When his medical board exams were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, Aaron Gilani MBA ’17 used his idle time to seek ways he could leverage his business education to affect the medical community.
Gilani thought about the two years he had spent at the Indiana University School of Medicine and it occurred to him that there existed a large disparity between what he identified as the two major subsets of students. The first group was made up of students who came from families that had physicians in them whether it was a dual physician household, a parent or sibling was a physician, or their community was largely supportive of pursuing a career in medicine. The second, smaller subset of students Gilani learned, were underrepresented minorities or came from a disadvantaged background.
“I got to thinking, how does a smart student from an inner-city prepare and compete with someone who has been shadowing their parent in the family ophthalmology clinic since they were 15 years old?” Gilani said. “They can’t compete.”
A first-generation medical student himself, Gilani saw an opportunity to fill a gap and create a free service that could help those underrepresented minorities, LGBTQIA+, non-traditional, disadvantaged, or other first-generation medical students like him navigate the complexities and nuances of the medical education system.
“There are a lot of for-profit services in the marketplace that can help students prepare but it costs thousands of dollars. It widens the gap even more,” he explained.
Armed with the knowledge that he gained in the full-time MBA program at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Gilani founded Prescribe it Forward, a 501C3 non-profit that offers free mentorship for pre-medical and medical students.
Over the course of three months, Gilani and his team have rapidly scaled the business and at the time of writing, Prescribe it Forward had 575 mentors across 37 states, the District of Columbia, Grenada, and Puerto Rico. To date, over 650 individuals have received mentorship from current medical students ranging from advice on personal statements for medical school applications to guidance on taking the MCATs to recommendations on which classes to take.
“We have a wide range of students as far as their circumstances,” Gilani explained. “There’s people in multiple stages of the process who want mentorship. It could be a freshman pre-medical student in college wanting advice on what classes to take to someone who is looking to apply to medical school and wants to talk out loud with someone about their grades and which programs could be a good fit.”
Students seeking a mentor can visit Prescribe it Forward’s website and fill out a brief contact form that includes their demographic information and the area(s) of support they need a mentor for. Then a committee of matchmakers reviews the roster of mentors to make a connection.
“We take a lot of pride in our matching system,” Gilani said. “We read about their stories and we try to match people who come from similar backgrounds because it’s more helpful to get advice from someone who knows where you’ve been and understands your hurdles.”
Business before medicine
While it may be unusual for a medical student to first pursue a Master’s in Business Administration, Gilani has always had an interest in pursuing a combination of both.
“I come from a family of businessmen and entrepreneurs. I naturally have a creative side and I like to think creatively without a lot of shackles so business seemed like a way to do that,” he explained. “But I actually have a deaf and blind brother, and I grew up spending a lot of time in hospitals and that gave me a passion for medicine.”
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Gilani attended Hampden-Sydney College and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biology and pre-medicine. But instead of studying for the MCATs and immediately applying to medical school, he decided to detour by earning his MBA and gaining a few years of valuable experience in the business world first.
“If I went to medical school and got my M.D. followed by a surgical residency, I could only affect as many patients as my hands could operate on in a week. But if I married medicine with business, I would be able to see the forest from the trees and help fix healthcare. We spend the most in the world on healthcare and don’t have the outcomes to show for it so if I could combine the two and figure out a way to help people at scale, lightning might strike,” he said.
Though he was straight out of undergraduate school and had little work experience, Gilani relied upon his classmates to provide context and perspective to the real-world applications of the material based on their own professional experiences.
“I wasn’t able to apply that knowledge right away but I was able to understand the challenges that people had in their careers and how it could manifest in my own life,” he said.
After completing the full-time MBA program in 2017, Gilani worked for a year at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. His focus was on consumer insights and product innovation for Old Spice and the Aussie haircare brand. During that time, his entrepreneurial creativity inspired him to develop HairCode.com which is like a Myers Briggs personality test for haircare where users answer a few questions about their hair and the code formulates a curated list of products they should use.
“It was a really fun time and a really fun year but after that I decided I really wanted to go to medical school,” Gilani said.
Balancing dual passions
Gilani is entering his third year of medical school which includes taking his board exams and beginning rotations at the hospital. He will spend four to six weeks gaining critical on-the-job experience in all of the different departments but he says he eventually would like to pursue the path of general surgery.
“I am a very tactile person and I am a very solution-driven person so I think that kind of fits in that space,” he said.
Though he’s currently immersed in practicing medicine full-time, Gilani says the William & Mary experience was time well spent because it enabled him to think differently, especially when he talks with medical professionals about the cost of healthcare.
“I can speak to a much wider lens from which to do things,” he explained.
And, he says he hopes to leverage that knowledge and experience into a future role working in healthcare administration, healthcare technology, or private equity.
“I think it’s important to understand the role of a physician and the day-to-day life of practicing as one but I also want to be able to zoom out and look at ways to affect large changes to healthcare around the country,” he said.
Concurrently, Gilani plans to continue to grow Prescribe it Forward to include pre-dental and dental students, physician assistant students, and nursing students with the potential to expand the mentorship deeper into the medical community by connecting residents with medical students and attending physicians with residents.
“I think the end vision is to be the one-stop-shop for all things mentorship in medicine,” he explained. “When I think about success in medicine, I think of making content free and accessible for educational purposes and I think of mentorship. If I didn’t go to William & Mary, I don’t know that this non-profit would have even happened and be a thing right now but I think there’s a lot of breadth and depth in this endeavor.”