High impact curiosity

High impact curiosity

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With a legacy of service, Smeet Bhimani looks to change the future of medicine

“My goal has always been impact,” explains Smeet Bhimani, a 25-year-old graduating physician of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. “Ever since eighth or ninth grade, I always wanted to make a change in the world. I wasn’t really sure how I would do that, but medicine has provided a great answer.”

As he prepares to begin a four-year emergency medicine residency and a quick summer vacation to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Bhimani is filling his “free” time helping a company he co-founded to make an impact on the lives of millions of people.

Early last year, he joined with three others at a StartUp Weekend competition in Philadelphia. The team’s proposal – a method to potentially eliminate millions of unnecessary breast biopsies – took home first prize.

AlgoRhythm Diagnostics, the company the team formed following the competition, is based on 15 years of research conducted by team member Dr. Chandra Sehgal, a professor and director of ultrasound research at the University of Pennsylvania.  

“There are about 1.6 million breast biopsies each year in the United States and 80 percent are negative,” Bhimani explains. “Right now, no one can say those 1.2 million biopsies were unnecessary because the ultrasound or imaging was inconclusive.”

The AlgoRhythm model employs a computer application that the team developed to examine an image of suspected breast cancer, giving it a score along a range of benign to malignant. Then, the program combines that with the radiologist’s interpretation and makes a recommendation as to the need for a biopsy.

“We’ve shown with our research that we can drop that 80 percent significantly,” Bhimani says. “So we can take away the need for a substantial number of those negative biopsies.”

Bhimani and other team members have been working to clear a number of “hurdles” over the past year, and are now looking for the funding that could help them begin implementing their program in a clinical setting.

“And so that’s kind of how I spend my weekends,” he laughs.  

It’s a confident, yet self-deprecating laugh that flows easily from this personable, talented and extremely curious Middlesex County resident who, at age 10 months, arrived in America with his parents from their native country, India.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been super-curious,” Bhimani says, crediting “some great teachers” and parents who have always been supportive. “I’ve always had an innate curiosity to try new things and to question ‘why’ something was happening the way it was. And if I didn’t find a satisfactory answer, I went out and looked for it.”

A lifelong desire to serve and learn

From an early age, his curiosity to make things better was channeled into a deep sense of wanting to help others. During frequent trips to India, Bhimani was struck by the juxtaposition of the extreme poverty and enormous wealth he saw there.

“I would go back to India every two years because my relatives are there,” he recalls. “In India, you get off an airplane and near to a mega-mansion are homeless people with literally nothing. And that dichotomy really struck me. I felt there is so much need in the world that one-on-one patient care just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to create change at a higher level. I’m always driven to do that.”

The drive to help others was evident during his undergraduate years at Rutgers, where Bhimani earned a dual major in Cell Biology/Neuroscience and Economics.

As an undergrad, he co-founded the Rutgers chapter of Global Brigade, a student-run international sustainable development organization. According to Bhimani, the Global Brigade model creates fundamental change by making long-term commitments to poor communities in third-world countries.

The Rutgers chapter began as a Medical Brigade, but quickly grew to include student groups focused on providing clean water, sanitation, dental care and building schools and community centers. Medical Brigades arrive first to take care of urgent health needs. The other brigades follow and, once infrastructure issues are resolved, Medical Brigades make repeated trips to ensure continued access to health care for those with chronic medical conditions.

Bhimani proudly points to the contributions students have continued to make since his graduation from Rutgers.  

“With Global Brigade, we’ve done 15 trips to Panama, Honduras and Ghana, and have raised more than $800,000 to help continue the program,” he reports. “It was great to start that program at Rutgers and to leave that legacy, which is still going strong four years later.” 

Telemedicine robotics initiative

After his first year at RowanSOM, when many medical students welcome what will be their last extended break, Bhimani headed to California for an internship with Kaiser Permanente. There, he worked with an innovation catalyst and improvement advisor on a telemedicine robotics initiative in the emergency departments and intensive care units of a group of hospitals.

“I had met the Kaiser innovation team at a TEDMED conference and they kind of said, ‘Hey, we have all these toys to play with. We don’t know where or how to use them to help in the (clinical) workflow, so why don’t you take it and see what you can do with it?’”

Working side-by-side with the team, Bhimani was able to help guide the use of the robots for stroke response and for psychiatric patients. The hospital group had one neurologist covering three hospitals at night. With Bhimani’s clinical advice, the team created protocols that allowed the neurologist, from a remote location, to make a detailed assessment of patients suspected of having a stroke and to order appropriate medications quickly.  

“I guess it was a little advanced (for a first-year medical student), but I believe that if you go out there and make it happen, you can do so many things,” he says. “With the amount of knowledge we have, I think we underestimate ourselves quite often.

“It’s very easy to see problems. In medicine, people complain a lot, but they don’t take it to the next step and fix the problem. I want to be the guy that fixes that problem. So, this was my first step into that.”

Bhimani, who accepted his degree during RowanSOM's Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13, also will be leaving behind another important legacy--this time at RowanSOM.

‘Leaving a legacy…is very important to me’

Soon after arriving at RowanSOM, Bhimani joined with fellow student Sameer Sood to develop and launch Synapse, an organization designed to inform medical students about health care issues while inspiring them to create change through innovation. The two students believed that the rigors of medical school caused many students to abandon the very passions – such as art or music – that helped make them successful medical school applicants.

Through Synapse, RowanSOM students are encouraged to apply their passions to develop creative solutions to health care issues. Among the solutions launched through Synapse that will continue after Bhimani graduates are a community garden, a free osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, and a free online course for non-medical people to help raise their awareness about osteopathic medicine.

“Leaving a legacy – making sure where I came in is better when I leave – is very important to me,” he says. “And I want to see change continue and to be taken to new levels after I leave.”

An enduring and innate curiosity

When, in his final year of medical school, Bhimani had to decide on an area of specialization, emergency medicine was the only choice he wanted to pursue.  

“Emergency medicine gives me the breadth of knowledge I want,” he says. “In the emergency room, you get to see so much different pathology and you get to help people when they need it most.”

He also noted that emergency medicine is among the most progressive medical specialties. The fact that it has traditionally adopted new technologies faster than other medical disciplines appeals to his innate curiosity and desire to be at the forefront of change.

While some may see the medical field as being on the cusp of innovation, Bhimani notes that the health system is often among the last sectors to adopt technology. Computers have changed everything in every business sector, he says. Bhimani notes that people in other industries have successfully telecommunicated for decades, but the medical field is just beginning to experiment with telemedicine. 

“I think a lot of people get blinders once they enter medicine and I try to actively not put those on,” Bhimani says. “To some degree, blinders are necessary. If I ever need a brain surgeon, I want my brain surgeon to be the best brain surgeon out there. At the same time, I think there are other people who need to be both clinically savvy and savvy to innovation. Those people are very necessary for the future of the health care system and I want to be one of those people.”

Looking into the future, Bhimani envisions a decade or more of clinical experience in emergency medicine followed by a transition to a part-time clinical and full-time administrative role helping large health systems adopt change and innovation. At the same time, he hopes to be in a position to help the next generation of entrepreneurs create change by bringing new ideas into health care.  

“My innate curiosity has always been there,” he says. “I’m not sure but I guess it is because I have the privilege of being able to ask ‘why.’ It’s a privilege I don’t want to waste. I have this opportunity to create change and I won’t throw that away.”