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EP37 Startup Life and Public Health with Hyder Waheed
Alexandra Arriaga: Hi, and welcome to I AM GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga, and today we're going to talk to Hyder Waheed. Hyder is currently doing an MPH program here at NYU. His beginnings were a little bit unusual, he actually started out doing his undergraduate at Stony Brook University, where he studied business management with a minor in political science. After that, he actually went and did a certificate, also at NYU, and he's currently, as I said, an MPH student. So we're going to talk a little bit about his pathway, how he got here, and how he balances doing the program and working full time. Hi Hyder, welcome. How are you doing today?
Hyder Waheed: I'm doing well, thank you for having me.
Alexandra Arriaga: Of course. We are very glad to have you here today. So can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your background?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah, sure. My name is Hyder Waheed. I was born in Flushing, Queens, and raised in Long Island. I come from a first generation family. There's four kids in total, I'm number two, so I guess that makes me a middle child. I am a lover of sports, I love music, I love to travel, I love to exercise, eat healthy. I graduated my undergraduate from Stony Brook University, which is out in Long Island. I actually studied business management with a minor in political science. Upon graduating, I was sort of quickly immersed in the operations field and then subsequent to that sort of dove into the healthcare industry.
Alexandra Arriaga: So before we get into how you ended up in healthcare, operations, that sounds very broad. Can you tell us a little bit more about what operations is and what your day-to-day looks like?
Hyder Waheed: Operations, depending on the industry that you're in, it's a very wide scope and the focus can shift from time to time. And so me being in the healthcare industry, my day-to-day could range. It's primarily working with different teams within the company to ensure that their processes are operating seamlessly and that they can maximize productivity and efficiency. And so this could entail thinking through, how can we refine a process, how can we build a new process. Integrating and creating playbooks so that if new folks come on, they could easily pick up this process and execute. And so a lot of times I say that the end user could be an external client, the person purchasing the product or getting the service. But I also see internal clients equally as important. So you take for example, a front lines team that I was working on the operations for that. If we have doctors calling in and submitting these prior authorization requests, how does the front lines get those requests? It could be all over the place. So my task was, let's build this intake management system, a dashboard, so to speak. And this will prioritize these different things in the queue that need to be handled, how they can do this efficiently. And then on the same token, there was also this analytical piece to it, where you build out these processes, well how do we track them? How do we make sure that everything is working properly? So it's using data analysis to say what are the different KPIs? The key performance indicators. What are the different metrics that we can look at to measure success? Is something working versus is something not working? And then from here what you do is you can then identify bottlenecks. Look at the different pain points and say, "Okay, here's what we want to target, let's get to the root cause." And so at the end of the day, operations, while it can vary from different areas, it could change like that depending on what the focus is for the company, what the focus is for your internal clients, for the team, for the vision. For me it was, let's maximize productivity, let's maximize efficiency with these different lean tactics. So yeah, it was very exciting. But day-to-day work, it could change. But I always say if, I'm always learning something new and if you're learning something new every day, then that's a good day.
Alexandra Arriaga: I was a little bit like, "I don't understand how he went from business to healthcare." But I just heard you talk about it, how you're just identifying bottlenecks and making things more efficient. And I'm like, "Hmm. Actually that sounds familiar." So with your background in business and now doing your MPH, how do you merge health and business interests in your career?
Hyder Waheed: So I think starting off, the reason why I decided to shift from that traditional business management industry and then over into public health and healthcare while staying in sort of the operations base is, it's partly personal. I have seen firsthand accounts working at this healthcare startup, the different sorts of struggles that patients encounter when they're navigating the health system. Whether it's getting appropriate care, seeking appropriate care, it even comes down to the financial experience. And then from there, there's the personal aspect too where I've had family members who have gotten sick. I experienced some injuries where I said, "This means a lot to me. I want to dive in deeper and make an impact on a global scale if I can. Move the needle even slightly." And so I immersed myself. And to go back to this question here of how do you merge the two of the business interests and the health interests? It starts off with the passion, the dedication. So experiencing these things, seeing firsthand accounts of what the struggles are, the kind of issues that people deal with, I said to myself, "I want to work in this field, I want to be here, I want to give back, I want to assist in any way possible." And so it started with that, the passion, the dedication to make an impact. And from there, my philosophy has always been that if you are truly passionate and motivated about something, the opportunities, and the jobs, and even the money, I guess in that regard, will come. That will come. If you put in the hard work, if you have the strong work ethic, if you persevere in times of adversity, the jobs will come, the opportunities will come. And yeah, it starts off if you, for me, I did have to throw myself into the healthcare industry. But I stayed in that sort of operations realm, I just moved from industry to industry. And I would have never done that if I didn't care about public health. But while getting accustomed to it, learning the ins and outs, learning the industry, opportunities have come their way for me. So I think if a person is thinking about these things and they're saying, "Okay, I'm in public health." There's going to be, the reality of it is money is an aspect to it. I don't think that a person should solely focus on that right out of the gate. Because then your priorities are going to be misaligned. Your visions and your thoughts and your perspective is going to solely be focused on that, that you're not going to truly be happy in the long run. I think what a person should focus on first is that realm, that public health atmosphere, and focusing on doing the hard work and focusing on giving back. The rest will all come.
Alexandra Arriaga: I fully agree with that. I think that as long as you have a mission and you work towards that mission, then yeah, money will probably come with it. And if it doesn't come in the amounts you wanted initially, then I think it's fine because at least you'll be fulfilled.
Hyder Waheed: Yeah. And the other thing is, public health is so broad and I mean that in a good way. I have worked with fellow colleagues who have their MPH who have been in the public health sector, and they've been all over the place. They've worked on the political forefront, whether it was in DC. They've worked as consultants to NGOs, to different government organizations. And then even down to health organizations, healthcare, whether it's mental health, physical health, offering health services, or even policy creation and national strategies and things like that. So it varies a lot. And I think that's also key, because having that sort of variability can really make an impact on what sort of area you want to get into, which can then align with the business interest. Because you can dive into something and then take off from there, let that business aspect come with it, alongside, in parallel.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, no, of course. And so for you, when you started, you started with your certificate. And then you went for the MPH. So why did you do things this way? Why did you start out with the certificate and how did you decide to transition into the MPH?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah, that's a good question. So once I was working in the healthcare industry and I had a couple years under my belt, for me, I'm the type of person that I always say if I want to get into something, if I want to really dive into something, I have to be 100% sure. And for me, working full-time in a fast-paced environment at the time, I said to myself, "If I really want to make an impact in my lifetime, or at least try to, then I have to take this next step and get an MPH." But I wasn't entirely sure. So I said to myself, "So let me do a little research, I don't know if I want to dive in completely." I discovered the certificate at New York University and I said, "Okay, to me this is a win-win, right? So if I start this certificate program, it's the first five core classes of the program. If I like it, fantastic. I will then go on to the MPH and I can hit the ground running. I'll already have the five classes under my belt. Let's say on the off chance that I go into the certificate program just to get a feel for it, to see what it's like, and I don't like it. Well, at the end of the day when I complete it I'll still have the certificate in my hand, which is also something to be proud about."
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.
Hyder Waheed: So that's the main reason why I started off with the certificate, there was a little bit of uncertainty and I think that's fair when that's a huge step, deciding to go pursue a graduate degree. And for me, I was unsure if I would really, could commit the time and if I would even like it. So I took this chance on completing something shorter term, which is a certificate, ended up really liking it. So as soon as I saw that, took the first five classes, got a sense of what the layout of this program is, got to know some of the professors, got to write papers and take exams, and I was like, "Okay, I can balance this, with work and the part-time MPH program, let me now apply to the MPH." And so, right there I was 100% positive, sure that I wanted to do this. And I applied and I was accepted, and here I am now. And for me it's not, nothing has really changed, I'm just continuing what I was doing. I'm taking part-time classes, I already know my routine and everything there. But to anyone that is unsure if they want to go to the MPH and have that wiggle room in their lives, or in their careers, to commit to maybe a year, a little bit longer to the certificate to test it out, go for it. The MPH is a fantastic program, and I'm happy that I made that decision to go full-time with the MPH.
Alexandra Arriaga: No, yeah. And we're very happy that you're here, obviously you sound very motivated. And as it relates to your work experience, you have worked in large companies as well as startups. So what companies have you worked for and from your experience, what are the main differences between these work environments?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah. I think working for a large company but also working more recently for a startup, it is sort of night and day. And you look at a company like a startup where it's sort of this fast-paced environment and they have this mentality of, let's do whatever it takes to get the job done. Right? And so the thing that's really good there, is everyone is collaborating, everyone is working together and on a mission to get whatever the goal is completed. And along those lines you learn so much, you work with such talented people, you develop your skills. Where you otherwise wouldn't at let's say, a large institution. There is a downside to that, however, and I witnessed it. When you are at a startup, sort of the foundation, foundations rather, are not yet built. So sometimes there's uncertainty. Where teams, or the company as a whole, may not have experience on how to tackle a certain situation. So then there's a lot of this guessing game. Let's try this, let's try this, and then this doesn't work, and this doesn't work. Now you're putting in a lot of hours, right? You're coming in at eight or nine, you're staying till seven, eight, nine, ten at night. You're working on the weekends, it's long hours. So that takes its toll, right? Where people get burned out because you're always in overdrive, so it's critical to balance that. Then on the other challenges that working for a smaller company like a startup, people see is, sometimes there's this phrase that people throw around, "There's too many cooks in the kitchen." Right? Where everyone wants to chime in and work on an issue, and now you're over-engineering everything. So it ends up backfiring. And so you look at a large institution, where these companies have been around for decades and decades. Some of them even hundreds and hundreds of years, right? They've gone through all this trial and error. They've figured it all out, right? They have all these different departments, they are sort of set in their ways. While it may not be the best way, at one point or another, it was. And they have sort of figured all this out. They have built their revenue, they've established their name, some companies are even industry leaders. And so there's a sense of, going into companies like that, where you have a clear-cut path as to what you're going to do and you can really excel there. Whereas at a startup you may not have that path, it might change in a month, in six months, three months. And that's also amazing. Someone like me, while change is always tough, I hate getting complacent. I'm always the type of person that said, "I want to learn more. I want to change up things. I want to..." If I learned something new every day, then that's a good day, I think I said that earlier. But yeah. So, and then again it also comes to preference. Some people just love the startup atmosphere because it's a completely different culture. You probably hear that the offices at startups are open floor, right? That changes the dynamic, there's no cubes. Everyone is sort of, a layout, open floor structure, you can approach anyone. Whereas if you go to a large company that, traditionally there's cubes and this and that. So culture and vibe and environment also play a big aspect too. But it comes down to preference. But I think if ever given the opportunity, people should experience both. It is truly a wonderful experience to have both ends of that.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. And do you feel like small lean companies are better positioned to have a greater impact in the health industry?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah. That's another great question. I feel like part of me wants to say it's a little too soon to make that determination. But with that being said, if I had to give an answer, I would say yes. I would say lean companies in today's society, in today's time, you see this rapid movement in every industry where startups are coming aboard and sort of disrupting the existing structure and the traditional ways, and for good. That's important. You don't want to disrupt something and then destroy it. Companies in the healthcare industry after the Affordable Care Act was passed, Obamacare as they call it, you saw all these companies, startups come aboard. And Oscar Health is one of them, that's where I worked for almost three years in operations, their clinical operations. And so they're one of the leaders. Companies have fallen under. But I think with the way the tide is changing, and these disruptors are making an impact, and it's being heard. And whether it's legislation being changed or companies changing the way they do things, I think in the long run, these leaner companies, these startups that are being backed by different investors, and really the ones in power funding these companies saying, "Hey, you have this idea, you have this passion, dedication, go for it. If you can make a change, go for it." And traditional companies might be a little hesitant to do that. They've been known as X, Y, Z for a hundred years, they don't want to suddenly change. While it is happening, companies are a little more, traditional companies are reluctant to do that, I feel. And so to sum up my point here, I do believe that leaner companies, startup companies, the disruptors, if you will, in the long run, will be able to make a stronger impact to change the way we've been doing things for the better.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's a very interesting perspective. I wonder, at what point does a startup stop being a startup and just becomes a regular company?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with employee size. Because I was at a startup where it was 40, 50 employees and then it ballooned up to 300-400.
Alexandra Arriaga: Oh, wow.
Hyder Waheed: And then, yeah. I think that's what happens. And you see it, you see it evolve, right? So new teams will be formed, processes will be put in place, structures in place, there will be an immense ramp-up of employee size. And then as soon as you notice that there is now these structures being put in place, I think that's when you get that feeling like, "Okay, this is no longer a startup. This is now a well-established company." But then, it could also be perspective, some people might say, "Well all right, I used to be able to do things free reign and now I have to go through these different blockers here to get things done. Oh, this is not a startup anymore." So it is perspective, but I think fundamentally when a company grows in size and they make their mark and they establish themselves, and they're no longer scrappy. Because startups, going back to what I was saying earlier, the startup vibe is sort of this scrappy vibe, this do whatever it takes. And when that disappears, not to say that the work goes away, the dedication and the hard work and the ethic, that's still remains. But when that structure goes away and there is now this formal structure, I think that's when a startup is no longer a startup.
Alexandra Arriaga: Okay, fair enough. And so do you think that in the future we'll find you in a startup? Or what do you see yourself doing?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah, that's interesting. I think about this more often than not. I've been in this operations sort of healthcare industry for awhile now, for a couple of years, and this is what I enjoy doing, this is what I like. But, where do I see my, that's not to say that these skills and this experience can't translate into something else. Let's say it's working on a national policy for a non-government organization, or going to a lower-middle income country and assisting there. I think all those skills are transferable one way or the other. And so when I graduate and when that time comes, I want to just immerse myself where I can make the most impact. And if that is at a startup, if that's at a well-established company, if that's consulting, or what have you, then that's where I'll go. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to what you're most passionate about and where you're going to persevere, and what you're going to fight for. Those boundaries that, you shouldn't be looking at that. So I will go where I can make an impact, where I can move the needle. If it's at a startup, that'd be great, because I do love the vibe, I love the culture. I love that fast-paced environment, that's where I thrive the best. It's like, "All right, let's go, go, go." That's what I love. But yeah, you can't hold down to it because then that's how things get clouded.
Alexandra Arriaga: True. Very true. And so where does that motivation come from for you? That motivation to just create such a big impact in the world?
Hyder Waheed: Yeah. It's interesting because what drives me to do this work, to put in these hours, part-time with this MPH program, also working full-time. I think a big part of it is my character and my personality, who I am as a person. When I care about something and when I'm passionate about something, I'm very driven, I'm very committed to it. And I selfishly say that no one can get in my way. And so that's what it comes down to. This is what I care about, I care about public health, I care about, and it even gets stripped down even further from there, is just helping people. That's partly why I'm in this MPH program. Is how can I assist people? And I'm going to do it in a way through health awareness and through public health. And I think that's very critical, that's sort of, if you have that mindset, that's what leads you to continue working hard and to avoid being burned out. So for me, yeah. Every day I'm reminded this is what I care about and this is what I want to work on. So everything that comes after that, if it's going to be long hours, if it's going to be rigorous and work, that's fine. I'll do it. Because at the end the reward will be much sweeter, it'll all be worth it. Yeah. And I think for everyone that's listening out there, if you believe in something and if you care about it, don't let anything get in your way, keep fighting for it, keep working hard. Because in the end, you will reap the benefit and the risk. The reward comes with these risks.
Alexandra Arriaga: Hyder, thank you so much for the wise words. You've given us incredible advice. And I think that for you, the best is yet to come, and we're very excited to see where you end up.
Hyder Waheed: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me on. It's an absolute pleasure. Thanks for taking the time. I hope I get to do it again sometime.
Alexandra Arriaga: Of course, you are invited to come whenever you want. Thank you so much for joining us.
Hyder Waheed: Thank you.