program. Prior to On Deck, there was always an apprehension when cold messaging professionals on LinkedIn or via email. It always felt like even the smallest request was too big of an ask.
Joining On Deck Health seemed to suddenly give me the permission I needed to reach out to the most incredible thinkers and builders in the health tech world, both within the cohort and beyond it. The encouragement from the On Deck team to make these connections was life-changing, and truly helped me understand the value of the network effect.
A space for meaningful conversations
My job doesn’t always lend itself to philosophical discussions about healthcare. I may think about these issues momentarily, but usually, a more pressing, urgent issue requires my attention. Oftentimes, that's why healthcare moves so slowly and why provider burnout is at all-time highs.
The people who are on the frontlines, especially considering what it has been like during the COVID-19 pandemic, don't regularly have time to think about what healthcare could look like if it was more accessible, more equitable, or if it was reframed in a way that draws upon what other industries, like tech, are doing well.
In the conversations happening within ODH, everyone is coming from different and unique backgrounds. The perspectives are different from mine as a healthcare provider managing patients from varying demographics with wide-ranging access to healthcare. The diversity in experiences is helpful for gathering varied input on questions such as:
- What are the technical limitations that currently exist in healthcare?
- What are the roadblocks that keep us from innovating in the way we want to?
- And ultimately, what is the most important thing we should be doing right now?
In this way, On Deck Health serves as a forum for dreaming up innovation in the healthcare space. We talk critically about what isn't going well in the current health tech landscape and what we can learn from those situations as we build the next iteration of healthcare.
What I find transformative about On Deck Health is the encouragement to pursue radical change in one of the most difficult industries to innovate. It is no small task to reimagine what healthcare should look like. ODH fostered a culture of openness, where fellows could freely ask something of others with the expectation of serendipity.
Whether it be a career question or general instruction or a request for an introduction, those asks were frequently met with fellows willingly offering their experience and network to others. It was both inspiring and encouraging to consistently watch fellows selflessly provide answers and insight within the community Slack channel. It was fertile ground for empathy generation, and a shared approach of “How can I advance your career or help your idea flourish?” It was a community enthusiastically empowering one another to get where they want to be.
The devastating impact of COVID-19
During the pandemic, my job put me on the front lines caring for extremely sick people with few treatment guidelines and a wave of misinformation. It has been intense, emotional, and I had some of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had in my career. The pandemic shone a light on healthcare providers, and the necessary risks we take daily. I’m appreciative that I have been able to help in these ways, however, it was (and still is) a heavy emotional toll to bear. Part of how I view the success of ODH was that it allowed me to take that trauma and transform it into generative thoughts and ideas through conversations with the brilliant people in this cohort.
With my knowledge from the frontlines of the pandemic, I encouraged and advised ODH fellows to address health misinformation and create platforms to distribute credible information about the pandemic. Healthcare workers are fighting a virus we previously knew nothing about, but we’re also combating misinformation in the media which has caused significant stress and burnout. The daily battle has, at times, felt impossible.
The pandemic forced healthcare innovation in ways we’ve never experienced before and this community rallied around that momentum to tackle healthcare’s biggest issues. Seeing the toll that this virus has taken on the lives of so many continually made me ask “How can we use technology to prevent this from happening again?” I am confident that many of the solutions to help us collectively move past this pandemic, and better prepare for the next one, will be due to the incredible thinkers and builders within On Deck.
Lasting relationships and new opportunities
Community is On Deck’s superpower.
The connections made through ODH have helped me understand the value of my background and has given me the confidence that I can innovate alongside the world’s most brilliant and compassionate people.
My Mastermind Group was one of the most incredible aspects of ODH. It began as a weekly check-in to discuss each of our collective projects and the struggles of working in health tech, but throughout the weeks it became so much more.
This became a weekly time to engage on a deeper level and reflect, with leading questions such as “When was the last time you cried?” and “Who do you look up to?” The pressure to build can at times be lonely and isolating, but my Mastermind Group represented a safe harbor for all of us during these times.
These relationships have developed into much more than simply colleagues in the same large industry, we became friends who are helping each other be the best entrepreneurial versions of ourselves. We are still reaping the benefits of this as we continue to meet.
Below are a few of the many peers in ODH who made a lasting impact:
- Wallace Torres, who works on ops at WellTheory, and Annie Miller, founder of w/you, all immediately validated the value of my past experience and have consistently encouraged me along my journey.
- Grief has played a major role in my personal and professional life. Lalo founder Juan Medina’s commitment to innovating in this area has been inspiring and meaningful as mental health advocacy continues to be a critical part of my journey and healthcare as a whole.
- Cosmas Health founder Derek Borkowski and I met weekly in our Mastermind Group and have become close collaborators. I have since become a clinical advisor for his company and their Pyrls platform.
On Deck talks a lot about engineering serendipity. Finding the tweet that led me to www.beondeck.com was nothing short of serendipitous. I have never been this excited about the future of my career. I am incredibly thankful to have so many brilliant and kind people from ODH in my corner as I prepare to move forward to the next thing. Similarly, I am committed to supporting and encouraging the incredible builders I have met through On Deck, in their entrepreneurial endeavors, and in life. After all, enthusiasm is my superpower.