Ragav Manimaran’s parents worked their way up from modest beginnings in southern India into careers as medical doctors in the United Kingdom, and the Knight-Hennessy Scholar was inspired to follow them into the healthcare field.
“We moved around a lot during their training program in the U.K., and my parents would be working long hours in hospitals across Wales, Scotland, and England,” said Manimaran. “I was inspired by their commitment to helping patients no matter how hard it got.”
But his own experiences as a front-line doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that compassion and dedication alone weren’t enough. He wanted to find ways to make healthcare more accessible, and in ways that would also be financially sustainable.
“We can do amazing things with technology and clinical science, but to translate that into widespread impact for patients and people across society we have to understand how these solutions can become economically viable,” he said. “I often didn’t comprehend the challenges that would come when trying to scale up.”
That brought him to Stanford, where he hopes to improve healthcare accessibility around the world by creating medically, economically, and socially viable technology solutions.
You’ve said your parents were born into “railway” families in India before they became doctors. Explain what that means.
My grandparents worked in the Indian railways, which is one of the largest employers across India. My mom’s father was a train driver, and my dad’s father was a signal inspector. It meant my mom had to move to a lot of different villages growing up, and often she had to support her family at home because of the small salaries that come from working in the railways. It was a modest upbringing, but they had a very supportive family community.
What challenges did they have to overcome?
It was uncommon for girls to go into higher education, but my grandparents supported my mom as she worked hard to become a doctor. She was the oldest of her siblings, the first one to go to university. She studied medicine and this was a huge deal in her community. It involved her having to move to other cities hours away. So she overcame a lot of societal and economic challenges just to pursue her education. My dad had similar economic challenges, but they both did well in their academics and worked hard for opportunities and pulled themselves up.
How did your parents’ experiences shape your ambition to improve healthcare access?
We didn’t have a support network when we initially came to the U.K., but my parents would establish themselves in the community, build support networks, and no matter how hard the day job was, they were driven by the impact they could have on patients. However, I learned that despite the dedication of healthcare professionals, systems around the world faced problems ranging from high costs of care to medication accessibility issues in rural areas. Hearing first-hand about the depth of challenges that my parents encountered whilst practicing in India and the U.K. motivates me to help improve healthcare access.
Did you ever consider another profession outside of medicine?
I considered options that would involve engineering or technology but ultimately I was drawn to medicine as it’s not only interesting and rigorous from a scientific point of view, but there’s a real-world impact you can have on a day-to-day basis. I decided to go to University College London because there was an integrated bachelor’s program that would allow me to explore medical physics and bioengineering in addition to completing the medical degree, so it was a unique opportunity to combine those interests.
Did COVID teach the world anything about healthcare accessibility?
Being on the clinical front line at the time, responsible for so many patients coming in with this new disease we didn’t understand or have treatments for, was scary. It’s fair to say that when the pandemic was truly realized, and it started to spread at a rate we hadn’t seen in our lifetime, it brought the world to a standstill. But when you think about what it taught us about accessibility, it accelerated the adoption of medical technology and telehealth and remote monitoring in ways we did not expect. It redefined what’s possible outside of a hospital, which I think is super exciting.
Do you intend to pursue your career in the U.S., the U.K., or in India?
Healthcare affects everyone in the world and I’d love to work in a way that helps as many people as possible. All three countries have some incredible opportunities, but I’m still investigating where I want to be. Right now, I’m trying to soak in as many experiences as possible, so that wherever I see opportunities to improve healthcare accessibility around the world, I can apply this out-of-the-box thinking to solve those challenges.
In terms of access, what do you feel is the most pressing need in healthcare and how do you hope to address that need?
When you think about India, there’s amazing high-end health care and really skilled professionals across the country. But there’s also an overwhelming demand. One of the biggest ways to help is to better offer healthcare to underserved communities, especially if you can manage those easy-to-solve problems to ease the burden on the system. Chronic diseases affect a huge number of people across the world and have a significant economic impact. How can we use our resources to better manage these issues in a primary care setting? Is there a way to shift our thinking to being preventative rather than reactive, and to make care more precise and tailored to individuals? That’s something I’d love to work on.
As a healthcare investor for the GSB Impact Fund, what sort of opportunities most appeal to you right now?
The Impact Fund was an eye-opening experience. I enjoyed learning about the framework for how to combine sound financial returns with measurable and meaningful social impact and hold them side-by-side when you make these decisions so that you can invest in technologies that have immediate societal benefits. I brought a clinical perspective to the team but learned so much from folks with business, policy, and technology perspectives. I realized that investing can be an incredible vehicle for driving meaningful change in society.
What value did you find in being a Knight-Hennessy scholar?
I’ve had the chance to collaborate with and to learn from incredibly talented people across Stanford, to think about problems and solutions in ways I hadn’t previously considered. We have events on a weekly basis with inspirational speakers from the arts, humanities and sciences who talk to us about the problems they’re tackling, and this encourages you to think more deeply about the communities you could serve in the future. The Knight-Hennessy program motivates you to think beyond yourself whilst giving you the freedom to take risks and I’m incredibly grateful for this life-changing opportunity.
Any specific professors or experiences at Stanford GSB that have had a particularly strong impact on you?
One of the most inspiring professors has been finance professor Peter DeMarzo. I ended up taking his “Finance 350” course last spring. The coursework was demanding, it really pushed our team to perform and as a result we learned a huge amount in a short time. I was inspired by his rigor and analytical approach, and his teaching and classes have shaped the way I think about business and finance at a fundamental level.
Have you had any failures that taught you important lessons?
I’ve worked on interesting startup ideas in the past, but one big realization I got was that just focusing on the clinical side of things isn’t enough to get products into the hands of all the patients who need it. It’s vital to think carefully about the business model from an early stage because healthcare systems are complex and understanding who would pay for your product whilst aligning the incentives of key stakeholders is essential for scaling healthcare solutions. This lesson led me to the GSB.
Photos by Elena Zhukova