Transforming the future of healthcare

Sarah Qian MBA2023 plans to use her Service and Society Scholarship to help underrepresented groups access healthcare


In 30 seconds

  • Medical doctor spent the first six years of her career in her native Australia, specialising in endocrinology and diabetes
  • Dr Qian chose LBS for the flexibility of the MBA programme, which allowed her to combine classroom learning with practical work
  • Studies were made possible by the Service and Society scholarship, which is funded by donors from the 1979 MSc class and awarded to applicants “in a sector or role that contributes positively to society”
  • Post-LBS, Dr Qian will look for a role that spans disciplines and which helps underrepresented groups access healthcare

We are at the dawn of a new age of healthcare; an age when digital technology has the potential to unlock advances unimagined just a few decades ago. To realise this promise requires a new generation of professionals with skills that span disciplinary boundaries. Individuals like Dr Sarah Qian, a Service and Society scholar on the MBA programme at London Business School. 

Throughout her career, Dr Qian has always tried to make the best of her circumstances, while not losing sight of the bigger picture. It is an approach that has served her – and her patients, colleagues and the healthcare world – well. 

Dr Qian spent the first six years of her medical career as a doctor in her native Australia, where she specialised in endocrinology and diabetes. Then, in 2019, she decided to experience medicine in a different country, coming to London with her husband to work for a year at University College Hospital. It was unfortunate timing as Covid-19 intervened and disrupted everyone’s life, but she chose to stay on in London and contribute to the NHS surge effort. As it turned out, the pandemic proved a catalyst for a change in her career direction.

Thinking laterally

“We quickly had to adapt our specialty service from a face-to-face service to a predominately remote one,” she recalls. “It was definitely challenging but it also highlighted weaknesses in the system. It got me thinking more laterally. I didn’t want to follow the accepted wisdom of what a physician is meant to be. Healthcare is more than just doctors, nurses and hospitals. It includes community care, pharmacies, drug development, medical technologies, all of this and much more – we can’t just exist in our own bubble.

“With many careers, you can get drawn into the function you’re doing and lose sight of the bigger picture. I wanted to learn how other people are contributing to this industry, to understand how you grow an idea, how you move from startup to scale-up and how you finance that. That’s when I knew a general business education would be the right next step for me.”

Determined to do her MBA at LBS, Dr Qian applied and was accepted onto the programme, but the question of how to fund her studies arose. Fortunately, LBS has a suite of over 50 scholarships for which accepted candidates are automatically considered; many targeted at participants from non-traditional backgrounds. Dr Qian’s stellar career track record led to her receiving the Service and Society scholarship, worth £50,000, funded by donors from the class of MSc12 (1979) and awarded to MBA applicants “in a sector or role that contributes positively to society… with a preference for those who aspire to continue in the sector after graduation.”

An amazing opportunity

“That was amazing,” she says. “I feel very privileged they were able to offer me the scholarship – without it I would not have been able to attend LBS and have the freedom to explore the different career options open to me.” 

One of the main reasons Dr Qian opted for LBS was the MBA programme’s flexibility, which has enabled her to pursue an academic path that best suits her interests. A good example has been the chance to complement classroom learning with practical work, something she was particularly keen on doing.

Dr Qian points to two internships she has worked on during the MBA. The first was at fast growing startup Gaia Family, a technology-driven firm focusing on the financing and insurance of IVF treatment and outcomes. At Gaia she was able to use her medical knowledge to help with business-development strategy, working closely with the founding team to get a good view of the operational side of the business.

She was able to explore healthcare from a different angle again when she was selected from over 1,000 candidates to participate in the Future VC programme, where she did an internship at F-Prime Capital, who focus on biotechnology investments. “It was a great learning opportunity,” Dr Qian says. “I mapped investment opportunities across geographies in metabolic medicine. I also helped with assessing deal flow and company building, and developed my investor’s perspective, looking at clinical problems from an entirely different view.”

It’s not just internships that have proved worthwhile, either. Take her involvement with the Healthcare student club (one of over 80 student clubs at LBS). “I led the healthcare challenge. It’s a business-idea competition, hosted by the School’s Healthcare club and sponsored by firms in the industry. We welcomed entrants from around the world, put together a panel of VCs for them to pitch to, and selected a winner. It was really rewarding because the winning team is helping to automate tasks in primary care in the NHS.”

Dr Qian has also been impressed by the collaborative learning environment. “From day one at LBS, I met people from different sectors and industries that were completely new to me. It piqued my curiosity in lots of areas. It’s a very generous community with everyone willing to help, answer questions and give advice.”

Dr Qian has also learnt more about herself. “I’ve surprised myself. I am naturally an introvert and find networking intimidating. But I’ve found the conversations I’ve had, learning from others’ experiences, to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the MBA.”

Her experience has highlighted the value of seeing different perspectives, she says. “Coming from a medical background, I’m often in situations where my perspectives and what I contribute to the group are very different, but I’ve learnt to lean into that and see it as a strength. It’s OK to be different. Doing the MBA has also reinforced the realisation that I’m generally a curious and optimistic person. If something doesn’t work out I know I can pivot, bounce back and go looking for the next thing.”

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‘I’ve always been interested in helping patients access the right care. The scholarship has allowed me to access this education’

Spanning boundaries

Post-LBS, Dr Qian will look for a role that spans disciplines. “It’s so important we don’t have conversations in siloes – where early-stage biotech isn’t linked with the ultimate end goal of the clinic, clinician and patient, for example. It works best when you have multiple perspectives in the room looking at a problem. I hope to find a role where I can bridge those conversations.”

Another ambition is to help underrepresented groups: “I’ve always been interested in helping patients access the right care. The scholarship has allowed me to access this education. I want to use the new skills I’ve learned to continue in this vein. I want to continue to advocate for underrepresented groups in medical areas that have traditionally seen less interest. For example, women’s health, transgender medicine. And I want to support and mentor others from a healthcare background who are interested in the business world.”

In the spirit of spanning discipline, Dr Qian intends to return to medical practice. “I gave myself room away from clinical medicine and found there were definitely parts I missed. It’s about being able to sit down with someone one-on-one, work on their problem together and come up with a plan. There is something very rewarding in being able to make an immediate difference to someone’s quality of life.”

She is also passionate about returning to Australia to help grow the biotech ecosystem there. “Australia has a world-class healthcare system, incredible research and great science, but lags behind in terms of the infrastructure needed to support the commercialisation of these technologies. There is an amazing opportunity to support the innovative spirit.”

“I would like to thank LBS and the donors from the class of MSc12 (1979),” she says. “This journey has been life-changing for me. It’s been continually surprising in a good way and given me a lot of confidence. I am appreciative that the programme and the scholarship exist because what I’m able to do in the future has changed. 

“I will be looking forward with new knowledge and skills, and a different perspective. I hope in the future I will be able to give back in a similar way and have a positive influence on others.”