Health Care: New UI track teaches medical students business skills

By Jean Robillard / Guest Column

A lot of people – health care providers among them – have a difficult time thinking of medicine and health care as a business. After all, most health care providers enter the field to develop caring relationships with patients, find cures for disease or mentor and teach the next generation of providers – not to sift through a profit-and-loss analysis.

But it’s a different world in health care these days, and many providers increasingly find themselves needing to master skills like business leadership and management, which traditionally are not taught in medical school.

Of course, medical schools must focus on the basic sciences and other traditional foundations of science and medicine. But a well-rounded medical education now also should embrace such managerial topics as working on and leading teams, understanding the legalities of clinical practice and knowing how to negotiate a contract.

Only a few medical schools are beginning to equip tomorrow’s health care leaders with the management skills necessary not only to sustain their individual careers, but also to continue their respective pursuits of best patient care, in-depth biomedical research and quality mentorship and teaching.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has called attention to the matter. In an article from June 2015 on “Teaching Doctors How to Improve Care and Lower Costs…at the Same Time,” James Schwartz, M.D., of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, notes the need to expose students and residents to the “reality of costs” and for faculty “to explain early on that this is a core skill, not just an extra burden.”

UI Health Care is on the cutting edge of addressing this critical gap in medical education.  Last spring, the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine launched the Health Care Delivery Science and Management Distinction Track. Alan Reed, M.D., MBA, director of the UI Organ Transplant Center and adjunct professor of accounting in the Tippie College of Business, is a chief architect of the new distinction track, which gives students knowledge they won’t find anywhere else in their coursework.

The college already has five other distinction tracks – in humanities, global health, research, teaching and service – that give students an opportunity to explore concerns that are becoming increasingly important to our society.

The new discipline, developed in collaboration with colleagues in the UI Tippie College of Business, encourages, supports and recognizes students who wish to better understand how medicine is delivered and paid for, as well as how health care policy is created. Students enrolled in the new distinction track gain insight into innovations and integrations that merge the field of medicine with the worlds of business, health care administration and health care policy.

There are benefits to the health care system and to all who use it. It is clear that in the near future, it will be up to physicians to control costs and deliver value in the new models of pay-for-performance and value-based purchasing in health care. Engaged physicians who are well-trained in these concepts and who can analyze costs while staying mindful of quality, have the most potential to bring value to their organizations and to be the future leaders in policy development.

By extension, there are enormous rewards for patients, who need nimble physician leaders who can see the larger picture, have the skillsets for thinking beyond the obvious and for developing strategy, building community and motivating teams to produce sustainable improvement.

Any smart businessperson knows that developing well-rounded professionals is key to long-term success. A few years ago, the Carver College of Medicine revamped the medical curriculum in keeping with a long tradition of providing a comprehensive, innovative and relevant education.

The new business distinction track further enhances that legacy and adds depth and breadth to the health providers who will continue to lead on the front lines of patient care, biomedical discovery and medical education.

Jean Robillard is the vice president for medical affairs at the University of Iowa.