On her experience in the MTM program during a remote year

How I found myself in the MTM program

My passion for solving real-world problems is what drew me to studying public health for my bachelor’s degree. When I attended my first hackathon, I learned how much I loved using a public health lens to design tech solutions. Seeking a career at the intersection of public health interventions and medical innovation, I found the Master of Translational Medicine (MTM) program. I was excited that the MTM provided me with the opportunity to draw from expertise at the leading bioengineering and medical institutions in the country.

Jessica Santhakumar joined the MTM program to prepare herself for a career at the intersection of public health interventions and medical innovation. She recently started as a Clinical Research Coordinator at UCSF, where she gets to put much of what she learned about the translational process into action.

Adjusting to a remote year

I finished my last semester of my undergraduate program through remote learning. The abrupt transition felt understandably inefficient and frustrating. To be honest, I was skeptical of whether I would truly benefit from pursuing a graduate program that we expected to be completely remote. But our administration team alleviated my fears during our summer info sessions. I was excited to hear how the MTM was finding unexpected benefits to remote teams, such as the ability to source interesting projects from around the country, and even around the world. The ability to attend classes over Zoom also allowed me to explore more classes at each campus than I would have been able to if I had to commute to class each day. Compared to their availability for in-person meetings, professors, mentors, and alumni were also much more open to quick meetings over Zoom.

Starting a new project

My MTM project was developing a go-to-market strategy for an adjustable hemodialysis catheter to improve outcomes for pediatric patients. I was excited for the opportunity to work remotely with an innovative team at Stanford, since it would have been much more difficult to make the commute across the Bay to work on this project in person.

Working with my team this year was such a supportive and productive experience. Each member of my team came from backgrounds as diverse as biology, engineering, and public health. Our synergy and the way we were able to approach problems with different perspectives helped us generate strong solutions to marketing, regulatory, and testing challenges. Proactive communication was key to our successful teamwork.

Jessica with her capstone team members for one of our end-of-the-year graduation celebrations.

Creating a unique MTM experience

My advice to new MTM students is to figure out what you want out of this program early on, through introspection and conversations with our amazing program leadership. This year goes by so fast, and figuring out what experiences, courses, and skills you can develop in this program to prepare you for future roles is essential. My MTM experience solidified for me that I want a career working in clinical research and medical innovation through patient interaction. I talked to our program director and our project sponsor about what roles I could take on in our project to best prepare me for a career in this direction. This led me to spearhead our project’s clinical trial strategy, and I even drafted an IRB protocol for a post-market study. My experience working on the IRB application is something I speak about often during interviews for Clinical Research Coordinator positions.

The best thing my team did to prepare us for our future careers is learning what each team members’ long term goals are. Knowing that I wanted to pursue a clinical research role and my teammates wanted to pursue product management and clinical strategy roles helped us split up work efficiently. We also encouraged each other to take on tasks that would benefit our future careers. Staying up to date about our goals and supporting our job searches helped my team not only professionally but also personally, as it helped make our remote year feel less distant.

My favorite parts of the year

I really loved working on stakeholder engagement towards the beginning of the year. Learning more about how poor catheter selection affects patients, clinicians, and even hospital administrators early on was so helpful in guiding our product strategy throughout the year. We even used quotes from our first few interviews in our final pitch presentation!

I also loved our end of year presentation! We got to know each other team’s projects so well over the year, and it was amazing to see how our cohort-mates grew more confident and made incredible progress. I really enjoyed answering questions about and feeling proud of the work we did. Our final symposium was such a wonderful confidence-boosting experience to prepare us for success beyond the MTM program!

Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.

We’re a 1-year professional master’s program at UC Berkeley and UCSF that trains future leaders in healthcare innovation.