Leaders in Medical Education: Dr. Faiq Shaikh, CEO of Crunchtimr Medical Solutions

Aug 18, 2015 by Thasin Jaigirdar

Dr. Faiq Shaikh is the CEO and President of Crunctimr, a medical software production company focused on developing innovative media e-learning, organizational, and workflow optimization tools. He received his Bachelors in Medicine at Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences. He completely a residency in nuclear medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently works as a molecular imaging physician. We are excited to be featuring him today in our Leaders in Medical Education Series.

How did you first become interested in medicine? Medical education?
For as long as I can remember, I have always drawn more towards computers and technology than anything else. Growing up in Pakistan, it was difficult to break the mold and choose something other than one of the conventional paths of medicine or engineering. And coming from a family of physicians, and having an interest in biological sciences, I chose the former.

In medical school, I developed an affinity for academics, finding myself involved in myriad educational activities, from moderating tutorial projects to conducting student counseling sessions. I knew then that I loved teaching and bringing minds together was the key to getting good things done.

Can you share your background on how you got to where you are right now?
After I graduated from med school, I moved to North Carolina, USA in 2006. Soon thereafter, I started a research fellowship in Cancer imaging (Thyroid cancer Nuclear imaging; Liver MRI) at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I loved being at a highly reputed, public Ivy institute, mentored by some of the best minds in medical imaging, learning research methodology and writing articles as well as a book chapter (on MRCP).

This was followed by a rigorous (and invigorating) Surgery Internship at New York Medical College, after which I returned to UNC for a three-year residency in Nuclear Medicine. While somewhat esoteric and small-niched, I found it intellectually stimulating the way it blends biochemistry and molecular biology with physics and (more importantly) technology.

I took a gap year from postgraduate training after residency and moved to Pittsburgh to start a biotech company (Crunchtimr) focusing on medical education and the way informatics was transforming it. While still young, it's been a beautiful marriage of my passions - education, technology and entrepreneurship.

I did return to clinical nuclear medicine by going to University of Iowa for a Molecular Imaging fellowship, which I just recently completed and moved back to Pittsburgh, where I now work in Imaging Informatics at UPMC. In addition, I work for a Cancer imaging teleradiology, and continue to work on various Crunchtimr-related projects as well.

How did you come up with the idea for CrunchTimr? What are your goals for the initiative within 1 year? Five years?
Throughout the years as a medical student as a young graduate studying for USMLE exams, I have believed that the best way to master a concept is by studying collaboratively and by learning through teaching. And in doing so, I started improvising to create innovative ways rendering medical education morselized and digestible. But it wasn't until I took time off after residency and started working with a friend on his startup that I figured that hey, I got something that I can use to make med-ed manageable and fun with the help of technology. So I teamed up with a young programmer at University of Waterloo and developed CKR (Clinical Knowledge Review).

While still working hard on CKR and adding intuitive feedback loops and a more interactive UI, I started working on Cr-I (Crunchtimr Informatics), which on a virtual platform for academic medical informatics. The idea was to have a place for creating original and curating relevant informatics-related content and making the experience richer by attracting smart minds in the field to join hands on various academic, research and entrepreneurial projects here at Cr-I. Executing that is the 1-yr plan and I am fortunate to have a team of brilliant informatics physicians from Dartmouth, University of Maryland and Hopkins. The 5-year plan for Cr-I is to develop it into a high-impact quality educational platform that promotes medical education and informatics through professional development and joint research projects. We are in the process of collaborating with major players in Radiology and Informatics education to make it, oh let's see, the Aunt Minnie of Informatics but with its own engine to crowdsource (and crowd fund) research.

On the CKR front, the 1-year plan is to release version 0.2 with CrO (Crunchtimr Organizer), a personal productivity and time management app for the medical student/doctor. The 5-year plan is to have it become an integral part of a larger, more holistic experience of having a virtual manager that caters to all academic needs of a med student.

What are 2-3 changes you would like to see in the current medical education system? Healthcare system?
Medical education needs to be innovated, not just digitalized. Yeah, many of us prefer an eBook version of the 2-volume leather-bound IM textbook, but I also want to be able to use technology to help you study smarter, allowing one to consume more material in a way that's faster, interesting and more effective.

Healthcare is an industry that's still behind the curve when it comes to technological innovation, but is now beginning to make strides; thanks to Informatics. That's exactly where we need more brain and bit power to overhaul the system through quality improvement, value quantification, and through efficient information dissemination and consumption.

Do you have any final thoughts regarding the medical profession as a whole?
We hear people in and outside the field of medicine complaining about how inefficient and broken the healthcare system is, and how cumbersome and oft unrewarding this profession has become, and while much of that is true, I for one, choose to focus on how I can fix that. No one is too weak, no idea too small, no tool out of reach if we can set our minds to the task. Start the journey, you'll be surprised how many will join you! There's no power like that of the collective gray matter!