Studying Health Care from Every Angle

Sahar Hashmi, SM '11 By Kathryn O’Neill
Courtesy of MIT Sloan

Dr. Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’11, is dedicated to medicine, teaching, and helping domestic violence victims

This past spring, Dr. Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’11, became one of the first two students to earn MIT Sloan’s new Healthcare Certificate. A medical doctor, a graduate of MIT’s System Design and Management program, and a full-time PhD candidate in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, Hashmi is a recipient of the Hugh Hampton Young Memorial Fund Fellowship, which recognizes both academic achievement and the perceived potential of the candidate to have a positive impact on humanity. In 2013 she also received MIT’s Bridge Builder Award, which honors civic leaders who have formed partnerships across racial, social, economic, and geographic barriers for the betterment of their communities.

Recently, Hashmi shared her thoughts on her career and education with MIT Sloan.

Why pursue an MIT PhD when you already have a medical degree?
My PhD studies are teaching me to address and solve difficult, health care systems-related problems using various engineering tools. For example, I’m learning to improve design models of complex, chronic disease management for the current system of health care. This work, which is my career goal, may eventually save thousands of lives at once.

What inspired you to enroll in the new Healthcare Certificate program at MIT Sloan?
I took a class called Introduction to Healthcare Delivery in the U.S., which was taught by Associate Professor Vivek Farias and Professor Retsef Levi. It gave me full exposure to the type of systemic problems that currently exist in the health care industry. Also, Senior Lecturer Janet Wilkinson spoke with me in detail about the benefits of pursuing the certificate program. That inspired me to complete the program to enhance my ability to perform well in the field of my research, which is related to improving health care delivery processes in a cost-effective manner. I found the certificate program particularly useful since it provides a great in-depth overview of the basics of the health care system.

What were your key takeaways from the program?
This program provides opportunities to learn about health care in a systematic, comprehensive, and organized manner. It is important to understand and view the health care system as a complex, interdependent system. I believe in order to tackle any problem in health care, one must have the knowledge and the ability to view the problem from different angles and perspectives.

Action learning is central to the Healthcare Certificate program. What did you do to meet this requirement?
In this program we are required to work with a health care management company, hospital, or clinic to complete course requirements. The projects are team-based and allow people from various backgrounds with different skill sets to work together to achieve the goal of solving a specific issue that the CEO of the hospital or the management team is experiencing.

I really enjoyed this portion of the program as it allowed me to select a problem that currently exists in hospitals and perform operations management research to form recommendations to help solve that particular challenge. The work is pragmatic and challenging, and we are dealing with a real-life dilemma—not a theoretical case study. For instance, in one of the field projects, I was able to provide some useful feedback to a primary care clinic to solve the weekend patient scheduling problem faced by the physicians. Similarly, by working with a team of my classmates, I was able to help provide detailed insights into the problem of patient no-shows in a diabetes clinic. My team recommended specific interventions geared toward resolving this problem.

Through these experiences, I learned that the health care system features so much variation in delivering care processes and in managing each disease that it is almost impossible to standardize these processes in the system. Nevertheless, this is the ideal goal of health care management.

What professional commitments do you have outside of class?
I have done summer internships at hospitals associated with Harvard Medical School to learn more about my thesis topic, which is related to using models to improve the management of care for chronic disease patients.

Recently I also helped design and develop a new course called Medicine for Managers and Entrepreneurs, which is a required course in the Healthcare Certificate program here. It was an amazing experience as I learned a lot from the faculty. It combines academia with industry in a unique and creative manner, and I highly recommend it to both graduate and undergraduate students.

I’m passionate about teaching, so I have also served as a teaching assistant for various operations and supply chain management, integrated lean enterprise architecting, organizational transformation, statistics, and social sciences—related courses, both at MIT Sloan and in the Engineering Systems Division at MIT.

Another great opportunity for me came in 2011, when I was an invited speaker at the MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges; I gave a joint presentation on systems research in health care and education. I have also presented my work at various other conferences related to health care.

Do you have any volunteer activities?
I volunteer with blood and food drives as well as at free health clinics in Boston and Cambridge. I also donate my time to help victims of domestic violence and abuse. Many of these victims are highly educated women who have been forced to feel ashamed due to the cultural or societal stigma associated with voicing their abuse. I have traveled extensively, so I am very aware of how privileged we are to be living in the United States where women can speak and stand up for their rights.

Dr. Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’11