PFC Spotlight: Student Fellow Alumnus Neel Shah image

Petrie-Flom Center, September 8, 2016


Learn more about Neel Shah

Dr. Neel Shah was a Student Fellow for the 2007-2008 academic year, while in his third year at Harvard Medical School. Then Academic Fellow and now Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen served as his mentor. Today, Dr. Shah is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Executive Director of the nonprofit Costs of Care, and an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Ariadne Labs for Health Systems Innovation.

When did you first become interested in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics? 

I didn't develop a deep interest in the intersection between healthcare, policy, technology, and ethics until I was a third year medical student. Traditionally, third year of med school is when (after a quarter century of sitting in classrooms) they finally let you put on a white coat and touch real patients. Your job is to "rotate" through all of the different specialties of medicine, to essentially open every door of the hospital and find out what happens on the other side. It's the first time you truly begin to understand the anatomy of the health system and realize it is equally important as the anatomy of the individual patients. It's the first time you get to see the full extent of our technological capabilities, as well as the full extend of our systemic fallibilities. And it's the first time you realize that we help people, and we harm them too.

What attracted you to the Student Fellowship program at the Petrie-Flom Center?

I applied to the Kennedy School of Government out of a gut feeling that my medical school education was missing something critical -- I was learning a lot about microbes and molecules and learning little about the complex ecosystem around them. The vision of the Petrie-Flom Center to examine policy, bioethics, and biotechnology in tandem, all through the lens of the law, made it a community that I wanted to be a part of.

What was the focus of your Student Fellowship project, and how did your mentor assist you in completing it?

I examined the legal implications of the way healthcare technologies impose on the professional scope of medical practice, in a report entitled "The Impact of Privacy Challenges Posed by Health Information Technology on Medical Practice." My mentor Glenn was one of the Academic Fellows at the time -- as you know he is one of the nicest, most intelligent, and maddeningly humble people around. He can engage deeply with almost any topic and point out the thing you haven't considered or thought of.

What were your key takeaways from the Student Fellowship? Have you continued to interact with the Center and/or its affiliates since completing your fellowship?

There were so many but the key takeaway was primarily an amazing community of deep thinkers on the grand challenges facing healthcare. I interact frequently with many of the faculty affiliates and co-fellows that I first met through the Center -- on panels, dissertation committees, and other collaborative work. I particularly enjoy the annual conferences and was glad to contribute to the forthcoming book Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics, edited by Glenn, Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Academic Fellow alumnus Christopher T. Robertson.

How has the Student Fellowship influenced your career?

The intersection of different disciplines at the Center helped me better define both the value and the boundaries of my expertise as a frontline clinician. During my Fellowship year, I learned that even as a medical student I could raise important points of information before senior economists and ethicists on the basis of my brief, but real-life experience caring for patients. At the same time, they had tools to make empirical claims and pin down normative assumptions that I did not. Ultimately, this helped me find a professional role that aims to translate the observations I make from caring for patients to other experts and stakeholders who can help us deliver better care.

Learn more about the Petrie-Flom Center's Student Fellowship program on our website.

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