I distinctly remember the day the doctor told our family that my cousin had an inoperable brain tumor and that there was “nothing he could do.” My cousin was only 18 years old and we were close, so to hear a doctor say he couldn’t do anything made no sense to me.
My cousin soon passed away and, unfortunately, I had several other family members die from other illnesses at an early age. These events had a profound impact on our family and filled me with a resolution to do something about it.
So, my professional journey wasn’t to become a CEO but a doctor in order to provide a high level of care for others. I knew that doing so would be a challenge because my family didn’t come from money.
Nevertheless, I was undeterred and was fortunate to get into medical school in India. I ranked 27th out of 60,000 on the medical school entrance examination (EAMCET), recognized as one of the most competitive examinations in India.
When I graduated from Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad, I resolved to do my medical residency in the United States. I borrowed thousands of dollars for exam-prep materials to pass USMLE exams. Most of those courses were not available online at that time, so I had to commute every day, and the process consisted mostly of passive learning such as watching videos.
Despite paying thousands of dollars, I didn't find them to be highly useful to achieve my goals. I performed exceptionally well on those exams, but I thought I could do a much better job of building a case-based active learning methodology. Several of my colleagues were in the same position and were looking for help. This inspired me to write 200 pages of case-based scenarios for the USMLE. I sent my guide to several publishers, but they told me to come back when I finished medical training.
One day I was sitting in the library looking at all their new computers. I thought, “This is the future and could potentially replace a physical book. I don’t need a publisher. Let me put this online by myself.”
My wife and I typed everything onto a website. Once we put it online and told a couple of students in forums that this study content was available for a small fee, people started buying it within two days. That’s how UWorld was born: in my dorm room, while I was maintaining my full residency schedule.
Everything we posted was based on the simple but powerful idea that if practice questions feel like the actual exam, then the real thing will feel as easy as practice. There was such a high demand for these materials that I asked my brother and his roommate—both software engineers—to help me build an online platform.
Along the way, we received a great deal of feedback from existing customers, and we’ve responded to that feedback by building product after product for future nurses and doctors, grad students taking the MCAT, and high schoolers preparing for SATs and ACTs.
I was a practicing physician up until 2018 when UWorld required my full attention. Although I don’t currently practice medicine, I’ve been in the same position as the high-achieving students we serve. They’ve worked hard for years, investing time and money to master their specialty, and they just need some guidance to get them through these enormously stressful exams. I have a passion for helping them excel.
Today, nearly every medical and nursing student studying in the U.S. uses our products. Since we launched in 2003, we’ve helped more than 1 million students and professionals around the globe. Looking to the future, we’re currently working on a number of products that will have a large impact in legal, finance and accounting education, among others.
I believe I’ve contributed in a meaningful way to American healthcare education, and while I have been committed to philanthropic efforts like providing clean water in India, I don’t feel satisfied that I’ve done enough for India. I grew up there and studied for free there, so I would like to do something on a large scale there to show my gratitude.
One idea is to build several medical schools, middle schools, and high schools. My company has helped thousands of people make their dreams come true, and I hope to make this dream of mine come true in the coming years.
(Dr. Chandra Pemmasani is the founder and CEO ofUWorld, an online learning resource that helps students actively learn and prepare for their high-stakes exams.)