An orthopedic surgeon. A programmer. A musician.Nemanja Kovačev is a man of many hats and many lifelong passions. His long and illustrious career has enabled him to bring together his passions for medicine and technology in fascinating ways. Now at HTEC as the resident MedTech domain expert, Nemanja is tasked with leading different initiatives designed to harness and direct the company’s technical expertise towards technological innovation in various areas of contemporary medicine. Nemanja was kind enough to reflect on some of the milestones of his ever-evolving career. The starting point of our conversation was his early fascination with computer technology. “When I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents bought me a Commodore 64 and an instructional book on BASIC – I distinctly remember it was blue. That’s how I got into programming, and I grew deeply infatuated with it throughout elementary and secondary school, obsessively expanding my knowledge over this period.”
When the time came to decide on a university and choose a specific professional lane, Nemanja was faced with a difficult choice, as programming was hardly his sole interest. “I come from a family of doctors, so I was always drawn to life sciences and had some success in various academic competitions. I also started learning piano at a young age, and by the time I finished high school, I was already a working musician. Many of my friends had already studied at various musical academies, and I seriously considered following in their footsteps. There was a lot of discussion and self-examination, but in the end, I chose medicine.” During his university days, Nemanja put his programming interest on hold as he dedicated himself to the demands of medical studies.
Now, let’s fast forward through a decade of commitment to medicine, including university graduation, and we find Nemanja in the third year of his orthopedics residency. The old spark for technology had rekindled as he grew interested in the inner workings of Android OS. He began learning Java and quickly found himself once again immersed in the world of programming. “I went for it pretty hard. Sometimes I would even bring my laptop to work, and I would use every moment of downtime to work on it.” After a couple of years of learning, Nemanja was able to put the newfound knowledge to good use. As part of his doctoral dissertation, he developed an application that handles complex calculations related to knee surgery. (Note: This is a gross oversimplification of what Nemanja actually told us) While this was the first time that he successfully bridged his pursuit of medicine and technology, he admits that this was his vision all along. “Orthopedics is a straightforward branch of medicine, in the sense that many things can be precisely quantified through various areas of mathematics or physics. As such, it is sort of ready-made for digital innovations, and this was my initial idea. But the more I ventured into digital health, the more I discovered different areas of medicine that could be improved using digital tools.” Upon earning his Ph.D. title, and simultaneously developing his first application, Nemanja once again found himself at a crossroads. Already a practicing orthopedic and trauma surgeon at the Clinical Center of Vojvodina in Novi Sad (Serbia), as well as a teaching fellow assistant at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Novi Sad, he decided to quit both jobs. Many of his colleagues were surprised and even shocked at the time, but for Nemanja, it was all about impact. Deciding to dedicate fully to software development, Nemanja took up what he calls “classic programmer work”, first in a freelance capacity, and then with a large software engineering company. There he eventually initiated its digital health division and operated as what he defines as a “part-time” Digital Health Lead alongside his “regular” programming work. While combining his medical expertise with technology was always the end goal, he first wanted to gain an intimate knowledge of the software engineering trade. “I wanted to be able to understand a digital health problem equally from a medical and an engineering perspective. The medical foundation was there, but I was lacking engineering experience. In order to gain that, I needed to “get my hands dirty”, so to speak – to commit full time and get to know all the aspects of the process, from coding itself to Jira and task management.” After gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience relevant to digital health, and recent successful completion of AI in Healthcare specialization program by Stanford University, Nemanja joined HTEC Group in 2022 as a MedTech domain expert. Here he is a part of the MedTech Excellence team, a diverse group of experts in different meeting points of health and tech. “When we look at all the biggest technological trends and challenges of present-day medicine – data interoperability, various applications of both AI and extended reality, cyber security and regulatory compliance – at HTEC we have a team with immense expertise and experience in all these areas and beyond. We have the capacity to answer challenges across the entire digital health spectrum and help beneficial digital solutions reach those that can benefit from them.” As someone who deeply understands the intricate internal mechanisms of the medical field, Nemanja emphasizes the importance of breadth of knowledge and experience in introducing technological innovation.
Healthcare is an extremely complex market. Nothing can exist in isolation; everything needs to fit into the system. To be successfully adopted, a product needs to help patients, help doctors, and make financial sense for many different stakeholders. I am proud to be a part of the team that gathers a massive wealth of knowledge, the type of knowledge that takes a lifetime to gain. With such a plethora of perspectives, we do not only have a superior technical capacity, but also medical expertise and industry know-how to guide digital initiatives through all areas of this complex web.Through an unwavering, though multi-faceted pursuit of improving people’s health through technology, Nemanja has unified the two worlds in his work. While he jokes that the biggest difference between the two professions is the “undo” button, over time he has also identified many similarities. Both professions require us to take many factors into account, plan carefully and meticulously, and devise detailed workflows, but also be able to react to unexpected scenarios and solve problems in real time. Also, for me personally, the emotional reward that follows a successful surgical procedure is not different from the satisfaction you gain after developing a functional digital medical solution that saves people’s lives. With Nemanja recently enrolling in Executive MBA studies at the Quantic School of Business, and successfully passing his first exam (congrats!), he takes another step forward in his mission to fully understand the omni-complex realm of Digital Health. While his close ones may jokingly scold him for continuing to be a student, to HTEC Nemanja represents a glowing example of never-ending intellectual curiosity and desire to harness our knowledge to enable superior patient experience and well-being for all. Onwards into new learnings!