P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Akshay Swaminathan, 2024

MD/PhD, Stanford University

Akshay Swaminathan is the child of immigrants from India

Fellowship awarded to support work towards an MD/PhD in Biomedical Data Science at Stanford University

Akshay Swaminathan was born in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey to Indian immigrants from Tamil Nadu, India. His paternal grandparents immigrated to Westchester, New York in 1969, where they were one of the only Indian families in the area. They coped with this unfamiliar environment by maintaining a love and connection to their cultural roots, a tie that was inherited by Akshay early in his childhood through learning Carnatic music. His experiences learning Indian music and language taught him the importance of overcoming generational, linguistic, and social barriers to connect with others.

In high school, after discovering an online community of polyglots, Akshay began self-studying foreign languages, eventually developing pedagogical techniques that helped him learn over ten languages.  At Harvard College, he discovered joy in using languages to connect with and serve people from different backgrounds. He served as executive director of Refresh Bolivia, a global health nonprofit, where he and his teammates built a primary healthcare clinic that serves 10,000 indigenous residents in Cochabamba. He also led Harvard Chinatown ESL, a program offering free English classes to adult Chinese immigrants, and he published five textbooks to teach English to Chinese speakers. He is the founder of Start Speaking—a platform to help language learners build spoken fluency—and has created resources for languages ranging from Quechua to Medical Chinese.

As a data scientist, Akshay builds data-driven tools for patients, clinicians, and policymakers with a focus on real-world deployment. He has over 40 publications applying quantitative methods to problems in healthcare and is the co-author of the book Winning with Data Science, published by Columbia University Press. At Flatiron Health, Akshay developed methods to analyze observational clinical data to support FDA decision making. As Head of Data Science at  Cerebral—a virtual mental health company—he and his team deployed a suicide detection system that has served over 500,000 patients across the US. Akshay is an MD candidate and Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University and is now pursuing a PhD in biomedical data science. Under the mentorship of Nigam Shah, he is developing approaches to safely and effectively use artificial intelligence to deliver healthcare.

Akshay plans to become a physician who combines data science and medicine to strengthen health systems in low resource areas.

  • AB Statistics, Global Health and Health Policy | Harvard University 2019
  • MD | Stanford University
  • PhD Biomedical Data Science | Stanford University
  • Benjamin Franklin Legacy Prize
  • Pforzheimer Prize for Public Service
  • Knight-Hennessy Fellowship
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