Sarina Madhavan '17

Program II Profile: Medicine in the Genomic Era
Hometown: Houston, TX

What is your PII about?
The genome sciences lie at the nexus of several disciplines, including scientific research, ethics, policy, and identity. It helps me answer questions like “What is precision medicine? What does it mean for people? In what ways does it address (and fail to address) complex disease? How do we best integrate it?” Because genomics is only one piece of the complex human health puzzle, my Program II has led me to explore a wide variety of topics beyond genome sciences, including patient autonomy, shared decision-making, scientific language, behavioral economics, and public statistical literacy.

Who are your PII mentors?
Professors Misha Angrist and Charmaine Royal

What doors have been opened to you thanks to PII?
Being a Program II'er means I'll always have a longwinded answer to the question "What's your major?" but it has also sparked all sorts of interesting conversations — during everything from competitive interviews to cab rides. Recently, a professor at MD Anderson cancer hospital agreed to have me on her team because my Program II ideas were so well aligned with her research.

What inspired you to pursue Program II?
The questions I wanted to answer about the genome sciences -- like, "why do people react to their 23AndMe results this way?" and "how will Medicaid and Medicare pay for Precision Medicine?" -- didn't fit naturally into any one discipline. Aware of my interdisciplinary academic interests at the intersection of science and society, my professors pointed me to Program II. As my interests evolved into even more niche topics and I learned more about Program II, I found it exciting that I could build my own intellectual playground.

What was your greatest challenge in designing your program?
Given my breadth of interests, I had trouble narrowing down my core course list. There are so many great classes to take at Duke, so I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop when looking through the course catalogue. However, I had to force myself to critically think about the use and function of each class and how it answered my thematic questions. Imagine, going to a candy shop that has thousands of sweets, but taking only 18 pieces home!

How did Program II factor into your post-graduation plans?
After graduation, I'm interested in pursuing a career as a physician scientist. I specifically want to understand and treat complex disease, like cancers, Type II diabetes, and heart disease. So, my program has laid a great foundation for my future work.