For many people, rejection by seventeen medical schools would discourage the further pursuit of a career in medicine or health care. But John Schupbach decided not to turn from the path; instead, he took on the most challenging course he could find, becoming a medical volunteer for six months in India. "I chose India precisely because I knew so little about it," John says.
It was a steep learning curve. John lived with an Indian family in New Delhi, next to a slum of nearly 25,000 people that represented "the most educationally underprivileged and politically corrupt part of India. Two thirds of the children there would never go to a single day of school; they were destined to back-breaking, low-pay work, and a short life expectancy."
During the day, John assisted in the medical clinic. In the evenings he went into the slums to tutor math and English. His experience inspired him to start a nonprofit, Squalor to Scholar, in which John and his colleagues served as a liaison between private schools and children in need. For the schools, Squalor to Scholar helped provide support technology and administrative services; for children and their families, the program helped prepare them for the academic requirements demanded by the schools.
"The eureka moment," John says, "was when I saw a thirteen-year-old with a tablet connected to the Internet. We're seeing the destruction of barriers to opportunity happening so much faster than we anticipated. Yet we have been lackadaisical in the development of services that cater to the people with the greatest needs."
Combining disciplines to improve life at a large scale
When John returned to the United States, he applied to and was accepted at the Mayo Medical School in Minnesota. "Being a physician is just a remarkable thing—for people to trust a complete stranger with their most urgent needs," says John. "No job in the world can give you that kind of relationship or reward."
"But at the same time," he says, "there's a need for large scale changes to restructure the health care experience. There's never been a more exciting time in history for being able to improve quality, and the health and length of human life." But doing so means reaching beyond traditional health care models. To extend his reach, John is complementing his medical education with an MBA. "It's an opportunity to amalgamate two models that are so different, yet so necessary for delivering high-quality medicine."
HBS brings additional breadth to John's perspective. "You don't know what you don't know," he says. "Most of the people in medicine have been in the same academic pipeline since high school; there's lots of homogeneity. At HBS, it's just the opposite. You're here to grasp the extraordinary diversity of thought and experience and backgrounds—all of it intersecting in this crucible. No comment you make goes unchallenged or disregarded. Yet everyone's voice is respected."
After completing his MBA, John will return to Mayo to finish his medical degree and complete his residency. "Eventually, I'd like to divide my time, spending about a quarter of it in clinical practice, and devoting the greater share of it to a large health care enterprise, either a large multinational or a start-up with a strong social mission component."