From Outsider to In-novator—A Scientist Determined to Transform Health Care
Dr. Azizi Seixas’s career can’t be summed up in one title. In fact, Dr. Seixas (Say-shas) holds many: Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Director of the Media and Innovation Laboratory (The MIL), and Associate Director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences (TSCS) at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. Beyond the nameplates, Dr. Seixas is a seasoned biomedical researcher, scientist, communicator, health-tech innovator, sought-after speaker, and consultant to some of the world’s most recognizable organizations, from NBC Health News, where he’s the in-house sleep expert, to the Department of Defense, where he serves on the Mental Health Task Force.
It’s a mouthful of an answer when asked, “What do you do?”, but Dr. Seixas has never followed a pre-defined path. Growing up in inner-city Jamaica, he got his drive from his hard-working single mother who earned a college, then a Master’s degree while working full-time. His passion came from his force-of-nature grandmother, who taught him to question the status quo. “The two things in life that level off human beings are death and education,” she told young Azizi.
So he set about getting one—an education that is. Dr. Seixas was lucky to attend one of Jamaica’s better high schools, but he wasn’t raised to make the most of his advantages while leaving others behind. At age 13, he created a motivational group that traveled Jamaica speaking at lower-income high schools about the importance of education and developing positive values, an effort that earned him the Pan-American Youth Service Award.
Finding his Quest
With his hard-earned Ph.D. in hand, Dr. Seixas’ began working as an assistant professor at City University of New York’s Hostos Community College. While there, he applied to a summer training opportunity at New York University focusing on sleep and behavioral medicine and was offered a spot—despite being the only assistant professor from a community college to apply.
Once in the program, he discovered his passion for sleep as one of the four main pillars of health, and developed a keen interest in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and health technology. He joined NYU School of Medicine Department of Population Health and the Department of Psychiatry after receiving an NIH grant. This was the opportunity he dreamed of and once he hit his stride doing pioneering research, he received several other NIH grants, one of which received a perfect score (a rare accomplishment for any scientist), to continue his exploration of improving population health and making healthcare work for all.
Today, Dr. Seixas leads the Media and Innovation Laboratory at the University of Miami where he has recruited a diverse team of emerging scientists and researchers united by the mission of harnessing technology to drive health access and equity. This starts with fundamentally rethinking the paradigms by which data is transformed into stories that inspire action – from how academic research institutes engage with underserved, disenfranchised, and overlooked communities, to fostering a new generation of scientific leaders from within these communities to drive research and innovate solutions.
Dr. Seixas has over 100 publications, book chapters and conference presentations to his credit, and his work has appeared in media outlets such as CBS, CNN, NBC, The Associated Press, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Dr. Seixas currently serves as the Chair for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Young Investigator Research Forum and a member of the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning sub-committee for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and was named as one of the top 100 most inspiring Black scientists by Cell Press and as an Educator Champion by Amazon Web Services. Still, he prefers to define himself as husband to Meghan, and the father of his two children, Zahra and Khari.
While Dr. Seixas’ journey has led him to a place of success, it is far from over. He continues to nurture the unshakeable faith that has always guided his life. And, like his grandma taught him, he will always ask the big, fundamental questions he believes will transform healthcare for the better.
- How to find new and disruptive yet constructive solutions for healthcare’s old problems
- How to find novel causes of good health and well-being
- How do we make healthcare more personalized and less one-size-fits-all?
- How can we effect sustainable behavior change, and subsequently, better health for all?
- How to eradicate health disparities and inequities, so that healthcare works for everyone?