It's true, you can change the world in 48 hours

My name is Abdel, a 4th-year medical student at UCL and one of the founders of the New Medic.

We've created this community to help tackle the lack of space in the current medical curriculum for new innovations and developments that attempt to solve the issues we face in healthcare.

To tackle them we need a generation of skilled clinicians with varied and unique areas of expertise. Be it general practice and data management, surgery and VR, psychiatry and marketing or public health and design the list of combinations are endless. Unique skillsets make clinicians a key part of the future of healthcare.

But to be an experienced data analyst, designer, software engineer alongside your clinical studies is no easy feat. However it can be done and bridging the two is where innovative solutions to our current problems lie. It's easier than you would expect. You only need to start small, doing projects and activities around your studies to increase your exposure, step out of your comfort zone and develop your experiences.

Let me flesh this out with an example. I want to show you how a simple step taken to widen your skillset as a medic can translate into potentially a world-changing idea, built over the course of just 48 hours.

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In my case, it was a ‘hackathon’. If I asked a cohort of medical students what a Hackathon was, the vast majority would assume it involved computers, coding and some illicit activity. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
A hackathon, quite simply, is a group of people brought together, given a problem or a theme and asked to come up with a solution in a short and limited timeframe. They can be intense, 24-hour caffeine-fuelled frenzies or they can even be done remotely from home!

I had never done one before when I came across one held over a weekend at BCG (a well-known management consultancy firm) inviting everyone, including medics to participate! The website assured me no coding skills were required. I signed up deciding that cranial nerve OSCEs could be revised another time.

I turned up on Saturday and was assigned a team. We had one thing in common, an interest in the developing world's healthcare issues. Yet our skillset couldn’t be more unique. As a team of five, we were: a medical student, a management consultant, a software developer, a doctor, an economics student and an MBA student. And in 48 hours we came up with Yara.

Yara is a simple solution to a complex problem; vaccination uptake rates in developing countries. It’s an SMS service that signs up mothers at childbirth and sends them messages every time a vaccine is due for their child. We also store a vaccination record for them to solve the problem of lost paper records. It had great potential because mobile SMS technology was highly prevalent in even the most remote of areas of many developing nations. And those were the regions that struggled the most with vaccinations. We were shortlisted as finalists and the hackathon weekend was over.

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But we were keen to not let Yara die there. It was too good an idea, so we continued to work, learning from our feedback and tweaking. We entered a start-up competition, the Doctorepreneurs Start-Up school, coming first place in that and winning some very trendy office space in central London. Spurred on, YARA entered into another competition, winning in its category at the GIANT Health event.

So what made us so special? For most judges it was the pure simplicity and potential cost-effectiveness of our idea. Most other teams we competed against were often carried away trying to implement high tech solutions, virtual reality, cloud computing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain. Rather we went with the Tim Ferris Maxim, ‘What Would This Look Like If It Were Easy?’. That's what it did for us a simple solution to an important problem!

As for where Yara is today, we are in the development stage of the product and putting together an investment pitch to finance our plans to lanuch. The takeaway message though is that this all happened all in the space of a month. With no real experience in business, start-ups and the sort, a life-changing idea was born.

And yet even if your idea didn’t stand on its own. You have nonetheless begun to hone many skills a conventional medicine degree would never allow for. You would have had real practice at solving a real-world problem. You would have begun developing a skill set that should you encounter a real problem in your clinical practice in ten years you’d be better equipped to solve it. And it doesn’t have to be hackathons, you could take a photography class, learn some programming, start a podcast. The key is to continuously look ahead and step out of what you know and hone some new skills so that you can use them to augment your medical career.

We are in the fortunate position of having a unique and authentic understanding of the problems in healthcare, and we are early enough in our careers to keep an eye open for other opportunities to make a truly profound impact in our chosen field.

The world is changing, and our curriculum is slow to adapt. Don’t fall behind before you even started. The time is now!!

Abdel Mahmoud

Abdel Mahmoud

UCL Medical Student. British Army officer. Co-founder and Growth Lead at the London Medical Consultancy.

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