An unexpected detour

By Vicki Ritterband and Bill Ibelle

Health Science alum takes an abrupt turn into the world of health technology.

As an undergraduate health science major at Bouvé, Binja Basimike thought she would pursue a PhD in international nutrition and follow in the humanitarian footsteps of her globe-trotting father, a malaria expert who works for the World Health Organization.

But while earning her master’s in public health, Basimike made and abrupt turn that illustrates the unanticipated careers  that bloom from Northeastern’s unique blend of academic and real-world education.

Although she had no tech training in college, Basimike, BS’12, MPH’14, now works in Boston as an IT consultant at Synthesis Health Systems, translating the business needs of her healthcare clients into technology solutions.

“I decided to take a chance on myself—to put myself outside my comfort zone and try something new,” she said.

A twisting path

Basimike, who is half Congolese and half Kenyan, grew up in Africa and Geneva, where she had a “front row seat” for discussions about global health issues.

“I am very much a daddy’s girl and I grew up listening to my father and all his friends talking about world diseases,” she said. “I developed a passionate belief that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare.”

Basimike chose Northeastern over the University of Edinburgh because she wanted to be at the “epicenter of healthcare.” She did a co-op at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, followed by a summer medical internship in South Africa. That’s where her plans to focus on global nutrition took their first major turn.

“What I came away with was that I was most interested in the big-picture healthcare issues,” she said. “So I came back and immediately applied for the 4 + 1 master’s program in public health.”

As graduation approached, another unexpected career opportunity arose.

Into the unknown

Based on a suggestion by her public health professor, George Moran, she agreed to an interview with a health tech company, Synthesis Health Systems. It seemed like a longshot, but she hit it off with the company president (who is also a Northeastern professor) and he offered her a job despite her lack of formal tech training.

Basimike was hired to consult with health care companies that need technology systems to help them identify and develop strategies for working with clients who drive up healthcare costs by failing to comply with preventive health recommendations.

“I was petrified for the first six months,” she said. “It was a very steep learning curve, and I had to play catch-up on so many levels. I like to do things well or not do them at all.”

Her boss was extremely supportive, as was Moran, who “went from being my professor to being my mentor.”

After three months of training, she took on her first client.

‘Bet on Yourself’

The client needed help promoting a health care plan for fishermen, who known for their distrust of outsiders. So Basimike went to where the fishermen are, spending time along the waterfront of several New England seaports, learning why fisherman are so resistant to health insurance.

“It’s a generational profession,” she said. “They think they’re indestructible because they’ve made it, their father made it, and their grandfather made it. So why do they need health insurance?”

Since the barrier was distrust, the company hired fishermen’s wives and sisters—people who understand the seafaring culture—to serve as liaisons.

In spite of the challenges, Basimike considers her five years at Synthesis as a natural extension of her public health experiences at Bouvé.

“My job still involves improving access to health care, I’m just doing it through technology,” she said. “Everything I talk about on a daily basis mirrors what we talked about in class and the research we did in the Master’s in Public Health program: access, cost, and quality of care.”

Her advice to current students is to avoid the trap of viewing your field—and your education—narrowly.

“You need to be willing to bet on yourself,” she said. “Taking a shot at something new and uncomfortable may be the difference between finding a job you’re passionate about and settling for something that’s mediocre.”

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