Scholarship to help UChicago student tackle global health care disparities

Fourth-year Ozan Beran Akturan to unite interests in social impact, innovation as Schwarzman Scholar

Ozan Beran Akturan sees public health care modernization as a means to further international peacemaking efforts. Committed to entrepreneurial innovation with social impact, the fourth-year student at the University of Chicago will pursue these interdisciplinary interests in a global context next year through the Schwarzman Scholars program. 

One of 145 students chosen this year for this prestigious fellowship, Akturan will complete a one-year master’s program in global affairs next year at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he will pursue coursework in public policy, economics, business and international relations. 

A biological sciences major at UChicago, Akturan is combining different disciplinary perspectives to tackle some of the most challenging issues faced by the medical industry. While studying in China, he hopes to learn from how the country modernizes its health care system by reducing regional disparities and cultivating medical innovation hubs.

“As someone dedicated to health care innovation, I believe that understanding ‘well-being’ through the lenses of science, business and policy is very important,” said Akturan, who is also a UChicago Odyssey Scholar. “Science and business combined is only enough to commercialize medical innovation. I believe that we have to devise policies that ensure the access and affordability of such innovation to people across regions.”

Now in its fifth year, the Schwarzman Scholarship program is designed to prepare the next generation of global leaders for the challenges of the future. It includes more than 500 program-alumni from around the world. 

“We congratulate Ozan on this recognition of his academic and civic accomplishments, and on the opportunity to develop as a global leader in the field of public health,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “He joins an international community of interdisciplinary thinkers who apply their UChicago education in order to address our most pressing societal challenges.”

Joining an international scholarly community

A Kurdish student from Turkey, Akturan cites a formative trip to southeastern Turkey for inspiring his desire to address health care disparities.

“That region is also home to some ethnic conflicts but, growing up, I always thought they were mainly due to cultural or political differences,” he said. “Talking to a Kurdish woman changed my attitude. She told me: ‘Six years ago, I lost my child during labor. Our hospitals are not good because the government doesn’t invest in here and good doctors run away. I feel like a second-tier citizen.’ That night, I started thinking about how I could help change the sentiment of ‘being treated second-tier.’ Modernizing and equitizing public services in under-served regions can, and should, be a tool of peace building—especially in health care.”

As a Schwarzman scholar, Akturan is looking forward to connecting with people from different life experiences, which he came to appreciate during his time in the College.

“Interacting with people from very different backgrounds has been transformational since it pushed me to ask challenging questions about myself: What are my values, and how do I make peace with my identity and still be able to function and find happiness in different cultures?” he said. Through the Schwarzman program, Akturan is “inspired to ask more questions like these that will help me redefine myself as a future leader.” 

While on campus, Akturan helped foster transatlantic communities of scholars who are interested in peacemaking efforts on a global scale through organizations such as the student-run think-tank European Horizons and UChicago’s Institute of Politics. He continued to raise awareness for the challenges faced by Kurdish regions, and his op-ed on the cost of ethnic conflicts was distributed among global leaders of the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations. 

Interdisciplinary inquiry

Always in pursuit of projects with social impact, Akturan has participated in a variety of research opportunities, both on and off the UChicago campus. These include research positions with UChicago Medicine and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and entrepreneurial advisory positions for medical enterprises at BioEnterprise and the Polsky Center. After his first year, a summer Jeff Metcalf internship as a medical researcher at ShanghaiTech University gave him his first experience in China, including a visit to Beijing.

“I felt somewhat at home in Beijing,” said Akturan, who looks forward to returning to the city. “Growing up in Turkey, I was always fascinated by the hybrid feel of East and West when visiting Istanbul. Beijing felt very similar in that regard–with all of its beauty and contradictions. It was like an open-air museum of Chinese cultural memory.”

After completing his master’s through the Schwarzman program, Akturan may seek a role in innovating global health solutions through an organization such as WHO or the Gates Foundation. He also has interest in founding his own medical enterprise in China or Turkey to follow firsthand the social impact of such health care initiatives in a transitioning economy.

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the College website.