Owen Garrick (MD ’98): Precision Medicine and Health Disparities

Growing up in a majority Black and minority neighborhood, Owen Garrick (MD ’98, MBA) had always been aware of the health disparities that disproportionately affects minority communities. When he began college, Garrick began to deepen his interest in medicine, in hopes that he would play a role in addressing these disparities. As Garrick continued exploring the intersections between medicine, public health, and business, he began exploring different avenues to make healthcare more equitable, merging his diverse interests to make a difference for his family and community in their access to quality healthcare. 

Fascinated by people and social sciences, Garrick majored in psychology at Princeton. Although he describes his undergraduate experience as typically pre-med, it is clear that he diverged from the traditional route. During these years, he began to develop a broad interest in the business side of healthcare, gravitating toward summer analyst positions outside traditional research and clinical experiences. After college, Garrick opted to take two gap years to work as a financial analyst in New York City and then at his cousin’s construction company while living in the Caribbean. 

It wasn’t until medical school when Garrick’s interest in business became more central to his medical career. Between his first and second year at the Yale School of Medicine, Garrick found an intersection between medicine and business as an intern at Merck in the Vaccine Division, where he helped write the first commercial analysis for the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. As Garrick met doctors who were working on marketing strategies for pharmaceutical companies, he started seeing a clearer path for himself. “Help launch a drug that cures two million people, right? That’s the inflection point I had in terms of my career, away from clinical practice more toward the business side of healthcare,” Garrick said. “It made me realize that I can do something a little different and still make an impact on healthcare.” 

At the time, medicine and business functioned relatively independently of one another. Although Garrick met physicians at Merck who worked on marketing and business, he said very few had both an MD and an MBA. Garrick would attend events at the Yale School of Management before the combined MD/MBA program existed. But this did not stop Garrick from pursuing his passion for utilizing business to impact healthcare. When asked about the difficulties that pursuing this path entailed, Garrick responded simply, “I just decided, I’m going to make this work.”

Today, Garrick has struck a balance between his interests in medicine, business, and public health while staying true to his original goals. He dedicates his time to bridging health disparities among underserved ethnic and racial groups through his work with Stanford Precision Health for Ethnic and Racial Equity Center (SPHERE) and as CEO of Bridge Clinical Research, a contract research organization that specializes in research and development in a variety of therapeutic areas. 

Recently, Garrick has launched a collaboration between Bridge Clinical Research and SPHERE, which is one of five National Institutes of Health centers focused on using precision-medicine to address health concerns specific to underserved racial and ethnic groups. Recognizing that health disparities that affect certain racial and ethnic groups result from environmental as well as genetic differences, the study focuses on the enrollment of sickle cell disease patients in precision health research, as well as the effects of the race of the physician on a patient’s view on the research. 

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a hereditary blood disorder that primarily affects populations in Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. When groups uniquely being affected by a disorder such as SCD are not participating in precision health research, it negatively impacts the potential of new treatment options and innovations. The study hopes to address the issue of historical underrepresentation of demographic groups in clinical and biomedical research. Through merging his interest in business and passion for bridging healthcare disparities, Garrick has become a leader in cutting-edge research that brings to light systematic barriers in biomedical research today. 

Garrick believes in the importance of taking initiative to explore new avenues in hopes of addressing the problems he is passionate about. “If you see something wrong in the world, or missing in the world, the opportunity to create the solution is really, really fascinating, right?” Garrick said. “It’s fun, it’s fulfilling. And you might fail at it a few times, but you have to get comfortable with to failing, and learn how to fail fast. The successes will come.”