PGP's Student Worker, Shree Madan, had a conversation with Olin Alumna, Dr. Rachita Navara, and learned how she is applying engineering to improve the lives of patients with heart conditions.
Dr. Rachita Navara ‘11 is a bioengineer, entrepreneur, and cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm disorders. Even as a high school student, she was drawn to medicine and specifically cardiology, but her goal was to become an engineer first. She aimed to enter the medical profession with an innovative perspective, dreaming she would one day design devices and treatments that would help her own patients. During our interview, we spoke at length about the way her engineering background, and specifically the skills she learned at Olin, still help her to this day. In her own words, “Having an engineering background before medicine allowed me to have a perspective on medicine and healthcare that is very much centered around innovation and finding areas of opportunity to improve the standard of care, not just for my individual patients but on a hospital and even national level.”
Given Olin’s flexibility with course plans, she was able to take classes not traditionally in the premedical pathway that prepared her specifically for her goals in medical innovation. She started directly using skills while she was still at Olin, as a consultant on the Boston Scientific SCOPE team as well as in the lead engineer on a clinical innovation team at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Working on unique projects at Olin also helped her medical school application stand out, and she recalls that her interviewers often took great interest in her engineering projects.
After her time at Olin, Dr. Navara went on to attend UT Southwestern, a top medical school home to six Nobel laureates and the birthplace of many scientific discoveries. While in medical school, she led a clinical trial, became the lead singer of the medical school band “The Pacemakers,” and took a year-long certification on innovating healthcare solutions and worked on a project to develop an infection-detecting wound dressing. After learning about such areas of need from the technical engineering side in college, she now approached them from a medical, patient-centric lens.
Given her growing background in biomedical innovation, she was honored to match at Stanford’s Internal medicine residency, where she got into the inaugural Biodesign track. In this program, she was able to dive even deeper into her area of interest and worked with various physicians who themselves had innovated new technologies that were helping patients. She was able to secure a research grant to develop novel arrhythmia mapping techniques, and through that was invited to present her work at numerous conferences nationally and internationally. Whenever asked about her presentation skills, Dr. Navara would always reference the experience she got presenting at Olin College during every semester’s Expo exhibition, where she grew accustomed to explaining her projects to people outside of her field.
As she continued her medical training, she was naturally drawn to the specialty of heart rhythm disorders, which as she described as “debugging circuits in the heart” - making it the perfect cross between engineering and medicine. In her final year at Stanford, while applying for cardiology fellowships, she was recruited by her mentor at Washington University, St. Louis, where she’s contributed to exciting work on a new approach to treating arrhythmias completely non-invasively, using radiation traditionally used for cancers.
Dr. Navara also went through the Leadership, Entrepreneurial, and Acceleration Program at WashU and earned an Honors in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She identified an area of improvement within her field of cardiology and ultimately branched out to found her own startup company! SafeBeat Rx perfectly combines her expertise in engineering and cardiology, using machine learning technology to expand access to life-saving heart medications. Her company has already won numerous awards and grants including the most recent “Big Ideas” grant, and she is excited to be embarking on her entrepreneurial journey with the ongoing support of the Olin community.