It made me realize that we rely on a system where we have to wait for someone to die. We rely on someone else’s misfortune in order for us to be able to help others. It’s a really unfortunate thing that I feel can be improved upon and should be improved upon. I watched her every day – she looked like a normal baby, but when she opened her eyes, the white parts of her eyes were neon yellow. It was like someone had colored them in with a yellow highlighter. And if you pushed on her side – on her right side underneath her ribs, you could literally feel her liver protruding through her stomach it was so inflamed.
I left for UT before I could find out what would ultimately happen to her, but on my last day they told me, “There’s nothing we can do.” She was basically condemned to die at that point, because when you need a liver transplant, you not only have to wait for someone to have a crisis, but you also have to match things like size. If the liver is too large or too small, you’ll have a really low chance of success. So in order for that baby to get a transplant, they had to wait for another baby to die.
I realized the real advances that have been made in biotechnology and medicine have been through research, and so that’s what I’ve been doing – I’ve done cancer research and pharmaceutical research at UT, and I went back to the Medical Center last summer and I worked on nanoparticle research there.
I had applied to a few colleges before picking UT – like Harvard, where I got wait-listed, Brown, and a few combined programs, which are BS/MD programs, meaning that if you get in, you automatically get into the medical school at that institution as well. I got into some of those schools, but UT was the only one that was really in my price range, and it’s also one of the best public research institutions in the country. So I said okay, I’ll go there. When I arrived, I didn’t really come in with anything. I hadn’t applied for any scholarships – I was just a regular biochemistry student. But I worked really hard because I knew what I wanted to achieve.
The biggest thing happened my freshman year when I started working for a nonprofit called the Learn to Be Foundation, which provides free online tutoring to underprivileged kids all across the country. With Learn to Be at UT, the executive board was all business honors students, and my main interest in business came from them.
I had all these mentors, and what was really powerful about Learn to Be was the model – the way it was set up. Each tutoring session only costs us about 50 cents, so the fact that we were able to utilize technology to solve a really dire problem, and that the only way it was possible was through social entrepreneurship, really introduced me to the power that entrepreneurship and business has to offer in terms of efficiency, risk management, business ethics, and proper management. For me, my first impression was that studying business was a way to make the most efficient decisions with as much information as possible.
So I’d seen the power of social entrepreneurship and business through working at that non-profit, and I started thinking: How can I apply this to what I’m doing in the medical field? How can I apply this to the research that I’m doing and the problems that I see in the clinics and in the OR?
All of my mentors really encouraged me to apply to the business school and especially to apply to the honors program. I was fortunate enough to be accepted. I also applied to the College of Natural Sciences and the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program, which focuses on research excellence. I was lucky to get into that as well. So that way I was really able to tackle my goal from both ends simultaneously. I learned both sides of the coin and got to understand both sides of the issue.
One of the best classes I’ve taken was a business course last semester. It was an operations management class where we were put into groups and we were given a client to do operations consulting for. I was in the group that consulted for Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. Our project was to help them with their patient wait time. Brackenridge serves the safety-net population of Austin, so it’s people who are homeless, who don’t have health insurance. The hospital provides all these specialties, but the problem is when the patients get referred to the specialist, often it will be six to eight months before they can actually be seen. So it’s a huge issue for obvious reasons.
We used all these really wonderful operations management and risk mitigation strategies to analyze questions like: What should your target wait times be? What are they now? How much will it cost to get down to these goals? How exactly should Brackenridge work? Over what timeline should Brackenridge be able to reduce these patient wait times to a reasonable and ethical time period?