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Get To Know A Truman: Dr. Sanjay Basu (IL ’01)

Sanjay Basu MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He received his undergraduate degree from MIT before completing a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. He received his MD and PhD in epidemiology at Yale and is board certified in internal medicine. Dr. Basu’s research interests focus on global development and human health, and include the use of econometrics and simulation models to study how socioeconomic changes and social policy interventions affect primary disease risk among low-income populations. At Stanford, Dr. Basu is a Senior Fellow at the Center of Innovation in Global Health, Co-Director of the Health Disparities Group at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, and a Member of the Child Health Research Institute. He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles in leading medical journals and has served as an advisor to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

1. How did you use your Truman Scholarship?  What was the most valuable thing you learned from your Truman experience?

I used it to go to public health school. The most valuable thing I learned was how to make cogent arguments, by debating issues of the day with my fellow scholars.

2. Why did you decide to pursue a career in academic medicine?

I found that a lot of the public health challenges I wanted to tackle would be best addressed through large-scale public health policies, but many of the departments of public health did not have the bandwidth to perform policy analysis and determine what policies were actually most effective. During my graduate school experience, I found that academic medical research was particularly effective at changing policies and practices in ways that were meaningful for public health outcomes.

3. If you couldn’t work in academic medicine, what would you be doing?

I would probably teach full time, as I greatly enjoy spending time teaching students.

4. Tell me more about what you do as Assistant Professor of Medicine (Stanford Prevention Research Center).

I split my time between clinical care, research and teaching. I am a primary care physician and teach medical residents in the primary care setting. My research is spent studying social policies and their impact on public health, for example examining how well the largest nutrition assistance programs in the country address nutrition-related chronic diseases such as type II diabetes. My teaching focuses on research methods including public health operations research and policy research methods.

5. Tell me more about your research on public health policy and planning.

Right now our research group studies programs that try to address major risk factors for chronic diseases around the world, primarily cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and type II diabetes. We have been studying the best strategies to implement large community-based programs such as nutrition programs in order to avert these diseases. We also study interventions that attempt to address the so-called ‘social determinants of health,’ such as poverty, by examining for example how social welfare programs impact on healthy diets and associated cardiovascular disease outcomes.

6. What is the most rewarding aspect of your current job?  The most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect is being able to teach students to use their analytical skills to improve public health. A lot of students at Stanford have exceptional skills in domains such as computer science and engineering, but aren’t aware that they can do the most good for the world by moving beyond programming iPhone apps and actually interacting with real-world public health problems that require their skills. The most challenging aspect of my current job is juggling many different roles, and especially navigating the complex policy terrain that now exists among federal bureaucracies charged with protecting the nation’s health, but often stymied by petty politics.

7. Which of your activities outside of work are most exciting to you?

Right now I’m a new father of a toddler, and that is both exciting and terrifying.

8. Which of your achievements (whether personal or professional) are you most proud of?

I’m definitely most proud of spending time as a dad. Professionally, I’m also proud that our group’s research has made real policy impact. For example, last month some of our research was used to craft major changes in diabetes prevention programs in India, which already are showing significant impact on the problem.

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