With valuable experiential learning and a graduate degree under her belt, bioengineer and Rhodes Pakistan finalist Maryam Khan ’19 ’20G is working toward making medicines more available and affordable to those in need

Maryam Khan has a bold vision: She wants every person to have access to adequate medical care, regardless of their socioeconomic status or the country they call home.
 
It’s an issue that has always concerned the bioengineer.
 
“Growing up, I saw the huge disparities in health care,” she says. “When I visited my grandmother in Pakistan, I would play with the children of her household help. I felt so guilty that they couldn’t access what I could.”
 
Khan got a closer look at the issue when she became a UN Youth Representative during her sophomore year through the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership. Khan represented CLAN—Caring and Living as Neighbours—an Australian NGO that helps children with chronic health conditions in resource-poor countries enjoy a quality of life on par with that of children in wealthier countries. In addition to serving as a voice for CLAN at the UN, Khan helped out at their offices in Karachi, Pakistan, during her school breaks.
 
Khan says that being a Youth Representative showed her what she could do with her education. She saw the impact she could have on people who needed help, and she learned how to hold her own with ambassadors, diplomats, and other leaders. In addition to the work she did with CLAN in Pakistan, she provided the organization with working frameworks that other NGOs used successfully, helped coordinate funding efforts and served as their voice on the UN platform. She even had a chance to speak before the UN General Assembly.
 
But her experience as a Youth Rep also showed her the complexities of delivering health care in developing countries.
 
“I realized I needed to know statistics, and understand the financial aspects of health care and the social implications of different approaches,” she says. She added minors in computer science and economics to her bioengineering major, and she sought out more real-world experiences. She spent a summer in Ireland working as a lab intern through the Iacocca International Internship Program, and she interned at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
 
Eventually, Lehigh’s Office of Fellowship Advising approached Khan, who was already pursuing an MS in bioengineering, about applying for a Rhodes scholarship, which funds graduate study at Oxford University. 
 
“In Pakistan, different parts of the health care system are not connected, and the lack of collaboration leads to poor outcomes for people. I decided to apply for the Rhodes scholarship to study epidemiology. I wanted study the social factors that contribute to the spread of disease, especially polio—Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is still endemic—and to learn how I could change health policy.”
 
Khan was a finalist for the Rhodes, and while she ultimately did not receive the scholarship, she says the process itself was rewarding.
 
“It was incredible to exchange ideas with these people and ask: Do my ideas make sense? Do you think this is possible?” she says. “They told me to go for it—I might not get there, but it’s worth pursuing. It was such a privilege and it validated the years I put into my education.”
 
For now, Khan is returning to her plans to use data science to make the process of developing new drugs more efficient, ultimately making medicines more affordable and accessible to those in need. Her next step is working in a rotation program at AstraZeneca that includes postings in data science, cyber security, and laboratory research. It’s yet another opportunity to gain the sort of knowledge that will help her reach her ultimate goal.
 
“The corporate experience in the pharmaceutical industry will help me get familiar with the process of working with NGOs to distribute medicine in developing countries,” she says.
 
“I’m still invested in doing something for Pakistan. I am going to do what I can to give back to my country and help people access the care they need.”
 
Read the full story on the Lehigh University Office of International Affairs website. 
 
Story by Emily Groff