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The 2016 MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators


Nina Vasan, MD
Psychiatry Resident Physician at Stanford, Co-Author of “Do Good Well,” Advisor at Lyra Health
Nina Vasan, MDEver since childhood, Dr. Nina Vasan believed that she could empower herself and her community through service in healthcare. In high school she launched American Cancer Society Teens, a nationwide network that encouraged youth volunteers to find creative solutions for improving health in their communities. In her adult life she has worked in the Director-General’s office at the WHO, co-chaired health care outreach to battleground states for Obama’s presidential campaign, and spearheaded a grassroots movement to advocate for the direction of Master Tobacco Settlement funds toward public programs.

But it was in medical school that Vasan found her calling as a mental health care innovator. While a medical student, Vasan was diagnosed with depression, and made the deliberate decision to be outspoken about her diagnosis. “Reactions were bifurcated,” says Vasan. Some of her peers applauded her decision and provided emotional support. “However, the more common response, including from my academic advisors, was to keep quiet about having a mental illness and to expunge my record of any evidence of a psychiatric diagnosis,” she says.

These reactions bolstered Vasan’s interest in pursuing psychiatry as a medical specialty. “I was struck how silence, sometimes my own silence, led to shame and how the cultural stigma of mental illness became a barrier to diagnosis, treatment, and recovery,” she says. “I believe a strong community can be an antidote for this silence.”

Today, Vasan’s mission is to use her leadership skills to help build these literal and metaphorical communities and thereby accelerate the delivery of quality psychiatric care. She is an advisor for Lyra Health, a mental healthcare startup, where she is building partnerships, advising on clinical strategy, and helping to develop evidence based treatment tools for clinicians practicing in collaborative care settings. “This is a groundbreaking time for mental health with a massive influx of new ideas, technologies, policies, and systems of care,” says Vasan.

Vasan is also known for her bestselling book, “Do Good Well: Your Guide to Leadership, Action and Social Innovation,” which she co-authored with Jennifer Przybylo. Vasan, who started volunteering with her local American Cancer Society in West Virginia when she was 5 years old, knows that the journey to “do good” sometimes involves trial and error. “In our own experiences trying to ‘do good’, we did a few things right, and more than a few things wrong,” she says. “We were surprised to find out that even the groups we most admired and emulated were also frustrated by the lack of common knowledge or a baseline set of skills and goals.” The book was conceived of to help other social entrepreneurs and activists by creating a common process for “doing good” built on evidence and experience; it is a scientific method for social innovation. “This was the basis for our book Do Good Well, to codify and to share what works so that anyone can turn his or her ideas and idealism into impact,” she said.

Vasan is currently a psychiatric resident at Stanford with plans to start at the Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall. Vasan is the first student at Stanford to undertake a concurrent MBA during psychiatry residency and is working with Stanford to create a Residency/MBA training program to produce leaders in mental health innovation. She is also the founder and Chair of the Psychiatry Innovation Lab at the American Psychiatric Association.

MedTech Boston Staff

    Abigail Ballou, Alexandra David, Shreya Iyer and Casey Nugent contributed to this story.

    6 Comments

    1. Sraliceop@netscape says:

      Congratulations to Call9! I admire the motivation and purpose behind your work. May it enhance the Gift of Life for many people. And it all started with Al and Estelle! My best wishes and prayers!

      Alice Reichmeider, O.P.

    2. Chandra reddy says:

      Nina
      Way to go
      We are all so proud of you

    3. kusuma rao says:

      Hi Nina my name is KusumaRao classmate of your parents at MMC.i want you to know how proud i am of you not just the intelligence but the compassion for others at such an young age.To tell our own self for nthe good of others in not known in indian community. you made all of us feel good keepup the goodwork and God bless you love Kusuma aunty

    4. Dr. Harneet V Thakur says:

      Hi Anshuman,

      I am very proud of you and lucky to have you as my student. It was known during your M.tech project that you will shine. Many best wishes and congratulations. I wish you grand success in all your endevours.

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