Reflections on an MIT Education
published: Aug. 7, 2012, recorded: April 2008, views: 2812
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In a neat series of time capsules tagged to his MIT experience, Neil Pappalardo shares his story with MIT graduates in the hope that it will give them “an idea of the possibilities that lie ahead.”
His story begins in 1964, when as a senior majoring in Physics, he decided to pursue a thesis on a medical topic, without, Pappalardo notes, having attended a single course in design or synthesis. He met cardiologists at a Boston hospital searching for a labor-saving way to analyze hours’ worth of EKG data. In a matter of months, he had invented a device to solve the problem, graduated in Electrical Engineering, and set out for a career at Mass. General Hospital. Lesson learned: “An MIT education will awaken creativity and discovery within you.”
Pappalardo recounts his early financial hardships (he had to sell blood for 12 weeks in order to buy a piano for his wife), as well as setbacks in trying to improve the complex and often error-prone workings of the hospital, via the entirely new concept of computer systems. “Everyone knows computers can be used for financial accounting,” Pappalardo recalls people telling him, “but they can never orchestrate clinical processes, treatment or care.” No one believed someone as young as he could tackle the complexities of hospital administration. He was determined, though, and took “every computer science course MIT has to offer -- all two of them.” With some partner programmers, Pappalardo in six months came up with an automated system to reduce errors in clinical laboratory tests at the hospital. Lesson: A rigorous MIT education will ignite passion within you.
In 1968, a 26-year-old Pappalardo, father of three, departed Mass General to start his own company. While venture capital liked his software, they didn’t think his business plan would fly if hospitals had to purchase it on $200 thousand computers. So Pappalardo tweaked the plan with a bold innovation: Run the software on his company’s computer and use a phone line to connect to the hospital. The VCs were impressed, and Meditech was formally born, August 4, 1969, the same day as Pappalardo’s fourth child. Since then, Pappalardo’s company has grown to provide a comprehensive set of medical, administrative, and financial software products, serving 25 million patients in 2,200 hospitals worldwide. And he has become one of MIT’s most generous patrons. Says Pappalardo: “An MIT degree will open doors, and bestow confidence.”
Pappalardo closes: May your own children be proud of you, of your accomplishments … and of your contributions to society.
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