Four sophomores in the seven-year medical program at The College of New Jersey, Shrey Shah, Rohan Singh, Afash Haleem, and Waez Umer, came to the Yale CBIT 2020 Healthcare Hackathon with an idea of the issue they wanted to tackle: diversity and cultural competency in healthcare providers. On the opening night of the hackathon, Haleem pitched how a lack of cultural sensitivity in healthcare professionals contributes to a lack of access to care for Black male HIV patients. A similar concern was shared by another hackathon participant, Dr. Jasmine Weiss, a pediatrician and fellow in the National Clinical Scholar Program at Yale. She pitched on the topic of lack of representation in healthcare professionals contributing to patient discrimination, lack of access to care, and lack of exposure to healthcare careers in young minority patients. “Having direct experiences of microaggressions, discrimination, noticing how racial bias contributes to patient care, and the interactions I've seen with different healthcare providers, staff, and patients—it’s been something that I and colleagues also from underrepresented backgrounds are constantly exposed to,” says Dr. Weiss. Following the pitch session, the five participants began talking over dinner at the hackathon networking hour, and they decided to form a team to tackle the issue.
The team wanted to come up with an online platform designed to spark an interest in healthcare in students from underrepresented backgrounds. “The hackathon was a great resource for us – there were amazing mentors that were constantly circulating that we would pitch different versions to, and we were able to continuously iterate and take advantage of the resources there,” says Umer. Over the course of three days, the team created the idea for Diversifi, an online platform where middle and high school students could engage in interactive activities and virtual role modeling, and where undergraduates, medical students, and medical residents could connect with academic institutions to familiarize themselves with the inclusivity and diversity initiatives these medical training programs have to offer. With their aim of increasing diversity in the medical field, the Diversifi team tackles structural racism in healthcare from multiple angles: the initiative helps make these careers more accessible to underrepresented groups, as well as supports the growth of a workforce that is more capable of providing unbiased healthcare to these populations. Diversifi won the $2,500 Grand Prize for their impactful innovation, and the team felt motivated and excited to continue forward with their initiative after the weekend of the hackathon.
In the year since they founded their startup, the Diversifi team has worked at growing their network and engaging with stakeholders. They have stayed in contact with Dr. David Rosenthal, the Clinical Advisor at CBIT, who has given them “great insight” as they continued to progress with their initiative. The team continues to connect with various entities who work in the space: educational consultants, secondary school principals, medical school deans, diversity officers, professional organizations, and more. “We really want to be a platform that [brings these entities together] from the stakeholder engagement perspective, and taking all that feedback, we are in the process of creating our minimum viable product,” says Dr. Weiss.
Developing an initiative requires a lot of time, effort, and persistence—three factors that make founding a startup challenging for many inventors. However, the Diversifi team has enjoyed learning and growing together, breaking up large tasks into smaller parts to tackle together. Umer advises innovators to be self-starters and make the most of the resources at their fingertips: “[e]veryone has the basic tools they need in front of them with the democratization of the Internet, and you can literally Google how to do so many things… there’s nothing stopping you.” Letting their passion guide them also helps the team stay motivated and persevere through the challenges they face. “Really lean into the things that you see as challenges in the world and what you want to try to pursue,” advises Dr. Weiss.
The Diversifi team has already tested a pilot of their platform with a group of students, and they hope to launch within the next few months. The team continues to engage with their network, stakeholders, and potential users to support the development of their initiative. For students in grades six through twelve, their goal is to provide broad exposure to a variety of healthcare fields. At the post-secondary level, the team wants to collaborate with colleges and medical centers to promote equity and inclusion in MD/DO programs, residency and fellowship programs, and beyond. The team’s high hopes, along with their firm grounding in getting things done, supports the progress Diversifi has made as a startup. As Dr. Weiss stated, “the opportunities for expansion are endless, but we remain focused on what we need to do in order to launch effectively and iterate the platform.”
If you would like to learn more about Diversifi, please visit their website at www.letsdiversifi.com.