Seven years ago as an undergraduate senior at UC Berkeley, I made a promise that we would contribute to the national public health issue of obesity as a medical risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus.
I remember taking in the tidbits of information across four of Dr. Carlson’s medical course series on campus and discovering that no other organization on campus was dedicated specifically to this national healthcare issue. I shared my ideas with people around me who were passionate about this cause.
I was lucky to find myself partnering with my close pre-medical friends at the university (who went to U.S. allopathic programs, now resident physicians), exercise physiology lab partner in my major (who trained and qualified for the London Olympics, now a resident physician), and my older brother and his classmates (who were medical students at UCSF, now physicians and surgeons).
Through the help of these founding partners, we have since created a sustainable, preventive medicine platform enabling financial incentives to promote healthy behaviors. The core algorithm is modeled off of the recommendations of the U.S. Center for Disease and Control, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the World Health Organization.
I'm pleased to announce that with the help of current and past nonprofit student members who contributed to the national health project -- and the physician advisors who supported us along the way -- we collectively delivered on this promise.
As I take a non-operational role as a board member with the new Medical Health Project Director, I wanted to share with you our progress at Health Guardians of America. Specifically, I’ll talk about the refined purpose of our organization, some bottleneck issues in the past few years, the solution to these management issues, and interesting metrics with regard to the health project.
Since many of our students and MD/DDS fellows will be applying for medical schools, dental schools, and residencies, I’d like to take this moment to share with the team an updated description of the purpose of our organization to ensure consistent messaging.
Formerly named “Health Guardians of America,” Health Guardians Organization is a 501(c)(3) medical health organization focused on global health issues, domestic and international, using modern technology solutions. It serves to fulfill the following three reasons.
(1) to deliver actionable, public health programs on digital technology platforms for increased access to health care translating the recommendations of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Surgeon General, and World Health Organization;
(2) to provide education, raise awareness, and deliver information about medical issues, medical nutrition, and preventive medicine in the surrounding communities focused on underserved patient populations, at-risk patient populations, and/or the general student campus;
(3) to document the institutional experience of our innovative health projects through epidemiology research, such as effectiveness and outcomes research, conducted by MD/DDS fellows.
Identification of Bottleneck for Continued Growth
One of the greatest challenges since the previous annual letter has been expanding leadership capabilities. What I mean by "leadership capabilities" is that the rate limiting factor for growth has been the bandwidth of one individual making the key decisions to move the organization forward.
As the Medical Health Project Director from 2011 to 2018 (and a full-time MD/MPH Candidate), I'm grateful for the opportunity to lead the team through several stages in the life cycle of the organization: Phase 1 Sustainability Model Testing (2011-2012), Phase 2 Scalability Testing (2012-2015), Phase 3 Scalability Development (2015-2017), Phase 4 Scalability for National Adoption (2017-2019), and now Phase 5 Epidemiology Research and Usability Expansion (2019-Present).
I've come to learn that each life cycle requires a different set of priorities for decision-making, different style of leadership, and different types of people with specific skills, talents and expertise. The needs of the organization are dynamic across the developmental stages. Within each of these stages, there is always a bottleneck as we come closer to stage maturity. It was no exception that we had reached another one at the end of Phase 4 of national adoption. The bottleneck this time was a bit more complex.
Organizational Restructuring for Expanded Leadership Capabilities
Due to time constraints on my end in respect to the demands of the organization, the solution to the bottleneck has been restructuring the entire organization to ensure continued operations and operational growth without my active presence.
This includes establishing a formal fellowship program for MD/DDS students in medical research, medical education, or public health for medical and dental students. Stipends were reallocated strategically into the organization for MD/DDS students who will provide greater leadership capabilities to bring to the table new, critical expansion points on the capabilities curve.
While the public health and medical education teaching fellowship awards are comparable in amount to medical student summer research stipends, the 12-month Preventive Medicine Research Fellowship Award is comparable in stipend amount to the HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program.
As of January 2019, we have awarded a total of 8 fellowship awards to MD/DDS students and gap-year students on the MD interview trail. Affiliations include UCSF, Berkeley, Penn, Columbia, Yale, Drexel, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, and USC.
For greater trust among our internal stakeholders, we also outsourced business requirements to seasoned professionals such as financial record-keeping with release of annual financial statements, and quarterly statements, and formal licensing contracts for maintenance and development of the preventive medicine platform.
We also entered an exclusive licensing contract with a separate entity housing all the intellectual property rights of the algorithmic code. This gives us the ability to leverage our resources with stock option incentives for future developers interested in joining our work. We continue to devote resources strategically in this area to continue investing in our tech infrastructure over time.
These specific changes also required back-end implementations of new systems bolted into our infrastructure for repeatable protocol across multiple areas of the nonprofit: expansion, recruitment, membership records, education, community health, finance budgeting preparation, health project development, and admissions consulting.
Health Project Metrics and Chapter Events
With regard to measurable outcomes, I'm happy to say that we have surpassed the projected total revenue estimate of $100,000 in health commitments and secured funding at the year end of 2018 with over 10,000 total health participants since the inception of this organization. In comparison, we had signed up 1K-5K health participants in August 2017. We are an entirely self-sustaining organization that is student-run (now MD/DDS student-run).
More than half of the total revenue have been health pledges that were processed with incentives. Among these health participants, approximately half to two-thirds received financial incentives from our health program. We are currently working on conducting further analysis with a developing clinical research design led by medical students.
While we had invited medical students from UCSF and Columbia in the past, we have increased access for members to medical students and dental students with monthly events led by MD/DDS teaching fellows sharing insights into the preparation process for the medical school admissions. These fellows are now also training all pre-health students through our public health training workshops related to medicine and public health.
The preventive medicine health tech platform remains the crown jewel of our nonprofit organization. It is the signature health project that has successfully been adopted across 25-50 college chapters to date and delivered at the university level by chapter presidents at his or her respective college campuses. From starting out with manual handling of financial transactions using paper checks, we have now automated all the necessary functions and developed the algorithm for real-time verification of workout sessions, real-time verification of weekly health pledge commitments, and automated calculations for reward payouts for health participants each week.
It has been an incredible adventure, and an immensely rewarding experience, to translate an idea into a national-scale health project promoting healthy behavior for thousands of people and providing unique opportunities for health professional students. I’m truly honored and thankful to treasure this experience and for the personal growth that I have experienced in this process -- and I sincerely hope that it has been equally if not more for you.
I’m eager to see the next chapter at Health Guardians Organization (HGO) with MD/DDS students at the helm of the leadership team. The network of college campuses with concentrated pre-health students, in addition to perpetual revenue streams each year, is a prime environment to incubate more global health projects and research studies to share our work in the medical world -- projects that are more bold than our signature health project, FitLifeFlow.
All the best,
Bruce S. Youm
Chairman, Board of Directors
Health Guardians Organization
Doctor of Dental Surgery Program, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry
Doctor of Medicine Program, Drexel University College of Medicine
Master of Public Health, Columbia University School of Public Health
BA, University of California, Berkeley, College of Letters and Science
BS, University of California, Berkeley, Walter A. Haas School of Business