Taking the Road Less Traveled

Pranav Mukund discusses Dr. Mark McClellan's inspiring career choices, emphasizing the importance of taking unconventional paths and seeking diverse opportunities in healthcare.

As living entities, we are often blessed with universe-altering moments; these moments give humans our characteristic autonomy and are the foundational basis of so-called “parallel universes”. More colloquially, they are simply known as choices. When we find ourselves at a fork in the road, we often take the path that is well-paved, adorned with signs, and most importantly, seems to reach a relevant destination. When do we choose the path less traveled, and how do we react when that path hasn’t been paved yet?

In his talk, Dr. Mark McClellan, Director of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, told the story of a young man who was thrust out on the road less traveled, and as a result, reached horizons far beyond anything he could have conceived. Shortly after starting his Ph.D. as part of his M.D./Ph.D. at Harvard and MIT, he was asked by his advisors to reconsider his decision to pursue neuroscience, a field that was glimmering with hope and bubbling with potential. It was at this moment that Dr. McClellan stepped off the Route 66 of medicine, realizing that his true interests lay somewhere else. Deeply enamored by the economic drivers of health inequity and access to medication, Dr. McClellan plunged headfirst into the novel, rapidly evolving field of health economics. When describing his choice to pursue a Ph.D. in economics, a field that is not usually paired with medicine, his advice to us was this: “Don’t be afraid to do things differently- just make sure to ask others for advice.”

“His optimism for the future of healthcare is infectious and he urged us to 1) imagine what healthcare should look like in 5-10 years and 2) go make that vision a reality.”

lefkowitz with congrats chalkboard in the back

Dr. McClellan would later go on to serve as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2001 and 2004, where he implemented reforms to enhance drug safety and regulatory efficiency. Dr. McClellan then assumed the role of administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from 2004 to 2006. Interestingly, Dr. McClellan mentioned that both of these opportunities came to fruition at a time when he wasn’t particularly interested in a career in government service but was rather just following a trail of interesting questions that needed answers. This anecdote served as a reminder that there is no “formula” to reaching a certain professional goal or career. Instead, if one stays true to the reasons that they initially chose to pursue that subject, interesting opportunities make themselves readily available.

While Dr. McClellan no longer sees patients, his love for medicine shines through his work as Director of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. His optimism for the future of healthcare is infectious and he urged us to 1) imagine what healthcare should look like in 5-10 years and 2) go make that vision a reality. Lastly, Dr. McClellan’s undying curiosity and willingness to tackle medical problems from an economical or policy-based angle serve as reminders to be open to diverse educational experiences, as they can broaden our horizons and provide a foundation for our future endeavors. In contemplating the remarkable career and impactful choices of Dr. Mark McClellan, one cannot help but be reminded of the last few lines from Robert Frost’s renowned poem, “The Road Not Taken”: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”


Pranav Mukund, Huang Fellow ’26

Dev ShahPranav Mukund is a first-year student from Dallas, Texas, intending to major in biomedical engineering with a certificate in health policy.