Terp Startup Vitalize Solves Physician Burnout with Dedicated Wellness App

This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the 12 student startups who are participating in our virtual Terp Startup summer accelerator. Participating student entrepreneurs received a stipend up to $5,000 that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over eight weeks in the summer.



Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23, Neuroeconomics (Individualized Studies); Neurobiology and Physiology double major; Innovation and Entrepreneurship minor (left)
Veeraj Shah ’21, Neurobiology and Physiology; Health Sciences, Policy and Technology double major (right)

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VitalizeDC: Tell us about your startup. What problem are you solving and for whom?

Our startup, Vitalize, is the first wellness app designed specifically for physicians. 

42% of our country’s physicians report experiencing burnout, a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished sense of accomplishment. The consequences of physician burnout are multifold, severely affecting physicians themselves, patients, and hospital systems. The extensive body of literature around the topic of physician burnout culminates into a crucial conclusion: a high performing healthcare system isn’t possible with such high rates of burnout. Simply put, physician burnout is a public health crisis.

Due to the busy nature of the healthcare setting, it is essential that physician-targeted interventions for wellness are brief, effective, and low cost. Currently, individual-focused wellness solutions designed specifically for physicians only exist as educational articles, videos, or long mindfulness programs. Currently, there are no mobile applications that consolidate these suggestions into an engaging solution designed with physicians in mind. This is where Vitalize comes in!

Vitalize aims to improve the well-being and professional satisfaction of physicians by providing them with literature-backed strategies and healthcare-specific reflection exercises synthesized in an engaging, customizable, and comprehensive platform. Vitalize will offer these resources in a self-directed intervention to incorporate wellness into busy schedules’ without making wellness simply another mandatory burdensome task added to their schedule by administration. From positive psychology and journaling exercises to mindfulness and drinking water, Vitalize will restore physicians’ physical, emotional, and spiritual energy banks and reestablish their sense of purpose. We also hope that Vitalize addresses the perceived stigma surrounding burnout in the healthcare environment through its private and community features. We especially hope that Vitalize can help equip newer generations of physicians with the skills and practices necessary to shield themselves from burnout.

DC: How did you first come up with your idea?

Andhavarapu: As someone very interested in learning about the intersection of neuroeconomics (the study of decision-making) and medical practice, I often read about factors that affect physicians’ decision-making. One day, I read an article about how burned-out physicians are more likely to make medical errors and are more prone to implicit bias. After reflecting on my healthcare experiences and reading more about physician burnout, I learned that physician burnout was an issue of great magnitude, so I was curious about what solutions currently existed for physicians to improve their wellness. After encountering the third website that recommended several different apps, I thought to myself, “there is no way physicians have the time to download all these different apps.” I scoured the internet to see if there was an app specifically for physician wellness. To my surprise, I didn’t find one, and the idea for Vitalize was born! One day, I met Veeraj at UMD’s Do Good accelerator and mentioned the idea. After some discussion, we immediately went to the drawing board and started brainstorming!

DC: What are some major milestones you’ve achieved so far?

Team: While we are still very early-stage, we are still able to highlight some key accomplishments. We were able to gather the opinions and feedback of about 50 physicians, which really helped us in finalizing the features and design for our MVP. Through the Dingman Center and Do Good Institute, we were fortunately able to secure funds that would support the costs of our development. We actually just completed prototyping and we expect the first app iteration to be complete by the middle of July. We also just completed writing out our methods and justification for the randomized clinical trials that we hope to conduct to evaluate the efficacy of our product.

DC: What drives you to keep going?

Andhavarapu: As an aspiring physician executive interested in leveraging behavioral science to improve healthcare systems, working on Vitalize has allowed me to gain real world experience in doing just this. I also hope that burnout is less of an issue by the time I am practicing medicine, and I hope to be a part of the solution to ultimately make my future self happier. 

Shah: With Vitalize, I see a glimpse of the future of medicine and medical practice. From an early age, I have been interested in medicine and currently wish to pursue a career as a physician entrepreneur. The culture of long work hours and “the grind” is so ingrained into medical practice and training, so with Vitalize, we hope to contribute towards a cultural transformation within medicine to prioritize wellness and quality of life. My passion towards medicine and health technology pushes me to continue working on Vitalize because just like Sanketh, I know that this innovation will directly affect my life in the future.

DC: How do you feel about working in a cohort with fellow student entrepreneurs?

Andhavarapu: It’s awesome being able to be working with other like-minded students who are passionate about their venture and are willing to invest their time and efforts into becoming successful. Terp Startup especially creates an atmosphere that fosters open feedback and collaboration. The whole experience is very motivating. 

Shah: I love the idea of joining a community of fellow entrepreneurs. While we each have our own ventures, passions, and visions for the future, we share a love for innovation, discovery, and making our mark on the world. So far, I have enjoyed discussing branding, social media, and business plans over lunch and coffee (virtually that is) with my cohort-mates and look forward to continuing contributing to this community during Terp Startup and after this program ends.

DC: What are you hoping to achieve during Terp Startup this summer?

Team: We hope to partner with a wellness or mental health organization that can provide expert insights into developing for developing our app’s modules. We also hope to have our MVP completely developed in preparation for our anticipated research studies as well as comprehensive go-to market strategy.

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