Joel Arun Sursas

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Joel Arun Sursas. I am a Medical Doctor and Health Informatician. I currently head clinical affairs at Biorithm, a medical device startup that is looking to revolutionize fetal obstetric monitoring. We are in the midst of preparing our submission for the CE Mark, and I am intimately involved in the design and execution of our clinical trials in Singapore, Australia, and the United Kingdom. I’ve always been fascinated by technology and its applications in health!

What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?

Active listening is a skill that I picked up in my early adulthood. It has changed the way I have conversations and discussions in my daily life. Although it has its roots in healthcare communication, it has seen a resurgence in business and leadership as an integral determinant of personal development and success.

What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.

When I was a junior physician, I called for help too late. The pride of having recently graduated from medical school, combined with an overzealous can-do attitude, led to me getting in over my head in the management of a seizing patient. Thankfully I eventually did escalate the situation to a senior physician but was reprimanded for not calling for help sooner. After reflecting on this incident, I learned to put my patients’ needs above my hubris. I currently work in a startup, and we lean on each other frequently to chime in on nebulous stumbling blocks. There is no room for personal pride in team success.

Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?

I’m very excited about health IT. I think that healthcare is going to see significant changes, particularly in the way patient data is being handled and presented. Electronic medical records are still unwieldy and fragmented, and health data is not presented in a manner that is conducive to automated learning. Teleconsultations and telediagnostics will also change the way physicians conduct their practice. I foresee plenty of opportunities for health informaticians in the future; there is a need for skilled individuals to bridge the gap between the business-owners (healthcare professionals) and the solution-developers (engineers & implementation consultations).

What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

That coding is the most critical skill to have as a health informatician. With the bevy of massive-open-online-courses offered by Coursera, Khan Academy and the like, doctors are rushing to learn python and R. I fully acknowledge the utility of coding in that it enables effective communication with developers of its solutions and provides keen insight into the intricacies of data-related problems. However, I think that the “health” aspect of a health informatician deserves more attention. Health informaticians should first and foremost strive to remain relevant and up-to-date with clinical medicine. A deep understanding of clinical operations and an appreciation of up-to-date developments in the field is essential in achieving success in health informatics.

In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Junk food! As I approach the big 30, I am cognizant of my slowing metabolism. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and you are what you eat!

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi. This book was lent to me by my own boss, a man I’m very much inspired by. Paul Kalanithi eloquently and simply conveys the internal struggles of a dying man and succinctly communicates his thought processes at every stage. It is simply a beautiful piece of writing, and I read it from time to time in order to reframe my goals and remember what’s important.

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on” – Samuel Beckett.


I’m on LinkedIn, happy to connect!