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Apurv Soni, ‘29 Who Shine’ honoree, focused on health equity in U.S. and abroad

Massachusetts recognizes UMass Medical School MD/PhD candidate for outstanding service

By Sandra Gray and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

mayo 07, 2021

The Massachusetts Department of Education has named MD/PhD candidate Apurv Soni the UMass Medical School “29 Who Shine” honoree for 2021. Soni will be recognized by Gov. Charlie Baker for his exceptional commitment to community service and outstanding academic achievement at the 10th 29 Who Shine recognition ceremony being held virtually on Thursday, May 13, at 2 p.m.

“It is a great honor to be recognized for this award, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the shoulders I stand on,” said Soni. “This recognition could not be achieved without my mentors who have trained me; the clinical staff at UMass Memorial Medical Center, who were on the frontlines and allowed me to join them during the pandemic surge; and our collaborators and research staff in India, who inspire me with the perseverance despite the difficult circumstances.”

The 29 Who Shine program recognizes one student from each of the public institutions of higher education in Massachusetts who has made an outstanding civic contribution to the state and intends to remain in the commonwealth. Soni was nominated by Mary Ellen Lane, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, most notably for his outstanding and impactful contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While Apurv has been actively engaged in service throughout his studies, during the early days of the COVID pandemic he made a unique and life-saving contribution to the community,” said Dr. Lane. “While on a pause from clinical clerkships during that time, he answered a call to action by one of his mentors to utilize his doctoral training in biostatistics to create a predictive algorithm for a COVID-19 risk prediction tool.”

Under the leadership of David McManus, MD, the Richard M. Haidack Professor of Medicine, chair and professor of medicine, Soni developed the Decompensation Electronic COVID Observational Monitoring Platform Triage. The digital tool helped clinicians identify which COVID-19 patients could safely receive care in a field hospital, and which ones were at highest risk of rapid deterioration and, thus, should be transferred to a regular hospital with an intensive care unit.

Within weeks, Soni coordinated a team of 50 fellow medical students in a crowd-sourced data curation effort that informed the predictive algorithm. He worked with a team of physicians, case managers and technology analysts to develop and deploy the algorithm within EPIC, the electronic medical records system for the UMass Memorial Health system.

“That experience emphasized for me how impactful it is when the research that we do informs clinical practice,” he said. “It was transformative to merge my research skillset in biostatistics and epidemiology with my clinical training in real time.”

Focused on helping to reduce health care disparities here and in his native India, Soni co-founded the Research and Advocacy for Health in India initiative at UMass Medical School in 2013 as a first-year medical student. The partnership between UMMS and Charutar Arogya Mandal, a charitable trust that operates a hospital, medical school and nursing school in Gujarat, India, promotes the health of people in Gujarat through service, learning and research by students, residents, scientists and other health professionals. Its acronym—RAHI—is the Hindi word for “pathfinder.”

The health disparities research Soni has conducted for his PhD in the lab of Jeroan Allison, MD, chair and professor of population & quantitative health sciences, has likewise reached from Massachusetts to India. One project used digital smartphone platforms to bring screenings for atrial fibrillation, which heightens risk of stroke, to underserved rural areas in India, where stroke is epidemic. Parallel studies undertaken at UMass Memorial Medical Center have shown promise for improving preventive care, with cardiovascular disease patients reporting favorable views on being able to monitor and report their cardiac arrythmia symptoms from home.

His dissertation work focused on understanding child undernutrition in India using nationally representative data from 1992 to 2016 and this work was recognized at the 2019 Consortium of Universities for Global Health conference for evaluating effectiveness of India’s National Health Mission and developing a tool to identify newborns at risk of child undernutrition.

After Soni receives his MD and PhD degrees at the 48th Commencement on Sunday, June 6, his first postgraduate job will build upon this body of work. Beginning July 1, he will be an assistant professor of medicine at UMass Medical School with a secondary appointment in population & quantitative health sciences. He will further assume a leadership role in the new UMMS Program in Digital Medicine, which was founded by Dr. McManus in 2020.

This year’s format for 29 Who Shine will permit the UMass Medical School community to attend the ceremony remotely. A link to the YouTube event will be posted on May 11 at: https://www.mass.edu/system/29whoshine.asp.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial create risk scoring tool to triage COVID-19 patients
Soni and Fahey honored by Consortium of Universities for Global Health for best student manuscript
MD/PhD student expanding research and advocacy for health care in India