Teaching the business of medicine

University of Iowa's colleges of business and medicine team up

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IOWA CITY — It was 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, and about 25 University of Iowa medical students sat in a classroom listening to Greg Stewart, a professor at the UI Tippie College of Business, lecture about human resources strategy.

During the four-hour session, Stewart talked about staffing, compensation and competitive strategy. He had the students break into groups to discuss portions of the lecture, answer poll questions and participate in interactive assignments.

It wasn’t the first time this group of medical students got together to learn about business principles — but it certainly isn’t part of their normal curriculum, either.

They’re participating in a business minor of sorts — a pilot program that is the brain child of a group of medical students and executed through a partnership between Tippie College of Business and the Carver College of Medicine.

The Distinction Track program is comprised of 12 topics, delivered in four-hour blocks, one Saturday per quarter, over the course of a three-year period. Students who complete the program are awarded a Certificate in Health Care Delivery Science and Management.

Those students must participate in at least nine block sessions, which covers a wide range of topics, including negotiation, marketing, insurance, accounting and team work, explained Alex Taylor, the associate director of the Executive MBA program who worked with Dr. Alan Reed to develop the curriculum.

“The complexities of the business require more sensitivity to budgeting, retaining top employees, negotiating, health care law and so many other things,” Taylor said.

Reed, a surgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and a professor at the Carver College of Medicine, recently received his MBA through Tippie’s Executive MBA Program.

“I found the education incredibly useful,” Reed said. “I use these tools every day.”

That’s because a fair amount of the practice of medicine has little to do with actual medicine — hiring staff, dealing with insurers, managing payroll. And while medical school is jammed packed with classes about anatomy and physiology as well as intense clinical training, the course work is lacking on topics such as the legal ramifications of medical errors, how to work as a team and how to run a business.

“Growing up, my parents were small business owners,” said Sebastian Sciegienka, a fourth-year medical student. “So I know that you need to keep the lights on, but how do you do that if you’re not taught the topics?”

Sciegienka and a handful of students — along with the help of Reed and Taylor — took it upon themselves to fix that.

‘Their jaws dropped’

It started with a one-time financial gift to the medical school to provide additional education to students. A group of students surveyed the college to see if there was any interest in business topics — and they found out there was a good deal. So many students signed up, they ran out of spots.

They organized a weekend filled with business topics, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“Their jaws dropped,” said Reed. “They couldn’t believe what they weren’t getting in a standard medical school curriculum.”

The Distinction Track soon followed.

It was important to create a program that was sustainable, said Charlie Paul, another fourth-year student and organizer.

“We knew these topics could be better represented in the curriculum,” he said. “It’s easy for organizations to dissolve after students leave ... This was all about getting the right people in place, and so far, so good.”

The idea is successful enough that Tippie is working with the College of Dentistry and College of Pharmacy to develop similar courses.

A variety of Tippie faculty are teaching the modules, which include case studies and reading to get students familiar with the vocabulary and lessons, as well as the immersive, half-day sessions that give a broad overview to expose them to these topics.

On the day that Stewart lectured, he spoke with students about the role of human resources in medicine, different types of employees and retention practices. This is important, Stewart said, because medicine is becoming more coordinated and collaborative, with teams made up of nurses, social workers, physicians and other providers.

“Team leadership is not taught in medical school,” he said. “And it’s really critical when you’ve got different team members brining different types of expertise.”

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