Checking in With UAB’s First Rhodes Scholar

When UAB engineering student Neelaksh “Neel” Varshney won the university’s first Rhodes scholarship in 2000, his goal was to become a neuroscientist. But as he studied neuroscience and mathematical modeling at Oxford University, and then went on to medical school at Harvard and MIT, Varshney found himself attracted to a problem every bit as intriguing as the mind: the modern health-care system.

“I got curious about how the whole system works,” says Varshney, who today works in Chicago at Linden Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused on health care. I was interested in broad questions about health care—for example, how medical devices are designed, manufactured, and then adopted by physicians and patients. I wanted to understand and influence how health-care services are delivered—in other words, the whole value chain of health care.”

So after graduating from Harvard Medical School and finishing his internal medicine internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Varshney made the move to the business side of health care. He took a position at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he worked with international health-care companies and policy makers, “helping them solve their core business and organizational problems,” he says.

Now, at Linden, Varshney’s focus is investing in and guiding small- to mid-size health-care companies to growth—including health-care providers, device manufacturers, and more. “We buy the companies, work closely with their leadership teams, and help support their growth as contributors to the health-care system,” he says.

Varshney, a Huntsville native, says the “deep technical expertise” he acquired during his Rhodes years is useful in his current position, but “what I got from the experience was much deeper,” starting with the opportunity to live abroad. “The most engaging aspect was being with a diverse group of people with diverse talents,” he says. “It was enriching to share this experience with people whose future impact will be in politics, medicine, research, business, or otherwise—my fellow Rhodes scholars from the United States and elsewhere, and also the other students at Oxford.”

In his two years at Oxford, Varshney was also able to make trips around Europe, to North Africa, and to Asia that also expanded his horizons, he says. The Rhodes experience taught him to “appreciate the people who have created great opportunities for me,” Varshney says.

His advice to any UAB undergraduates considering the Rhodes? “Just go for it,” he says. “It’s all upside. Applying for these fellowships makes you reflect deeply on your UAB experience, and how you plan to achieve your life goals, though they may change. Whether you ultimately win or not, the applications themselves will help shape your story and the impact you have. And you will find encouragement along the way. UAB is a place that supports your aspirations at all levels. That was certainly true in my case.”

—Matt Windsor

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