2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Ajay Nair Sharma, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Ajay Nair Sharma

UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

“Data-driven, future dermatologist committed to implementing healthcare systems changes on local and national levels.”

Hometown: Elk Grove, California

Fun fact about yourself: I have worked as a medical artist for many years, publishing my work in various journals and textbooks, participating in multiple art shows and galleries, and placing many pieces on my mother’s fridge!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

UC Davis, Bachelors of Science (BS) (2016)

UC Irvine, Doctorate of Medicine (MD) (Expected 2021)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? UC Irvine Health, Medical Student

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? I completed my clinical rotations as part of my medical school requirements at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be pursuing my residency training in Dermatology (location to be determined after the National Resident Matching Program Outcomes in March 2021).

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work and Leadership Roles

  • Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Diary of a Med Student
  • Founder, difficile Risk Score Calculator
  • MD/MBA Class Representative, UC Irvine
  • Medical Student Body President, UC Irvine
  • President, Dermatology Interest Group, UC Irvine
  • Admissions Committee Executive Board Member, UC Irvine
  • Student Representative on Liaison Committee on Medical Education, UC Irvine
  • Lead Anatomy Instructor, UC Irvine
  • Director of Patient Education of the High-Risk Skin Cancer Clinic, UCI Health
  • Community Service Leader, Grandma’s House of Hope
  • Student Volunteer, Lestonnac Free Medical Clinic
  • Student Mentor, Guiding Hands Mentorship Program
  • Educational Instructor, Doctors 4 Diversity Program
  • Sports Medic, Southern California Special Olympics
  • Graduate Student Researcher, Department of Dermatology, UC Irvine
  • Graduate Student Researcher, Department of Cardiology, UC Davis
  • Medical Artist, StatPearls

Awards and Honors

  • (2020) Medical Education Leadership Award: for outstanding service ($10,000)
  • (2020) White Coat Ceremony Keynote Speaker (www.bit.ly/AjayUCIrvine)
  • (2020) Yale International Healthcare Case Competition Finalist: placed in the Top 10 among 50 schools worldwide
  • (2020) Center for Health Care Management and Policy Grant: for Yale Case Competition
  • (2019) Paul Merage School of Business Faculty Scholarship: for academic excellence and potential ($9,750)
  • (2019) Alpha Omega Alpha (Junior AOA)
  • (2019) Gold Humanism Honors Society
  • (2019) Stu8dent Government Leader of the Year
  • (2019) SGIM Regional Conference, 1st place poster (www.cdiffcalc.com)
  • (2019) ACP Regional Meeting, 3rd place poster (www.cdiffcalc.com)
  • (2018) 1st Rank in Immunology Award
  • (2017) Student Government Leader of the Year
  • (2017) 1st Rank in Anatomy Award ($1,000)
  • (2017) Dean’s Summer Research Scholarship ($2,000)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In business school, taking classes such as Understanding Risk in Healthcare and The Business of Medicine exposed me to the many of the aspects of healthcare delivery we are not taught in medical school – operations, supply chain, management. These lessons enabled innovating solutions to help undeserved patients I would see at weekly free continuity clinics. Many of these patients were homeless, living on the streets I drove past every week on the way to work.

On a personal level, seeing these patients during clinic broke my heart; homelessness perpetuated the community I had called home for the past five years. Professionally, the lack of housing options limited my ability as a healthcare provider to offer adherable diagnostic, therapeutic, or follow-up recommendations. These systematic barriers to care really challenged my concept of what it meant to be a medical student, and now as a business student, I was inspired to do something more.

At this time, I was also serving as President of the Medical Student Body. I recognized the great potential of our students to meaningfully contribute to our community, and I pioneered partnerships with local nonprofit organizations that provided housing support to those in poverty. These homes would directly serve the populations I saw in clinic, providing access to shelter, food, and job resources. We have since helped build multiple homes for these invisible populations and I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish for our community. We by no means have “cured” homeless in Orange County, but we have made a difference, and I think that is what has inspired me to continue fighting for my patients and think big for the challenges I will inevitably face in my future career.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Over the span of the pandemic, I co-created and published Diary of a Med Student, a book compiling 100+ stories from medical students across 50+ schools (www.diaryofamedstudent.com). In a year as eventful as 2020, one plagued by COVID-19, social injustice, and economic insecurity, I sought to create a safe space promoting therapeutic reflection in medical school. The medical student experience is often unimaginable, yet too seldom after these experiences do we reflect on our own feelings, letting them passively shape us until they implode as burnout or resentment. Our book captured what it meant to be a medical student, not just from our school, but from all schools.

Since our release, I have been truly humbled by the overwhelming support from the medical community. We have sold thousands of copies on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and have received hundreds of heartfelt testimonials from students who have resonated with specific stories we published. We have even had famous names in medicine, including physician author Dr. Abraham Verghese, support the book with words of praise.

Perhaps what I am most proud of, however, is that we are donating 100% of our proceeds to an annual scholarship fund for incoming and current medical students. In addition, we are transitioning DOAMS into a nonprofit organization so that we can continue to promote medical student wellness with ventures that extend far beyond a single book.

Why did you choose this business school? The Paul Merage School of Business was the perfect fit for my goals of becoming a physician fighting against inequities to care. It truly values the diversity of expertise among its faculty and classes, and the cross-pollination of ideas between different fields – healthcare, finance, management, to name a few – ensured that I would not only be a more well-rounded student, but a more effective future doctor. Simultaneously, my fellow classmates personified this variety in expertise, and I have learned so much during case competitions, noon conferences, and engaging after-class discussions with my peers.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have been humbled to learn from so many incredible professors, but one who stands out is Professor Christobel Selecky. Professor Selecky is a chief executive and board member with more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She has led ventures in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors and taught an incredible class on entrepreneurship in healthcare. Her impressive sphere of influence allowed for guest speakers of all areas of healthcare and medicine, and I was exposed to many patient-focused industries I did not learn about in medical school. More personally, Professor Selecky never hesitated to answer my questions about DOAMS and how to publish a book, create a marketing strategy, and form a nonprofit organization. Professors like her are why I came to business school and why I have been so pleased at Paul Merage.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Undoubtedly, my favorite MBA event was presenting at a Healthcare Case Competition at Yale University. The process of creating our proposal – on how to take a novel gene therapy to market – taught me more about healthcare operations, valuation, and delivery than any of my previous classes. Bouncing complex ideas off my teammates and mentors allowed me to identify gaps in my knowledge and push myself to seek contacts in industry to create a more comprehensive launch strategy. My experience at Yale itself was transformative as well; I was immersed in an environment with other brilliant individuals who were committed to healthcare innovation. Quite simply, I left Yale unbelievably inspired.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I have truly loved my MBA experience, and am blessed to have formed so many incredible memories, progressing through business school with few regrets. If I could do anything differently, it would be to become more immersed in the activities outside my classes: participate in more case competitions, attend more conferences outside my particular field of study, and connect with more individuals from other graduate programs. I think the greatest part about business school are the people who we can learn from, and prioritizing those relationships (perhaps over studying for a weekly quiz!) would have only enhanced my already positive experience.

What is the biggest myth about your school? At first, entering a class of only ~50 students was slightly concerning. I felt it would be difficult to connect with those from different backgrounds and gain exposure to professional opportunities. I could not be more mistaken! Our community grew incredibly tight-knit very quickly, and I was able to get to know each of my classmates as not only students, but also people. They are some of my best friends, and I know our relationships will extend both professionally and personally. Similarly, our alumni network and faculty prioritized our individual career developments, and I think this type of one-on-one attention would not have been possible with a larger class size.

What surprised you the most about business school? Seemingly every class and concept can be immediately related to current situations in your life. Struggling with how to manage your group members for a project due for your Accounting class? Try applying the concepts from your recent Organizational Behavior Lecture. Curious as to how best to pay off your student loans? The importance of the time value of money taught in your Finance class can provide a starting point. In business school, the applicability and breadth of what we were taught was empowering; I felt more prepared to tackle complex challenges and questions than ever before.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Business school is where many find their purpose, though I think it is always advantageous to enter the application cycle with a vision of who you want to become. There is a tremendous concentration of resources here at Paul Merage, and outlining how you want to leverage these opportunities will make you stand out as someone who will make a meaningful difference in society. Even if your plans change, don’t worry! Your words are not binding, and it is the process of showing how you fit in, rather than the actual fit you describe, that will give you an edge in your application.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have incredible admiration for my classmates in business school, especially those who have found balance in their personal and professional lives. It is so hard to pick one among those at Paul Merage, but two stand out as particularly influential. Frank Sun, a marketing specialist who always goes above and beyond for his friends, has shown me what it means to be loyal and dedicated to the projects you are passionate about. Similarly, Daniel Azzam, a fellow MD/MBA student whose competence as a business student is surpassed only by his freestyle soccer skills, has taught me the importance of balance in an increasingly busy world. I am immensely blessed to know both of these individuals – they have pushed me every day to be a better person.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Paul Merage’s mantra prophetically encapsulates how it was well suited for a shift to an online environment: Leadership for a Digitally Driven World. Almost immediately after quarantine discussions began on the governmental level, our business school administration gave us the option of remote learning, and professors very flexibly offered online resources as we navigated the early stages of the pandemic. Of course, aspects were disruptive: group projects were not the same, participation often felt awkward, and online fatigue was a real issue. Nevertheless, Paul Merage adapted admirably, and our deans and directors made sure to check on us regularly so that we would feel supported and still part of the UCI family, even if we were miles away!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother has an MBA degree, and many of the lessons she instilled in me growing up (ex: how to negotiate with my brothers, how to optimize my bike ride to school) she attributed to her business school training. These tenants were seamlessly integrated into my childhood, so it was not until halfway through medical school when I decided to study business formally myself.

Coming from an untraditional background, I decided to earn my MBA motivated by the need to make a difference for my patients and make a larger impact in healthcare as a whole. With modern medicine undergoing such complex changes, my MD/MBA dual degree will train me well to understand the operational side of medicine through my specialization in Healthcare Management and Policy.

My particular interest lies in dermatologic care delivery and bioinformatics, and taking classes such as biostatistics, epidemiology, and decision analysis will allow me to lead projects in cancer treatment, patient education, and risk score calculations. By recognizing the potential of data science to transform medicine on a hospital-level scale, I hope to not only change the lives of those I see in-person, but also to implement changes to affect all the patients I don’t see as well.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Fully transition Diary of a Med Student into a nonprofit organization that will promote ventures improving wellness among students, physicians, and physicians-in-training.
  2. Become a clinically competent, empathetic dermatologist who will implement operational changes in healthcare as a whole.

What made Ajay such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“I have known Ajay for the past five years as he has completed UC Irvine’s MD/MBA program, and I have seen him transform into a gifted, personable, and empathetic clinician, while still maintaining the phenomenal academic drive he displayed when we first met. His extensive research record, clinical commitment, and sustained leadership involvements comprise a combination of qualities rarely seen in graduate students, let alone physicians. Ajay truly has it all, and is without doubt one of the finest students ever produced by our institution.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Ajay has been his commitment to leadership across campuses. He has been president of his medical school class for his first three years and served a one-year term as the president of the entire medical school. Simultaneously, he is the Class Representative of his MD/MBA program. In these roles, Ajay has not sat idle: he has spoken at the White Coat Ceremony, won numerous service awards, and helped mentor many in the pursuit of a dual degree. The partnerships he fostered that I find particularly remarkable are those with nonprofit organizations helping build homes for the underserved in Orange County. Not only does he volunteer himself, Ajay has set up a pipeline for UCI students to continue to serve for many years after he graduates. Ajay is always raising the bar, pushing his programs further to expand their reach, and I am certain he will be a future leader in advancing healthcare with his data-driven, quality-focused approach.

In essence, Ajay is unquestionably among the very best students ever to come from UC Irvine. He is trailblazer who embodies the qualities of a “Best & Brightest,” and just as he has stood out in the Class of 2021, he will stand out as someone you are proud to have named in your list this year. I unequivocally provide my highest recommendation to Mr. Ajay Nair Sharma.”

Kyle Paredes, MD MBA
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
MD/MBA Program Director
Associate Clinical Professor
Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care
UC Irvine Health



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