With a background in medicine and bioengineering, Tom McCartan took an MBA to prepare himself for entrepreneurship in the healthcare sector and says that lessons from a course on the psychology of negotiation became an invaluable asset in his leadership toolkit
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career to date?
After completing my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I got some clinical experience, then pivoted towards the integration of healthcare and technology. This was reflected in my three-year role at the Royal College of Surgeons, where I worked on smart inhaler early-detection systems that predict and prevent severe asthma attacks using machine learning.
As the CEO of Nazata Bio, I’m now leading the development of a digital therapeutic for hypertension (the number one risk factor for death worldwide and the main cause of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure), drawing on my medical, research and leadership experiences to make a tangible difference in public health.
Can you explain what your current role involves?
As well as leading development, my current role encompasses strategy, fundraising, team building and talking to users. We are on a mission to encapsulate the expertise of dietitians, clinical exercise specialists and behavioural scientists into a smartphone application that provides personalised patient care via machine learning – something which is especially crucial in the face of global healthcare challenges.
Studies have shown that structured diet and exercise interventions are effective in reducing high blood pressure. However, the condition affects a third of adults, so patients do not get this support. This is because there simply aren’t enough dietitians, never mind clinical exercise specialists, to address this need. We are building a digital, scalable system to provide this support for patients.
Where and when did you achieve your MBA?
Trinity Business School in 2020/21.
Why did you want to study for an MBA? And why did you choose to do an MBA at Trinity?
I wanted to complement my medical and bioengineering background with robust business acumen. Trinity was a natural choice, having been my alma mater. It was a place that had already fostered my growth and I had confidence in the teaching. It also helped that I had a full scholarship. The MBA was the keystone to prepare myself for entrepreneurship in the healthcare sector.
What is the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?
The most compelling lesson was from David Venter’s negotiation course. It offered profound insight into the psychology of negotiation – understanding value from the perspective of all parties involved, which has since become an invaluable asset in my leadership toolkit.
What were some of the challenges you faced when studying for an MBA?
The pandemic presented tough challenges, overlapping my clinical duties with MBA studies, since I had been working in respiratory medicine. I intended to commit fully to the MBA, but this wasn’t feasible when I started and I was juggling clinical/research work with studies for the first couple months of the programme, until things calmed down. Balancing pandemic healthcare work with academic work was intense, but Trinity Business School was very accommodating and I managed to keep my commitment to both.
How has the MBA made a difference to your career path and leadership journey?
The MBA gave me a rounded skillset in a large number of fields. You’re not an expert in any of these at the end, but you have the ability to identify an expert and make a hire that can be the difference between life and death for an early-stage startup.
In what interesting ways have you taken what you have learnt in your MBA into the organisation for which you work?
I often fill out the negotiation templates from the MBA to think like the other party, even when it’s for something like a grant application, rather than a negotiation. I find it really helps you to find how to provide value for the other party, without sacrificing much yourself. This allows us to maximise our chances of success without compromising our mission.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about studying for an MBA?
Forge strong relationships with peers. Throughout the MBA, you’ll meet brilliant people who are highly skilled in their own fields and can become great friends and advisors. Being able to call those people for advice in their area of expertise [in the years after your graduation] is a massive advantage.
What are the next steps for you on your career journey?
My immediate focus is on the clinical study we are preparing for in 2024. This involves refining our digital therapeutic and designing a robust study to demonstrate its efficacy in managing hypertension and ultimately, show how much it can benefit patients.