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Health Science Intensive Programs Fosters Student Innovators

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Throughout the year, students in the Johns Hopkins University Health Science Intensive, or HSI, program had the opportunity to learn from Philip Harding, a social entrepreneur who has launched startups and runs an organization called Impact Junkie. Harding led a workshop series where students could learn from his successes and ask questions about launching their own innovations.

The effort was part of a pilot innovation curriculum that the HSI program is exploring. “We aimed to introduce students to ways they can evaluate the real-world problems, especially those in the healthcare space, and consider how they could create sustainable and effective solutions,” said Zuri Obado, academic adviser for the Health Science Intensive program. “The biggest part of this is to equip our students to take practical action in their roles now and eventually in their positions as physicians.”

The Health Science Intensive program is a concentration within the masters of biotechnology degree. Health Science Intensive courses are held on the Montgomery County Campus. The idea behind the program is to give students the opportunity to enroll in rigorous courses in the life sciences to prove their aptitude to study medicine. The hope is that after completing the concentration, students will be attractive medical school candidates.

Two students took particular interest in the innovation series. Hopkins Happenings spoke with them about their big ideas.

Ariel Jones, 28, is working on a concept she calls Bedside Manner. She first conceived the idea five years ago and is now working on bringing the idea to fruition.

Hopkins Happenings: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Jones: With the increased responsibilities of physicians each year, the amount of time available for personalized and empathetic conversations about a patient’s health has decreased. Throughout my experiences as a medical assistant, this translated into a lack of understanding and motivation among patients to be compliant with treatment and follow-up at early stages of disease. Ultimately, this failure to comply caused the progression of illness, and the requirement of more expensive screenings and treatments to heal. Bedside Manner aims to become a bridge of communication between patients and providers by offering personalized, empathetic and holistic information about their health.

Hopkins Happenings: How did the HSI program help you develop and fine tune your project?
Jones: Bedside Manner has been my dream for the past five years, but I was unsure about how I could make it real. My sister and chief consultant taught me about the concept of a minimal viable product and about creating a business model. Once Dr.  Tan [Alex Tan is the Health Science Intensive program director] explained we would have the opportunity to be a part of an innovation pilot, I knew I would try to maximize the opportunity to learn more about being an entrepreneur focused on impactful solutions. This allowed me to really narrow in on my products and services, learn how to understand my customer segments and pushed me to present my company for the first time. Being able to work on my company has been so rewarding. Prior to this program, I couldn’t visualize myself executing a project this large before completing medical school, but now I am confident I have the tools and the support to provide my solution to patients much sooner.

Meron Tesfaye, 27, is working on a project she tentatively calls "Taena Le Wholachen," which is Ethopian for Health for All of Us. Tesfaye is from Ethiopia. Her mother has suffered from kidney disease for years, spurring Tesfaye’s interest in the chronic health condition. The goal of her project is to organize a non-profit dialysis center in Ethiopia to provide services to those who cannot afford treatment.

Hopkins Happenings: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Tesfaye: Ethiopia has experienced fast economic growth. With the sustained economic growth and technological advancements, the country has seen a dramatic increase in the prevalence of chronic disease. My project is focused on improving the current state of chronic kidney disease in the country. It has been reported that Ethiopia only has nine nephrologists for a population of 90 million. The average Ethiopian makes about 40 U.S. dollars a month while the minimum hemodialysis dialysis treatment costs around 55 U.S. dollars per session. In addition to the lack of financial feasibility, the country also faces a limited number of dialysis centers, so there is an additional issue of crowding.

I will also introduce a culturally sensitive depression screening to offer counseling services, along with providing proper dietary guidance for current patients. Prophylaxis is key in preserving health and preventing early mortality and morbidity, so my project will incorporate preventive measures such as raising awareness by utilizing various channels of communication, providing dietary and physical exercise guidelines for the general population.

Hopkins Happenings: How did the HSI program help you develop and fine tune your project?
Tesfaye: Often, chronic diseases are attributed to the diet and lifestyle of the individual, but every individual is unique, and every medical condition has its nuances. The HSI program has helped me understand that a cookie-cutter approach to medicine is unrealistic because no medical roadmap will accommodate the needs of every patient. Although this project was in the works before I came to Hopkins, the HSI program has exposed me to Impact Junkie, which has given me an additional boost of confidence to step forward in my entrepreneurial endeavor.


CATEGORY: Academics