August 11, 2006

New M.B.A. program focuses on transplant administration

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Ed Zavala, administrator of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, left, and Jon Lehman, associate dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management, are working together on the new M.B.A. program in Transplant Administration.
Photo by Dana Johnson

New M.B.A. program focuses on transplant administration

For more than 15 years Ed Zavala, M.B.A., administrator for the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, thought about the benefits of designing a specialized education program for health care management students interested in transplant administration.

This fall, his determination will place Vanderbilt in a class by itself. A specialty program in Transplant Administration at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, established in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, will be the first of its kind in the country.

Targeting second-year Health Care M.B.A. students only, the program will allow for an in-depth training in clinical administration and the economic aspects of transplant, typically skills developed while on the job.

“The timing for this kind of programming is right,” said Zavala, research assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Vanderbilt for the past three years. “Students are very excited about this opportunity to gain experience in the transplant administration specialty of health care management. They will be able to do just about everything — oversee staffing, contracting with managed care, Medicare reimbursement and compliance, profitability, regulatory compliance and organ availability and allocation.

“Those are all the key areas of my job,” Zavala said. “But I learned by doing. No one taught me exactly what I was going to be doing 15 years ago. The role of the transplant administrator has evolved along with the complexity of organ transplantation. These students will be able to spend an entire academic year learning the essential aspects of the job. They will have an advantage when entering the marketplace.”

Zavala, along with Jon Lehman, associate dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management, will lead a small group of students in the first year of the course.

The pilot program, limited to two students, also offers an internship to provide hands-on learning in all the skill sets required of transplant administrators.

“This is a very real opportunity for these students,” Lehman said. “We have the transplant center here, the specialized health care M.B.A., and a group of people with the ability to take the concept and run with it.

“This is exciting because students are participating in a program that develops all the different skills required of a transplant administrator. It's a very distinctive marketplace and we can do it all right here.”

Although there are 258 transplant centers in the United States, just 150 are the size that need transplant administrators. Nationally, three to four posts open each year. Zavala and Lehman expect that the intense training program will help their graduates to stand out from the crowd.

“Our students will be well grounded in many aspects in transplant administration and will be able to go into a transplant center and be immediately productive,” Zavala said. “There are many places that train transplant surgeons and physicians, but there are no programs for administrators. I think people will watch how this program evolves.”

In addition to attending the clinical course work, students will also attend two conferences in San Diego and Washington D.C. that will be the “capstone” of their educational experience, Zavala said.

The Health Care M.B.A. has created much interest by carving niches for students interested in many different specialties.

“The Health Care M.B.A. program is designed to initially give students an industry-wide view of the health care system,” Lehman said. “Students can then narrow their focus to a particular segment. There are many opportunities across Vanderbilt to provide unique experiences to students in the health care program and transplant is one of them.

“We've worked cooperatively across the Medical Center at the Center for Better Health and the Office of Technology Transfer. There are places all over the university to plug students into.

“We are surrounded by a huge resource and our students are getting the very best experience because of it. Our students feel like they can explore most any health care-related specialty and we find a way to offer it to them.”

The Owen Transplant Administration program joins two other transplant training programs, including the transplant pharmacy residency program and the transplant nurse practitioner program, which is offered in conjunction with the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

“It places us in a great position,” Zavala said. “It positions us as a key multidisciplinary training institution for transplantation.”