Tech Tonics: Jill Hagenkord’s Wild Ride

July 27th, 2020 |
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Growing up in a small town in Iowa, Jill Hagenkord never imagined herself as a doctor, or scientist, or entrepreneur – yet she became all three, blazing her own path and charting for herself a captivating personal and professional journey.

Jill’s childhood was especially difficult; her parents divorced when she was ten, leaving Jill and her siblings struggling to get by, relying on subsidies for both goods and housing.  She describes herself as a rebellious student who was secretly good at school, and says she went to college to pursue her interest in “cute boys and fun parties.”  She attended the University of Iowa.

At college, she worked 2-3 jobs, did really well, and “partied all the time.” Her ultimate career direction would be strongly influenced by a “terrible boyfriend” – a guy who, she said, constantly told her she “wasn’t smart enough to succeed in science classes or get into medical school.” It motivated her to prove him wrong, which she did, time and again, ultimately earning admission to the Stanford MD/PhD program.

Jill moved to the Bay Area but lived in San Francisco, not Palo Alto, worked at a bar, and spent as little time in class as possible, while nevertheless mastering all the material.  She dropped the PhD part of the training and pursued a residency in pathology at UCSF, but then got drawn into the startup world; while there, she served as a mouse pathologist at a buzzy startup that ultimately IPO’d.

Jill initially returned to Iowa to finish her pathology residency, with the plan to settle down and become a “normal” pathologist there, but discovered that she missed the innovation culture she had known in California.  So, off she went to University of Pittsburgh, to pursue not one, but two ultra-specialized fellowships (in molecular genetic pathology and pathology/oncology informatics), then returned to the Bay Area to serve in a series of Chief Medical Officer roles, including, most significantly, a role at 23andMe right after they received a highly-publicized warning letter from the FDA.  With her help, the company got itself back into the Agency’s good graces; ultimately, Jill was able to sell her shares, and realize a significant return.

After a brief period as a medical consultant in the health tech industry, Jill has just started at Optum as Chief Medical Officer of its new Genomics team.  She is thinking about living in Iowa.

We are grateful to Manatt Health for sponsoring today’s episode of Tech Tonics.  Manatt Health integrates strategic business consulting, public policy acumen, legal excellence and deep analytics capabilities to better serve the complex needs of clients across America’s healthcare system. Together with its parent company, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the firm’s multidisciplinary team is dedicated to helping clients across all industries grow and prosper.

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Posted in: Audio Podcast, Healthcare, Tech Tonics, Technology