As Emily Zhen finishes her senior year, she is looking excitedly toward a future career in the healthcare industry. She has spent her time at Penn focused on learning about healthcare from different academic perspectives and gaining skills that she can use to “increase access to quality healthcare and provide healthcare in a more efficient, cost-effective manner.” And studying public policy has been an integral part of that education. As Emily explains, “studying policy to me holds a greater meaning, as it is a means to create long-term change. Policy affects every sector of our economy and underlies many of my interests, including healthcare, technology, and economics. In each of these areas, business innovation can spur fast and effective change, but I believe that systemic change needs to come from both the private and public sectors together.”
Emily is particularly grateful of the interdisciplinary academic opportunities she’s had at Penn, namely the Public Policy Research Scholars program and the Vagelos Life Sciences and Management program. “PPRS complements what I study in the LSM program, as it provides a unique and important lens for thinking about healthcare,” Emily says. “Studying the life sciences provides me with a strong foundation to improve human health while business allows me to translate that science into new innovations. Policy provides the overarching system that ensures people can access healthcare at a certain level of healthcare quality. In my opinion, understanding healthcare from all angles – science, business, and policy – is vital in order to tackle some of today’s toughest healthcare challenges in our country.”
Emily has taken this perspective further, gaining a similar range of experiences outside the classroom through internships. As she describes: “Conducting clinical psychiatric research in a hospital setting and doing my own immunology independent research has taught me how to set up an effective experiment to test a hypothesis, analyze data sets, and interact with patients. My internships in consulting and investment banking have provided me with a strong foundation in business, teaching me financial modeling, strategic thinking, and presentation skills. Interning at healthcare startups has allowed me to learn more about product development, satisfying customer needs in the market, and constant iteration in the innovation process. My internship at the Treasury gave me a taste of what goes into making policy decisions and the internal processes in place to reach these policies. Combined, all my internship experiences have provided me with a toolkit that I can use when I graduate to tackle healthcare problems from many different angles.”
Emily’s thesis topic for her capstone course of the Public Policy Research Scholars program draws on all these previous experiences. Emily’s goal is to collect survey data to understand differences in the ways non-citizen immigrants approach the health care system and purchase health insurance, as compared to U.S.-born citizens. “This topic really excites me because I am interested in tackling issues related to disparities in health care access and better understanding challenges that immigrants living in Philadelphia encounter,” Emily explains. “The project is also personally meaningful to me because my parents are immigrants to the U.S.”
Tireless, Emily is working on a capstone for the LSM program as well, developing a commercialization scheme for an early-stage medical technology, including pre-clinical and clinical trials, a regulatory approval strategy, marketing plan, pricing, financial models, and financing strategy. While the work involves merging science and business, it has policy implications too, since it involves FDA regulation.
In addition to healthcare, Emily is passionate about volunteering, business, and entrepreneurship. She got her start in entrepreneurship in her senior year of high school, inspired by the observation that parking garages in the city tended to get congested near the garage exits, as drivers were paying for their parking. “I saw that E-ZPass, the technology system used for toll collection, provided a possible solution to this problem,” she recalls. “I applied for a startup incubator program called Catapult with this new startup idea, Park Pass (‘The E-ZPass for parking garage payment’). Along with my friend and co-founder, I entered into negotiations for about $20,000 in seed funding, but the potential investors wanted us to focus our efforts full-time on Park Pass. Ultimately, my co-founder and I decided to focus on college and not continue working on Park Pass, yet it was a phenomenal experience where I learned the ‘Lean Startup’ process, how to interview customers and understand their pain points, and how to develop and refine a business model.”
Emily took the lessons she learned from ParkPass and applied them to her volunteer organization, StudentsCare, a national nonprofit that connects college volunteers with pediatric patients. In addition to helping the national founder write a business plan for the organization, Emily founded a chapter at Penn. “When I started the organization, it was just me and my desire to build a healthcare volunteering group. I recruited a board of passionate pre-health students, and gradually, we secured partnerships with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Ronald McDonald House, and local soup kitchens. Then we applied for club recognition and funding from the Student Activities Council (SAC). Oftentimes, we did not get the result we were looking for on our first try. The experience of founding an organization ultimately taught me that starting something takes a lot of perseverance, resilience, and adaptability.”
Those same traits also will serve her well in her next step after graduating in May: working for Goldman Sachs in healthcare investment banking. Her plan is to continue “learning more about the healthcare industry and learning more about corporate strategy and finance in this role.” The knowledge she gains there will feed into her longer-term aspiration: “to ensure that everyone – regardless of their background, ethnicity, or gender – can receive quality access to healthcare.”