Executive Leadership

The Future of Healthcare Hinges on Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today
Marwan Fathallah
Global Chief Executive, DIA

hat if you could witness the power of science firsthand?

Imagine the case of Maria, an adolescent girl who takes the stage in front of a crowd full of high school, college, and postgraduate students. Just months ago, she was confronting mortality head-on, her body weakened by leukemia. Now, having no remaining evidence of disease, she shares her extraordinary journey.

Maria vividly recounts the all-consuming fear of her cancer treatment, including the radiation that left her body frail and her spirit shaken. She expresses what it was like to take her first steps without an IV pole and beams excitedly while recounting when her appetite returned. Then Maria gestures to the pediatric oncologists and the scientists who develop treatments like hers sitting behind her. “People like you gave me back my future,” she tells them. Then, looking toward the audience, she says, “You could be sitting with them one day.”

The crowd is buzzing as Maria leaves the stage. Students, newly aware of the lives waiting to be saved, pepper the professionals with rapid-fire questions—not just about their education and training but about the real-world implications of their work.

These types of conversations, with substantial exposure to the applications and impacts of a career in life sciences, don’t happen nearly as regularly as they should. It’s why DIA is making a push to connect the leaders of today with the leaders of tomorrow.

There’s a genuine need to educate young people on the opportunities beyond studying a molecule and learning an equation in a classroom. We want to ignite their passion, which we’ll do by exposing the next generation to the many dimensions of science and medicine.

These introductions are crucial, primarily because there’s such a demand for young people to pursue these careers. In the United States, employment in STEM fields is predicted to rise at more than twice the rate (10.8%) of overall employment (5.3%) through 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the US Census Bureau found during its 2019 American Community Survey that only 28% of STEM-educated workers hold a job in those fields.

It’s not as if young people aren’t interested. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that American colleges and universities continue to issue a high frequency of degrees in the life sciences and healthcare. As of 2020-21, bachelor’s degrees had been issued in “health professions and related programs” more than twice as often as nearly every other field of study over the previous 10 years. They accounted for 13% of all bachelor’s degrees issued that year alone.

Meanwhile, more than 20% of tertiary education graduates in countries such as France, Germany, India, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom received STEM degrees in 2022, according to UNESCO data compiled by the World Economic Forum. In the UK, 47% of respondents to one survey who are 30 or younger would consider working in a STEM-related field, even though only approximately 8.5% of the workforce does. And in Japan, where 35% of tertiary education students are studying STEM disciplines, the government wants to boost that to 50%.

Yet we’re still seeing considerable shortages in the number of registered nurses, primary care physicians, biomedical technicians, and data science experts, among many other occupations, because of an aging population that requires additional care, an older workforce reaching retirement age, and high turnover and burnout rates. These obstacles aren’t limited to the US; they’re appearing in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere around the world.

As a global organization, DIA is in a unique position of being able to affect change. With meetings, events, and conferences held year-round, we routinely bring stakeholders from industry, government, academia, and nongovernmental organizations together under one roof—and incorporate the patient and student perspectives as well—through initiatives such as:

DIA Patient Bureau: DIA will be working with patient advocates to ensure we are highlighting the patient voice in a more personal and systematic way across our organization.

DIA Leaders of Tomorrow: DIA is seeking to expand our membership and chapter programs into external academic programs, to provide travel stipends for students and other emerging professionals to participate and engage in DIA offerings, to expand our Career Circles professional mentorship program, and to develop regulatory education “exposure programs” in coordination with FDA and other global regulatory bodies.

If you or your organization is interested in joining these efforts to expand our Patient Bureau or Leaders of Tomorrow, please contact us at partnerinquiries@DIAglobal.org. We are actively seeking sponsorship partners who will help fund these important initiatives.

There’s a place for everybody in the healthcare ecosystem, which is why we see ourselves as the catalyst for developing the leaders of tomorrow. If we expose students to the humanity and compassion that science and medicine make possible each day, bringing them face-to-face with their futures, we’ll empower them to fulfill their calling rather than just finding a career.

Consider a world where diseases such as leukemia become manageable—or even curable. One where patients have access to quality, compassionate care no matter who they are or where they live, and where people have longer, healthier lives thanks to scientific breakthroughs.

The students of today have the power to turn this future into reality. Wherever their passions lie, we’ll prepare them to change lives—much like the generation before them did for Maria.