From Software to Health Care, A Global Health Alumni Interview with David Leander (WCAS 2010)

Working with computer systems and working with the human body isn’t that different, at least not to David Leander. It’s all about solving problems.

Problem-solving seems to come naturally to Leander, who tackled the coursework for majors in materials science, economics and Spanish while at Northwestern, in addition to a minor in global health studies. Naturally, Leander was drawn to a company much like himself: Epic, an electronic medical records company based in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I was drawn to the energetic and passionate nature of the company, as well as the industry itself as it is part of the complex, fast-paced nature of health care,” he said. “The opportunity to work on something pressing on a national level attracted me, especially coming from NU.”

Leander credits his time at NU with opening his eyes to the possibilities of health on the macro-scale, which is something he got to experience in a hands-on way during his three-year tenure as a project manager at Epic. However, working in emergency departments in hospitals across the country gave him the confidence to reconsider his role within them, he said. While he had an interest in medicine during college, the medical school application process discouraged him from pursuing a medical career at the time.

David Leander looks out at Teotihuacan in Mexico during his IPD study abroad.

Taking a “leap of faith,” Leander completed some additional coursework, took the MCAT — the test required for medical school — and sent in his applications.

While waiting to hear back, Leander began consulting on Epic-related projects. He said his knowledge of the Epic software allowed him to be pulled on to projects dealing with various aspects of health. These projects comprised developing testing plans for emergency departments, updating physician records and even working alongside clinicians learning to implement the software in their work. After a year of bouncing from project to project, Leander arrived in August at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine.

Leander said that his experience with global health studies elevated his point of view of the world, especially through his IPD Public Health in Mexico study abroad program in 2008. His time in Mexico solidified his interest in the Spanish language and his fluency, and it contributed to his pursuit of a Spanish major.

Spurred by this new worldview, Leander spent this past spring traveling through 20 countries in about 10 weeks using frequent flyer miles he had accumulated during his years at work.

David Leander visits the Blue Mosque in Turkey after being inspired by his studies in Global Health.

“Studying how various cultures and lifestyles impacted health made me curious about seeing the world,” he said. “I don’t think I would have even been interested in some of the locations (I visited) if it weren’t for my exposure during college.”

Leander remembers living the heavily scheduled life of a NU student, but he said the most important thing in college is finding out what drives you. By breaking down the things you enjoy doing by type of activity and the skills required can help direct you down a career path, he said.

“There is a huge jump between your college career and your professional career, and I think really figuring out what you enjoy doing will help steer your career,” he said. “I think it is so easy for students to see themselves doing a lot of things after NU and sometimes it gets frustrating when it comes time during the final year to figure out what you will actually do post-college.”

Most of all, Leander said that students should always seek feedback on their work since it is a crucial part of growth. When he first began working, he thought getting feedback was a bad thing — a sign of poor performance. However, he soon realized that feedback can be instructive for growing in your work, and often times reflects a job well done.

As he begins medical school, Leander is beginning a new chapter of his global health career. Except that, to him, it is nothing new — he is just doing what drives him.

*Disclaimer: the opinions reflected in this piece reflect the personal views of David Leander and are not representative of past or current employers. However, David loves helping NU undergrads, so feel free to contact him at david.michael.leander@gmail.com

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