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Alumni Dispatches

Kanak Iyer

PhD, MPH ’97

Health to Wealth

Kanak Iyer After doing research in neuroendocrinology at the National Institutes of Health, I decided to do training in genetic epidemiology at Hopkins to take advantage of completed mapping of the human genome and to help disease prevention. Meeting students from around the world trying to solve world health problems was a great experience. However I was destined to be in the world of finance. (My full name is Kanakadhara, which is a Sanskrit prayer meaning shower of gold. It is a spiritual 21-verse hymn to the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and it connotes wealth. )

I am often asked, with a doctorate, why do you sell insurance? I fell into my current career in financial services by chance, and now I love my job. Why? Because it has helped me connect with some amazing human beings. My friend just told me that “you would have been stuck in a lab somewhere and the world would have lost a wonderful connector.” But before I get to what she meant I need to make some connections.

Actually, epidemiology does connect health to wealth. The famous Marmot study relates income and socioeconomic status and health: causality and pathways. Good financial health is an important component to good health in general. So in a way I am helping to prevent disease, that is, by taking care of the financial health of people. Talking to people about their goals and putting into action a plan to help them achieve those goals is very rewarding. It has even helped me stay connected to my academic roots.

I volunteer with a local student group, putting together projects on sustainability. It is heartening to see the younger generation concerned about these issues. In a finite planet with limited resources, it behooves us to think of the consequences of excess expenditure of the available resources. It is everyone’s responsibility to see that future generations have a safe environment in which to live and work, and something to look forward to. I recalled that as a student at Hopkins, we had meatless Mondays way back in 1996, to help Americans reduce their intake of saturated fat to prevent cardiovascular diseases. On further research I found that meat production is the number two cause of global warming, causing environmental destruction. I wrote to the local student group to have meatless Mondays to reduce global warming, thereby helping to care for the health of the planet as well. We all are working to implement this simple solution that will have a huge impact on our lives.

So, what exactly does my friend mean? I am working on connecting students with local communities so they can impact each other on issues affecting them, connecting students across the world so they can help solve problems by learning from others, connecting communities with different religious backgrounds to have a better understanding of their lives, connecting corporations with the academic community to reduce environmental wastes, in general bringing people of similar values together, so we can collectively resolve issues of importance to us and making a contribution to the general good. It has been a rewarding journey from health to wealth that has helped me connect with myself as well.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed." –Mahatma Gandhi

Kanak Iyer lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., and runs her own financial services practice, Kanakadhara Financial, providing individual and business financial advice regarding retirement planning, college education, estate planning and charitable giving and more. She is also an Americorp alumna, currently focusing on global sustainability initiatives .She serves on her township Parks and Recreation board and other community organizations working to improve cross cultural understanding and ecofriendly living.

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