Columbia University Medical Center

P&S Class of 2017: Dane Saksa

Medicine has been a constant presence in the life of Dane Saksa, MD’17. “My dad had a kidney transplant before I was born, and I was in and out of hospitals all through my life and saw how the doctors had given him a second chance at life. I love science and math—so medicine was a natural fit for me.”

After high school, Dr. Saksa left his hometown of Wichita, Kan., to attend college at Stanford University, where he studied human biology and health policy. He stayed in California for two more years as a biology teaching fellow. When it came time to choose a medical school, he didn’t think he’d leave the West Coast, but P&S struck a chord with him during revisit weekend, particularly the character of the students and the palpable sense of community.

At P&S, his major clinical year reinvigorated his interest in health policy and health economics, and Dr. Saksa chose to pursue a dual MD/MBA degree. “Working in a big urban hospital I saw how big of a business health care is and how much could be improved,” he says. “Many doctors haven’t been trained to think about the systems-level issues, but I wanted to get more formal training in health care systems, quality, and reform.”

Dr. Saksa has already put his business training into practice as the clinic manager of the P&S student-run free clinics. He’d been volunteering with one of these, the Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership, for three years when he took the position to manage operational and financial issues for all four existing clinics and soon a fifth—the Q Clinic, for LGBTQ youth—that he helped launch. “Homeless LGBTQ youth, who are very fearful of the medical profession because they haven’t found acceptance, are now finding acceptance from med students who are a little more like their peers and a little more understanding. At the same time, med students are getting experience with patients that they wouldn’t otherwise see. I’m definitely proud of that.”

Dr. Saksa with Anna J. Podolanczuk, MD, in a skills class on catheter insertion.

Looking ahead, Dr. Saksa has chosen to pursue a residency in anesthesiology at UCLA. It’s a specialty he enjoys—“never a dull day”—and one he believes will position him to take on leadership roles in quality improvement and patient safety because of the interaction anesthesiologists have with other specialists.

With graduation approaching, Dr. Saksa is upbeat and enthusiastic despite the loss of his father a few months ago. “He was so ecstatic that I was about to be a doctor, and he thought he’d make it to graduation. And although he won’t, it’s exciting to know that the original reason why I went into medicine is still the reason why I’m going into it today.”