Dr. Nitya Saxena- The Journey of a corporate to a researcher to an entrepreneur

Nitya Saxena is actively involved in healthcare research around disease burden, economic evaluation, geospatial analysis, and health analytics. She completed her doctorate in economics from IIM Indore with a thesis focused on disease burden estimation for selected diseases for India at the sub-national level and operational efficiency analysis of a public health insurance scheme. She wears multiple hats. She is proficient in data analytics methods and tools (Python, R, Google Cloud Platform, etc) and continuously engages in projects related to Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Her latest experience is in a UNICEF project as a state consultant and health economist for child malnutrition pilot projects across India. She is also working on her own venture in the health-technology domain for the geriatrics population. She has multiple peer-reviewed publications in journals and has authored book chapters. She also writes for blogs and media on general health awareness issues.

Inkpothub: What motivated you to pursue the FPM from IIM and why IIM Indore?

Dr. Nitya Saxena: Well like everyone else I faced my share of confusion in career choices. I did my graduation in Bioinformatics.  After that, I worked with Accenture for two years and eventually realized my subconscious calling towards healthcare research. As my parents are doctors, I was exposed to patients and their suffering at an early tender age. At times I have witnessed mid-night knock on the door by a patient from a far-flung area which is probably the reason I get goosebumps when I hear (or read) anything with “healthcare” in it.

So, there I was drafting my SOP for research in healthcare and FPM (or Ph.D.) was an obvious compelling choice as it gives you a chance to be precise and specific. I applied to all 6 old IIMs, got a call from four and converted two. IIM Indore was the pick.

Inkpothub: How did you deal with the situation of being a quite ambitious and less realistic person while formulating the research question(s)?

Dr. Nitya Saxena: I think it is quite normal for a fresh Ph.D. student to set high hopes on her research topic. And I being an applied researcher (less theoretical), aimed to pick real big challenges of healthcare and turn into my thesis. My first proposition that I took to my guide was a comparison of two policies implemented in different states of India for the same target population (expecting mothers). Quite ambitious! Then there was a reality check. Where is the data? What is data quality? Who will carry out qualitative interviews? Are the policy people approachable? Is it really a single person task or needs a multi-discipline team? Given limited funding, will I be able to finish on time?

I received very valid advice back then~ Do not try to solve world problems with your Ph.D. research. Rather, take this platform to thoroughly learn the research method and process to do quality research throughout your career.

FYI: I still traveled around remote areas of Chhattisgarh state, India and observed public health insurance schemes to keep my research close to reality.

Inkpothub: What is the role of having a support or peer group while pursuing the course work and thesis work?

Dr. Nitya Saxena:

Immense! Emotionally and technically both.

Research problem discussion leads to idea refinement, you learn novel methods and use an interdisciplinary lens to improve its quality. It is especially essential while dealing with rejections and RnR. Peers are the ones you look forward to for small yet significant issues.

Inkpothub: You recently worked on a book chapter on ‘Medical Tourism’.

Please share your research lens on this broad domain of research.

 Dr. Nitya Saxena: The title of the book chapter is “Consideration for stakeholders of Medical Tourism”. It is a part of larger work compilation: Global developments in Healthcare and Medical tourism. The motive of this chapter is to review the economy around medical tourism from stakeholder perspectives and enlist the enabling factors to consider while designing business policies. The stakeholder can be a patient, corporate hospitals, insurers, medical tourism facilitator or government. It is a noteworthy read for students, researchers, academicians, and industry folks to know the global business of seeking overseas care which is growing at an estimated 8.8% annually.

Inkpothub: Any specific reason to choose UNICEF over academia after your fellowship?

Dr. Nitya Saxena: Fortunately, in the field of healthcare research, I will not have to make that choice. Academia and healthcare organizations work very closely and engage in joint projects and collaborations. Working in a UNICEF project gave me a rich experience in child malnutrition initiatives, government liaison, costing activities of pilots which I can develop as a course and go back to the classroom for the better learning experience of participants. So, I want my career path to have both the flavors eventually.

Inkpothub: You recently turned into an entrepreneur. Started your own venture. Please elaborate on it.

Dr. Nitya Saxena: It is a little early to talk about it in detail. One of the service prepositions is to develop umbrella ADL(Activities of Daily Living) services for the 60+ population in India with the aid of medical and health technology. At present we are working on proofing and market readiness.  

Inkpothub: Did you see any role of your fellowship in your recent career choice?

Dr. Nitya Saxena: Certainly, I do. The research aptitude is not limited to research organizations nowadays.

The global industry is driving towards analytics, research-based roles, and statistics.

The fellowship coaches in problem identification and scoping which is what major consulting firms’ are focused on. Further, in a quantitative Ph.D., research design, data mining, analysis, and interpretation is a defacto learning outcome. In addition to technical knowledge, economics fellowship groomed me well to be a self-starter, empowered to generate structured knowledge and enhanced comfort level in delving into the unknown.

Inkpothub: Any message for potential researchers especially those who wish to make their career in healthcare economics?

Dr. Nitya Saxena: Every year around 2 million papers are published by researchers around the world. But unfortunately, very few have the potential for implementation or industry relevance. For researchers, it is important to keep the research abreast of industry trends and tools first to justify research funds and second to stay employable in academia and industry. It makes a lot of sense to determine the research question not just from literature gap analysis but a combined approach of literature gap and industry practices.

Specifically, for a career in health economics in India, I recommend following global leaders and academicians. India is yet to realize its full potential and eventually, global trends are likely to trickle down in the Indian healthcare market in the coming decade. Do not hesitate to spend on knowledge updates using online niche courses on cost-utility analysis, HEOR, medical/health technology assessment methods, etc. 

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