Most of healthcare education is time-based and does not take into account one’s past skills and experiences. For example, I met a respiratory therapist who had been practicing for 20 years before deciding to attend medical school. He had to go through the same four year MD program — including a basic 1.5-month pulmonary block — despite his years of learning and practicing in the field. If we enabled him to test out of specific parts of the curriculum, he could be trained faster and less expensively.
As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Shiv Gaglani of Osmosis.
Shiv Gaglani, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Osmosis.org, a leading health education platform with an audience of millions of current and future clinicians as well as their patients and family members. Osmosis works across 230 countries and territories. Shiv’s mission through Osmosis is to develop the most caring people and help them get fulfilling careers in healthcare. He started Osmosis.org as a medical student at Johns Hopkins, and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I’ve had a passion for healthcare ever since my physician father used to take me to the hospital he managed in South Africa and I saw how he was almost-magically able to take away pain from those he saw. I’d been working towards attending medical school since then. During my first semester at Johns Hopkins, I met my future co-founder, Ryan Haynes, because we were serendipitously paired as anatomy partners simply because of alphabetic sorting of our last name. Given our backgrounds in education and neuroscience (Ryan received a PhD in the field on a Marshall Scholarship in Cambridge), we thought there was a better way to learn and retain medicine than the traditional ‘cram and forget’ cycles of lecture-based schooling. What began as a tool to help us and our classmates has transformed into the Osmosis of today, a comprehensive platform that helps people around the world understand health more thoroughly.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As Osmosis.org has grown to millions of learners around the world, we’ve been fortunate to have an increasing number of “in-the-wild” sightings. One of the most interesting was when I was on a flight from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. The passenger sitting next to me noticed the Osmosis logo on my laptop and asked me if I use Osmosis too! He is an oral & maxillofacial surgeon who uses Osmosis to teach his residents about cardiovascular and respiratory physiology & pathophysiology. These sorts of random sightings are becoming increasingly common as our reach has grown. I’ve learned about how gratifying creating and scaling something can be from that experience — more than the statistics or finances, the true impact we’re having in ways we could never have imagined when we started.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are very excited about expanding our Continuing Medical Education and full accreditation offerings. During COVID, we saw an opportunity to address the confusion and anxiety around the pandemic and developed an interactive COVID-19 landing page (www.osmosis.org/covid-19) that houses a variety of critical and time-sensitive resources. including easy to understand videos, infographics, and even songs for adults and children. Osmosis also offered a free, continuously updated, CME (Continuing Medical Education)-accredited COVID-19 course. To date, more than 90,000 people have enrolled, with over 100,000 hours of CME credits awarded.
Looking ahead, we are working on launching our first end-to-end accreditation program for certified nursing assistants, which will bring Osmosis from being a supplemental tool to a full stand alone program. Nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal care aides are highly in demand and have overlapping content needs and we are excited to help educate the next generation of healthcare professionals in these areas.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?
Since officially launching in 2015, Osmosis has become the one of the most powerful platforms for learning medicine and health sciences. We have partnered with one in five US medical schools to help their students learn and retain complicated medical and healthcare information, reaching millions of people around the world. We’ve created more than 1,600 videos explaining complicated topics for not just medical students, but also for institutions, caregivers, and employers who are prioritizing healthcare education. Our medical video library, mobile platform, case questions, flash cards and high-yield notes help students go beyond medical lectures to create the best learning experience possible. Before Osmosis I also had the opportunity to write two books on education, one on college preparation and the other on doing science research (https://www.amazon.com/Books-Shiv-Gaglani/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AShiv+Gaglani)
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
The results are certainly very mixed, with stark inequalities like many other parts of our economy. In some ways our results are the best in the world, e.g. in terms of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. However in other ways we are among the bottom of developed nations, including high school and college dropout rates and math scores. Simply put, I think we can be significantly better as a nation but it will require both grassroots improvements that raise the bar equally among counties and states, as well as federal policies.
Can you identify 3 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
Like the healthcare system, the US education system works extremely well for the most privileged among us. Our universities are among the top in the world in terms of research, innovation and entrepreneurship. In large part that is because we also attract brilliant minds from other countries to come to them and then have generally done a good job of incentivizing them to stay and teach and/or create companies with those they meet at these universities (incubators). A second thing that the education system gets right is its emphasis on experiential learning and extracurricular activities. There are many examples of K12 and Higher Education work-study programs that enable students to gain real-life experience, earn money and gain college credit. While not as advanced as some other countries like Germany that emphasize technical education, there are good signs here. A third area the US education system gets right is innovating on the actual delivery and format of the education, ranging from the public school system to charter schools to bootcamps to online options that have become even more useful during COVID-19. I’ve had the opportunity to interview several leaders of the largest education companies in the US — from Coursera to Chegg and 2U to edX — and it’s remarkable how these different models are seeing increased growth during COVID-19.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
One caveat before I go into these areas of improvement is that there are specific counterexamples in the US for each of these, though I think as a nation we have a long way to go. First, the student debt crisis is unconscionable. Given the link between education and productivity, we need to make sure we are not saddling out future employees with obscene levels of debt. For example, the median debt of a graduating medical student is $200,000, which affects everything from what specialty they go into to where they choose to practice. Second, our high school and college dropout rates are among the highest in developed nations. We have to figure out better ways to retain learners and offer them alternative pathways (e.g. night and weekend classes, online asynchronous learning, etc) to enable them to complete their certificates and degrees. Third, the way we treat our faculty — from K12 teachers to adjuncts in the university system — needs to be improved. They play a critical role in the development of not only our workforce but our society and should be compensated in line with their importance. Fourth, there is tremendous inequality of access and opportunity based on what zip code someone is born in. We need to do a better job of raising the tide of opportunity. And lastly, I’d emphasize our focus on adaptive curricula that meet the needs of society and the workforce, e.g. more emphasis on applied data science and healthcare careers rather than one-size-fits-all educational standards. COVID-19 seems to be accelerating some of this innovation and hopefully a few of the ideas that come out of this period will stick around and help us make meaningful improvements.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
In some ways we have done very well. For example, organizations like the Society for Science and the Public as well as Center for Excellence in Education have been running prestigious science fairs and olympiads for decades that have inspired millions of students to pursue careers in STEM. In addition, national initiatives like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Magnet programs have also attracted and trained students to pursue more advanced training in STEM fields. We can and should continue investing in these. Another idea is to fund more work-study programs that not only help students get into the theory of STEM, but also apply these concepts in ways that are buttressed by mentorship as well as in some cases funding for the work they do.
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
The earlier students, both male and female, are exposed to STEM, the more interested they will be throughout their educational career. This is especially important as the need for healthcare access and jobs will only be increasing as the population ages and students search out more dependable career choices. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9 of the top 15 fastest growing jobs between 2016–2026 are healthcare related, with physician assistants (#5; $104,860 2017 median pay) and nurse practitioners (#6; $103,880 2017 median pay) edging out statisticians (#7; $84,060 2017 median pay) and software developers (#9; $101,790 2017 median pay).
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what four things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Speaking specifically about medical school and healthcare learning, there are a few areas that are primed for change.
- The change to competency-based education in healthcare: Most of healthcare education is time-based and does not take into account one’s past skills and experiences. For example, I met a respiratory therapist who had been practicing for 20 years before deciding to attend medical school. He had to go through the same four year MD program — including a basic 1.5-month pulmonary block — despite his years of learning and practicing in the field. If we enabled him to test out of specific parts of the curriculum, he could be trained faster and less expensively.
- Massive amounts of student debt: The median debt of a graduating medical student is $200,000, which influences salary expectations, specialty choice and burnout. If we can more heavily subsidize healthcare education, we’d be able to attract a more diverse set of clinicians and remove some barriers to their eventual practice. Innovative schools like NYU and Kaiser Permanente are already doing this. Online education can help reduce these costs through ushering in competency-based education as well as reducing the demands on expensive in-person faculty time.
- Better decision support tools: Current and future health professionals will not be expected to memorize and regurgitate vast amounts of medical information due to the integration of better decision support tools available within a few clicks. Thus the truly didactic portions of medical education could be streamlined, allowing time for developing skills such as self-directed learning, knowing the limits of one’s knowledge and the ability to evaluate and weigh evidence.
- Prioritize student wellbeing and mental health: Burnout is a big problem not just for med students but for practitioners who are required to do more with less. The burden of debt, as well as paperwork and insurance requirements mean that practitioners are spending just as much time handling paperwork as seeing patients. It’s important that the industry put more attention dedicated to health professional wellbeing at all levels of the training spectrum, from premeds to practicing clinicians.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” I’m constantly thinking about how to improve different parts of my personal and our shared experiences, and most of these ideas don’t go anywhere. However once in a while an idea can turn into a startup and potentially even movement as we’re working on at Osmosis (www.osmosis.org/world).
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I have great respect for many giants in the field. I’m a huge fan of Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner for their role in creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce through LinkedIn. I believe greatly in building meaningful relationships and finding the things that unite us instead of divide us, and we take that ethos to our work at Osmosis too.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Osmosis can be found at @OsmosisMed (Instagram, Twitter), @OsmoseIt on Facebook, and https://www.linkedin.com/company/osmosis—knowledge-diffusion/. I’m @ShivGaglani.