Building Healthcare Equity, One Ride At A Time
For MedTrans Go CEO and Co-Founder Dana Weeks, equity, inclusion, and belonging have always been driving forces, but she also thought health equity could mean better business. Frustrated by a healthcare industry hurting patients and businesses alike, she saw an opportunity and got to work.
“The reason I love my job so much is because I can have positive impact on people, while contributing to solutions to healthcare industry problems, and simultaneously growing a successful business.”
—Dana Weeks, CEO and Co-Founder, MedTrans Go
Dana Weeks, CEO and Co-Founder of MedTrans Go.
Jessica Pliska: I often start these columns asking executives about their early life influences that persist today. What can you tell me about yours?
Dana Weeks: My story starts when I was an orphan in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. I was adopted by an American family when I was one-and-a-half years old. I don’t know the full story because some of the paperwork about me was wrong. But even though I was only in Vietnam a short time, there are things about me that reflect that time, that have remained very real parts of me.
Pliska: Like what?
Weeks: Like the strong faith I have in my personal resilience. As a baby, I figured out that food was scarce in the orphanage. We ate once a day, so I learned to take in as much as I could, without swallowing it all, and then save the rest to nourish myself throughout the rest of the day. It was an instinct to survive. When I first got to the U.S., I continued to just shove all of my meal into my mouth and save it in my cheeks for later. It took time to unlearn that behavior, but the lasting impact is that I have an innate ability to pull strength when seriously challenged.
Pliska: Tell me about your family.
Weeks: I really believe I was the baby meant to join the family I joined. Becoming part of this wonderful, loving family of educators, social workers and entrepreneurs planted in me a freedom to be curious and empathic, and to dream, listen, and learn from my family and people around me.
Pliska: Did you continue to feel such a strong sense of belonging growing up?
Weeks: I grew up in upstate New York, in a very small, predominantly white town, but I always found ways to connect with people. Later, I discovered I wasn’t just Black or Asian, or a person from a small town who may not have looked like everybody else. I could find layers of me that connected to others. I had some of the most beautiful friendships there. The older I get, the more I know that difference is a superpower, because it fuels my ability to connect with different people in unique, personal ways.
Pliska: The idea that a sense of belonging can just come from anywhere is such a powerful lesson.
Weeks: I think it was that my family, and those around me, always acknowledged, affirmed, and celebrated who I was. This love and affirmation helped me always feel like an insider in my heart.
Pliska: Was that true during your college experience? You went to Stanford, where you were an honors student, a varsity athlete and senior class president.
Weeks: To this day, I feel an incredible sense of belonging at Stanford. There were so many communities I could align myself with: the Black community, the Asian community, the half-Asian community, the athletic and, student government communities, and my class. Given that I grew up without Black parents but with two Black siblings, I still had so much to learn from others’ experiences. The Black community at Stanford is a wonderfully diverse group where we’re each unique. I learned that these different dimensions help make communities of one racial identity, gender or sexual orientation so incredible—to be the same and different, to have both safe and challenging spaces, are energizing, motivating and beautiful.
Pliska: What a compelling notion. Have there been other places you experienced this?
Weeks: I felt the same way in the Peace Corps, where most volunteers were white in Cape Verde, Africa, which is primarily a “mixed-race” society. Everybody looked like me, to such a degree that they thought I was from a particular family on a particular island of the country! But then I was an American. It was a fascinating and humbling lesson on belonging and inclusion, where in many ways I could be an insider based on my appearance, but I actually was an outsider.
Pliska: Moving to your career: You’ve worked at major companies like Pfizer and AT&T. What’s a standout career lesson you’d impart?
Weeks: Never be afraid to take on a role you might not be fully prepared for, that your resume maybe doesn’t indicate you were made for. I loved looking at opportunities like that and saying, "There's so much I can learn."
Pliska: Do you have an example?
Weeks: I took a role at an insurance company, where I learned about international finance and about the role insurance plays in wealth-building. It didn't end up being the right job for me and I was soon offered a different opportunity that promised a new sphere of learning. When I look back on it, I'm proud of myself, because my instinct would normally have been to follow through on my initial commitment, especially because people had invested in me. It was a risk, but it proved to be a good one.
Pliska: These days, your focus is MedTrans Go, a B2B technology platform you co-founded to improve healthcare for businesses and patients alike. What was your inspiration?
Weeks: My co-founder, who is also my husband, is a surgeon in private practice, so he’s committed to both the best care for patients and running his practice efficiently. One day, he had two last-minute cancellations, the first, because a neighbor canceled a patient’s ride and the second, because the Spanish interpreter for the patient didn't show. We wondered: Why does the healthcare industry accept as fact the loss of billions of dollars due to cancellations? I’ll never forget the hospital administrator who asked me, "If I can order a pizza, track my driver and get delivery in less than 30 minutes, why can’t we have tools to safely and reliably arrange transportation or interpretation, track where they are and get patients to and from appointments in the same way?”
Pliska: So what did you do?
Weeks: We built a solution to remove the two main obstacles to appointments—access to transportation and interpretation—through a network that provides access to a marketplace of safe, reliable drivers and interpreters, which improves care, provides predictable prices and timing, and increases revenue. We built it, and then COVID-19 validated our vision; cancellations are even more damaging in this climate, when healthcare workers and patients get sick and when providers experience heightened turnover. Cancellations just cost too much.
Dana Weeks and Dr. Obi Ugwonali, Co-Founders of MedTrans Go.
Pliska: A commitment to healthcare equity also seems deeply embedded in this work.
Weeks: Yes. There are entire communities of unseen people, for whom a simple solution can positively impact their lives. The pandemic revealed so much about health inequities in rural communities and communities of color. We've all seen the disproportionate impact on these communities, and the infrastructure meant to assure access to care is broken or non-existent. The pandemic has forced disruption in healthcare and addressing these inequities should be no exception. The reason I love my job so much is because I can have positive impact on people, while contributing to solutions to this healthcare problem, and simultaneously growing a successful business.
Pliska: What’s ahead for MedTrans Go?
Weeks: We’re in 10 states and seeing good growth with solo-practitioners and smaller healthcare settings. Our next stage is capitalizing on the demand among hospitals and larger health systems that recognize the need to partner with companies like MedTrans Go to deliver better care. That's always been our vision, but the opportunity has come to us faster than we anticipated. We’re excited to meet the needs of the moment.
Pliska: An entrepreneur’s life is all-in and you’re a wife and a mother, too. But you're also on Boards and committees at home in Atlanta and elsewhere—at global alternative asset manager Blue Owl, your alma maters, and other organizations. What you get out of these experiences? Aren’t you exhausted?!
Weeks: Actually, the opposite. I keep commitments on my plate that give me energy. There’s so much to learn and so many brilliant people to learn from, whether a CEO, student, or community member. That richness feeds my soul and helps me be a better person, mother, boss, coworker. I’m grateful for the diversity of experiences, one day being in a finance environment at Blue Owl, the next advocating for Black and brown families with Jack and Jill of America, and the next talking strategies and solutions as a Trustee at a Westminster Board meeting or on an alumni committee at Stanford. Healthcare, education, and community development give me purpose.
Pliska: So it doesn’t put too much pressure on your day job?
Weeks: To the contrary, it’s why I love being an entrepreneur: It gives me the chance to engage in my community and have my community engage in what I do. One reaffirms the other. My job is not just the place I show up to every day; it’s how I show up in my community, and for my team, friends, family, and myself. I believe in showing up, speaking up and getting the work done.