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Brian Powers      

MD/MBA Candidate at Harvard University, Deputy Editor of Healthcare: The Journal

The son of a physician and a chemist, Powers studied history at Bowdoin College as an undergraduate, writing his senior thesis on black physicians who practiced before the Civil War. This work focused on the unthinkable odds these individuals faced in becoming physicians in this era, and on the interplay between professional life and racial activism. A modified version of this paper was published as “Practice and Protest: Black Physicians and the Evolution of Race-Conscious Professionalism” in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

The skills he no doubt developed as a student in the humanities—the ability to digest complex themes, formulate coherent ideas, and put them into words—appear to have served him well in his writing endeavors as a medical student. Sreekanth Chaguturu, an instructor in medicine, observed that Powers is a “precocious” author who approaches writing as a craft, and is adept at translating complex ideas into accessible prose. “I’ve not seen that ability even among people who have been doing healthcare policy research for decades,” he declared. Chaguturu remembered the thoughtful and nuanced approach that Powers took in a paper they co-wrote, “Optimizing High-risk Care Management,” which he said has received national attention. It was a topic that “could have easily been inflammatory, but it was written in a very constructive style that allowed for the progression of debate,” he recalled.

When in college it came time for Powers to decide on a career path, medicine emerged as a clear choice. But he also thought hard about pursuing graduate studies in history, and even considered going into the hospitality industry. Throughout his high school and undergraduate years, Powers worked in restaurants ranging from a small bakery-café in his hometown, St. Louis—where a sandwich is named after him—to the upscale restaurant Gramercy Tavern in New York City. He said these experiences have taught him more about how to engage with patients and function on a team than anything he learned in his college pre-med curriculum or even during the first two years of medical school. He credits his experience in the hospitality industry with teaching him how to get along with diverse individuals, and to “have a thick skin.”

Ultimately, he chose a career in medicine because that allowed him the interpersonal interaction he loved during his work in the hospitality industry, as well as the academic focus and research opportunities that initially drew him to history. “It's a perfect marriage of my most deeply held interests,” he explained. But his varied experiences, seemingly unrelated to the medical field, proved to be invaluable assets at HMS.“A good physician and a good leader has to be a humanist, a social scientist, and a good natural scientist,” said Neel Shah, an assistant professor at the Medical School who has worked with Powers. “Brian has it all.”

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