In The Auricle’s March-April Edition, we share this profile of Ishka De Silva – medical student and President of the Monash Students Association (MSA).
For our January-February Edition, Co-Editor Jordi Shahab spoke to medical student and lifeguard Izzy Greer.
Tell me about yourself.
Hi, I’m Manoj. I’ve (thankfully) just finished Year 4C, and am about to go into my BMedSc year. Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in a few things within and outside of medicine. I was part of the MUMUS committee in 2nd and 3rd year, and during this time, was also trying to make the most of my time at uni by taking some risks and doing random things that would put me out of my comfort zone. Some of these things included joining a consulting club at Monash, being an ambassador for the Monash Generator Project, and participating in an accelerator, which is essentially an intensive start-up program. Over the last couple of years, I’ve also been running an education/online tutoring company with a couple of friends. I’m still doing this today, and it’s something that I’ve been having a lot of fun with!
Can you provide some insight into how you got involved in these different endeavours?
When I started uni, I decided to take first year as a pretty chill, experimental year to become accustomed to uni life, get a sense of the course and to make friends. I started to gain a bit of momentum in second year, being involved with MUMUS and volunteering with the RCD foundation. However, at a certain point, I just had a bit of an existential crisis about how I wanted to expand my experiences while I was young and had nothing to lose (except sleep!).
This is when I joined a consulting club at Monash. I had no idea what was happening, and I was surrounded by law and commerce students who had been studying their degrees for 3-4 years, but I just threw myself into it. I ended up having a lot of fun, and learnt a lot about a field that we’re not exposed to in medicine. It was a bit of a gateway drug, in that it opened me up to aspects of different industries that I hadn’t ever had experience with before. After that, I applied for a lot of similar committees and roles, and this gave me the opportunity to gain insight into the worlds of finance, corporations, law, politics, arts, technology, etc.
Things started to build when a friend and I decided to found a tutoring company. I also then went through the accelerator at Monash, which is essentially an intensive program where you’re provided mentoring and ten thousand dollars worth of funding for a start-up. I’ve still been working quite intimately with the team, and working on the company alongside (or instead of!) studying. That’s probably a brief overview and a highlight reel of how things started off. I didn’t ever expect things to turn out like this, but it’s definitely opened my eyes to outside the confines of the hospital.
What do you think was the most intoxicating part about being exposed to the world of business?
Initially, it was kind of instinctual; I just naturally gravitated towards it. I guess I realised that it was something I was really interested in when I was doing business-related work or research until the early hours of the morning, and it didn’t feel as if I was working. It was productive, but I was also having so much fun with it.
When I learnt more about it, I realised that commerce actually aligns with a lot of my values. Business is an area that can have some associated stigma in comparison to something like medicine, but I personally think it also has the potential to aid the world in so many different ways. It’s one of those industries that has a legacy. It doesn’t just focus on the moment, but on the future and thinking about what comes next. I like to think about the saying ‘we’re standing on the shoulders of giants’ when I think about business, technology or science. Every single time someone makes a scientific breakthrough or starts a new company, they become giants for future innovators. Medicine is more of a reactive field, where you’re dealing with problems faced in the moment. There’s tangibility and instant gratification when helping a patient. While I derive a lot of joy from helping patients in this way, my brain also prioritises long-term thinking, and I gravitate strongly towards this legacy effect.
How do you see the business and medicine sides of yourself meshing together, if at all?
I think it’s two-fold. Firstly, being in medicine has probably been one of the greatest experiences of my life. While I credit this largely to the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met, another big reason is that the skills I’ve learnt during my time in medicine have been surprisingly transferable to a lot of different contexts. For example, during my consulting job, I realised that instead of treating an individual, I was being asked to diagnose a problem and then treat a business. This, alongside critical thinking, empathy and problem solving, are definitely skills that are invaluable regardless of the industry.
Secondly, medicine is an area which is slowly developing. With enough impetus, it’s an industry that can change really quickly. Although our roles as future healthcare professionals won’t change too much, the entire field of medicine is undeniably being changed by technology, and I look forward to seeing how medicine will look in 40 years time. I think there’s a lot of potential for all the aforementioned industries – business, commerce, technology – to come together to improve medicine.
What’s something that people might not know is involved in starting a business?
At the end of the day, the most exciting and hardest part about starting a business isn’t just coming up with an idea, but more so the execution of that idea. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to have an idea, start it up, build it and make it successful. I think around 60% of businesses fail within the first three years of their formation, so the odds are definitely not in your favour. I think pursuing anything within business that isn’t a natural passion makes the entire process quite difficult, and it takes a lot out of you.
One of the most vital things when it comes to starting a business is something called product-market fit. It can be a complicated concept when fleshed out, but at it’s core, it’s about building and creating something that people want. In order to carve out your own niche, you need to provide a service that people are not just looking for, but willing to pay for. In some cases, it’s more straightforward, such as with our tutoring company. In other cases, especially when you’re starting up with new ideas that are left-of-field, it’s a little more difficult. Once you have an idea, it’s important to put it to the test – put something scrappy together and see if people respond well to it. It’s kind of what we did at the very start, and that’s something I’d consider to be one of the most crucial aspects of starting up a business.
Who do you admire and why?
Hmm…can I say Batman?
As long as you provide a justification for it!
Well, I think a generic answer would probably be to say Elon Musk or Bill Gates, and of course, these are people that I greatly admire. From my perspective, however, I relate a lot of core values back to the concept of Batman. I just read a book about why Batman is so cool, and I think the reason I look up to this fictional character is because when you think about it, he’s just a guy. Sure, he has the advantages of wealth and status, but besides that, he’s just a human being amongst a world where every other superhero has superhuman special abilities. I think Batman embodies the idea of someone making a tangible difference and becoming something greater than just themselves, and that’s what I admire. This translates to some of the great leaders and entrepreneurs – Barack Obama, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates. They’re regular people, but they’ve built a world they’d like to see.
What do you wish you’d known going into medicine?
I’d like to preface this answer by saying that I wouldn’t change any of the decisions that I made for anything in the world. What I would’ve liked to know, however, is what the day-to-day work would be like in medicine. As a high school student, a lot of the jobs that we’re exposed to are glamourised. There might be some students who chose medicine because of Grey’s Anatomy, for example, or some who chose law after watching Harvey Specter! Seeing the realistic day-in day-out of a job is important, because we’ll be in this job for the next 40 years or so. What’s been really cool to see though is that for a lot of the people in our cohort, they’ve arrived at the right career pathway and are extremely passionate about wanting to be good doctors, and that’s super inspiring.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
If I could see ten years into the future, I would buy a lot of stocks! Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to predict that I would be where I am today, so I have no idea of exactly where I’ll be in ten years. However, I’m definitely going down a path of a lot of discovery and exploration. I’m currently going through the process of figuring out what I enjoy, and what aligns with my values the most. Once I find that, that’s what I’ll be doing 10 years from now.