April 9, 1999

VUSM, Owen class offers med students business insights

VUSM, Owen class offers med students business insights


Taking part in the joint VUSM/Owen School course were second-year medical students (from left) Matt Peterson, Chris Ambrose, Gargi Gajendragadkar and Eric Wallace.

A collaborative educational program that meshes the worlds of health care and commerce is giving Vanderbilt medical students the chance to get down to business.

The program, developed jointly by the School of Medicine and Owen Graduate School of Management, gives four second-year medical students the opportunity to participate in a 50-hour course offered by Owen's executive programs titled "Management Principles in Health Care." During the course the students mingle with classmates who include physicians, nurses and health care administrators from Vanderbilt and organizations and companies from across Middle Tennessee.

There the students are exposed to both Owen faculty and outside industry speakers who discuss the applications of accounting, legal aspects, strategy, team building and process improvement, marketing, communication, and leadership of the health care industry as well as thoughts about the future of the industry.

"With the many changes taking place in health care today, this type of information is crucial for physicians as well as for those beginning their medical educations," said Dr. Alexander C. McLeod, faculty coordinator for the Owen program, adjunct professor of Management and clinical associate professor of Medicine. "So far, the course has been educational for everyone."

The pilot program, begun in the fall of 1997, was conceived by McLeod. The students' participation in the program takes place under the auspices of Dr. Deborah German, senior associate dean for Medical Education in the School of Medicine. While other universities, including Johns Hopkins and Northwestern, offer similar programs, Vanderbilt's is the most comprehensive, McLeod said.

"This course is unique in its breadth. Our goal is to be the leader in medical business management education," he said.

At the beginning of this school year, for the second year in a row, two pharmaceutical companies – Hoechst Marion Roussel and Novartis – funded the special scholarships for second-year students Chris Ambrose, Gargi Gajendragadkar, Matt Peterson and Eric Wallace.

If their reaction to what they learned during the fall semester is any indication, the course is achieving the desired results.

"I think a class such as this should be offered to every medical student," said Gajendragadkar. "Business management is a very real aspect of our future. It's one that I never thought about, and I suspect there are many other students who never have as well. A class like this gives us a foundation and the tools to deal with it in the future."

The program also drove home the point that in today's world of HMOs, PPOs, MCOs and TennCare, health care involves much more than caring for patients.

"From physicians to administrators to managers to investors, all play an important role in the extremely complicated arena of health care," said Ambrose. "In medical school we often forget that these other people exist and I appreciated further insight into the complicated field I have chosen as a career."

For Wallace, the course was not only educational, it hit close to home.

"One reason I wanted to participate, in addition to the practical reason of acquiring knowledge that I know will be helpful during my career, was to be able to have an intelligent conversation with my parents (dad is in insurance; mom in medical management).

"When I was at home on a break, we had a discussion about a new contract my mom was negotiating. We used words like capitation and capacity, and for the first time I knew what the words meant and could participate in the discussion intelligently.

"At that moment I knew that I was learning something," Wallace said.