By Raul Reyes
UTMB Public Affairs
Zack Mahdavi has always been captivated by medicine and technology.
The third-year UTMB medical student wrote his first computer progam - a recipe manager for his mother - in BASIC when he was in the 5th grade. And, in high school, he won first place in the Texas State Science Fair for a project on bacterial resistance to the antibacterial properties of essential oils.
So when Zack, who is in Austin for his third year of medical school, recently overheard doctors say that they wished someone would write a medical calculator application for the iPhone, he went to work.
About a month later, Mediquations was born.
For those who know Zack, the iPhone application was a culmination of his fascination with electronics and medicine.
"He's always been an inventor," said his mother, Tanuja Mahdavi, an electronics engineer in Plano, Texas. She recalled that whether it was something with his Legos or the e-commerce Web site he built for her, Zack "was always building things."
Mrs. Mahdavi and her husband, Parviz Mahdavi, expected that Zack would have a career in electronics. But they were both pleased when he decided that he would go to UTMB. "We always thought he was more interested in technology but even his science projects had some medical components."
It was while he was at UT Austin that Zack started leaning toward medicine. "During an elective psychology class in my freshman year, I started to learn about how the human mind really works," Zack said. "It fascinated me to no end to understand how well a software program could compare to the way the brain processes input into a perfect harmony of actions, memories and thoughts. It was this class that inspired me to think about medicine as an alternative to a career in computer science."
But at the end of his junior year, it appeared that Zack was headed back to the world of electronics when he was accepted for a summer internship with Apple Inc. in San Francisco. He had a great time and was even offered a full time job upon graduating from UT. But Zack had other plans.
"That internship made me decide that, although I loved working with computers, it was best for me to choose something that I thought would be more fulfilling to me," he said. "I really wanted to be able to integrate medicine and software in some way or form. The only way to do that in the future was by pursuing medicine."
When Zack bought an iPhone last year, his friends good-naturedly chided him for his obsession with the device. "I use it for everything: music, photos, web browsing, directions, drug references and movie times. Think of it as a laptop in your hand. It's that useful. My girlfriend jokes that I'd be lost without it, but she has one too."
"I was surprised that a medical calculator for the iPhone wasn't available, as they are very useful for doctors," Zack said. "So I decided it was time for me to dust off my programming skills and build a medical calculator."
As of September, Mediquations had more than 85 equations available at the touch of a finger, from the relatively simple BMI calculation to much more complicated equations that usually require a physician to look up.
According to Zack, the benefits are many. "Mediquations saves physicians and nurses a lot of time. Also, when it comes to plugging numbers into an equation, there is a lot of room for mistakes to be made when a doctor or nurse has to perform the calculation manually," he said. "I believe that medical calculators like Mediquations reduce the number of errors in the hospital, thus improving patient care."
So the young man from Plano who was always fascinated with how things work is carefully considering his medical career. But one thing is certain: Whatever medical specialty Zack chooses, he will take full advantage of his extraordinary skills, marrying medicine and technology.