The Women Tech Council recently presented Health Catalyst’s Dr. Sadiqa Mahmood with the Transformational Leadership Award for her exemplary innovation and leadership in the field of STEM. We talked with Dr. Mahmood — a humble cross-industry leader and patient advocate — to learn more about her career path, philosophy, and formula for being a leader who successfully drives change.
You were recently honored with the Transformational Leadership Award by Women Tech Council. What advice do you have for future female leaders in STEM fields?
First and foremost, find inspiration in your own life and of those around you! Everyone has a story. Your story underscores your dreams, passion, courage, trust, hope, strength, and resilience. Glean inspiration from your own story and the stories of others that inspire you. Find courage and willingness to experiment and take a chance. There will be no shortage of challenges. They will range from societal expectations or norms, peer pressure, switching careers, and most importantly fighting for all of these with your own dire need to excel. These challenges build resilience, creativity, courage, hope and can help you leapfrog to success as you define it.
You are a dental surgeon and hold a master’s in public health degree, what made you want to jump into the life sciences industry?
Clinical research leads to care and informed treatment options for patients who do not have these possibilities readily available to them. It is our responsibility to our patients to innovate and give them more options to choose from. I wanted to go from serving one patient at a time to serving a larger need of people across the globe who are waiting for new discoveries and treatments.
What do you believe is the greatest opportunity to impact and improve the life sciences industry?
We have the most significant clinical research success of our lifetime right in front of us: COVID-19 vaccines. This will forever change how we think about clinical research innovation.
The industry is struggling to maintain innovation while lowering costs and improving efficiency. The opportunity lies in the industry reinventing itself; much like the financial industry has done, especially banks with the digitization of their processes, workflow and consumer interaction. Only when we innovate, and advance research and development will mankind have better access to medicines.
How would you sum up your career to date? And what are you excited about next?
Healthcare can be a lethargic industry and I have always found it to be in contrast with the actual urgent healthcare needs of the populace. I have always worked at the pace that has suited the latter and picked organizations that allowed me the space to operate at that pace. I have worked in the healthcare system of various countries that are incredibly different and complex. I invested time in learning the care delivery, technology, policy environment, public health needs, healthcare access, drug development, and cultural aspects of these systems. I find this complexity invigorating.
Finally, dentists and oral surgeons don’t typically pursue non-clinical careers; especially the path I have taken. This means I’m often the odd one out and there are signs of being unwelcome in the “club.” Despite this, I continue to champion helping those who need it most.
As of today, my mission is to build a talented team that comes together to form a financially viable business with the purpose of advancing research and development informed by evidence, data, and technology so mankind has better access to therapeutics and diagnostics.
I’m excited and eager to see what life and fate will bring me next to continue this mission.
In addition to transforming patient care, you’re also passionate about racing and Formula 1. Are there any lessons from the speedway that you transfer to your professional life?
Formula 1 has taught me how to bring humility into my leadership. When you’re the driver, you are the face. You are the person whose name will be remembered at the end of the day when you win —the person who will take the podium. But it takes five different teams to win a race – the team who understands the car, the team who understands the track, the team who understands the analytics of your driving, the team who understands the analytics of the other drivers, and the management team breathing down your neck. When a driver wins, they take the podium. But to get to that podium, the driver had to first foster an inclusive environment for collective success at the pit stop.
In my day-to-day work, we find insights in healthcare data to inform patient care and to support drug discovery. I therefore must lead the team with humility. I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers for every step forward and encourage an inclusive and inspiring work environment where our team members are emboldened to make discoveries together. We have been able to empower biopharma, physicians, and federal policy makers with insights that we discovered as a team.
It is a humble, sustainable, and fruitful way forward.