Fully Immersed

Diving headfirst into Health Care Immersion Week

From the Spring 2009 edition of Vanderbilt Business

When you think of a Health Care MBA student at Owen, what do you picture? Do you see someone dressed in personalized scrubs with a front-row seat to, say, a gastric bypass surgery? Likely not. But Owen’s “experiential” program affords opportunities just like that. We Health Care MBA students don’t just learn about health care in the classroom; we get to experience it firsthand for an entire week. The so-called Health Care Immersion Week, which takes place between the first and second academic mods, gives students several different perspectives on the industry. Each day offers a look at a key player in health care, and students are challenged to understand how these players fit together as a whole.

Hodges, seen here with the practice mannequins at Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, credits Immersion Week with giving her a new perspective on health care management.
Hodges, seen here with the practice mannequins at Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, credits Immersion Week with giving her a new perspective on health care management.

One advantage of Vanderbilt’s Health Care MBA program is that it fully integrates its students into the mini-metropolis of  Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), as well as the surrounding Nashville health care community. While Nashville may be known as the country music capital, it is also arguably the health care capital of the United States. Owen students are fortunate to be able to take advantage of all the city has to offer, and this year we dove right in.

On Monday we took the physician’s perspective. By 9 a.m. we were dressed in new scrubs, hairnets and masks anxiously awaiting an operating room assignment at VUMC. The jitters were in full effect as I hoped to be chosen to observe a fairly mild procedure. The managing nurse assured me I could pass on the spinal and brain surgery, unlike some of my braver classmates. I was selected to watch an “open” gastric bypass procedure, which is hardly serene but supposedly routine. While I’ll spare the gory details, I will comment on the newfound respect I have for surgeons, physicians, nurses and technicians who all have to work in harmony to produce an amazing result. My MBA lens showed me that the operating room is similar to a well-run business. There is a distinct hierarchy, and each person has a role and a set of expectations. Timing and decision making are critical. Instead of using research and expertise to develop new business for a company, this team uses research and expertise to improve the patient’s life.

Continuing along the exciting and emotional path of operating rooms, my classmates and I also each spent an evening in a VUMC emergency room. My assignment was in the pediatric ER. I shadowed nurses and residents to understand how room assignments, traumas and surgical decisions are handled. I sat thoughtfully with patients while nurses administered IVs and medications, watched with angst as a surgeon set a broken bone, and peeked fearfully as a calm medical staff handled a head trauma on a child arriving by helicopter. When nurses and doctors had free time, they showed me how they used medical technology in their daily processes. The concepts I learned in my Health Care IT class proved their weight in gold. While an emergency room may look chaotic, it is actually well-organized and efficient thanks to the technology and processes in place.

The days following surgery and trauma observations were less action-packed, but there was no lack of information or insight. As much as we enjoyed wearing our scrubs and strutting down 21st Avenue pretending to be physicians, it was time to put ourselves in the shoes of many other health care professionals and explore careers outside of our MBA internship box.

For example, we got to spend a day taking the nurse’s perspective. I shadowed a woman in the main hospital who worked as a case manager. People in this career often have a background in nursing or social services and have the important task of getting patients out of the hospital faster. The other students and I also explored the nursing school and learned how this rewarding career is facing a major shortage of applicants. My MBA lens kicked in again as I thought about ways to improve incentives and talent retention for such a critical profession.

Later we visited a women’s clinic and learned about the approach of using a midwife for childbirth. Instead of a delivery in a sterile operating room with a busy obstetrician, midwifery provides the comfort of a personal at-home birthing experience. This concept forced us (I was in a group with two males!) to re-evaluate the traditional approach and ask a barrage of questions around this “unnaturally” natural concept.

During the patient’s perspective day, we explored the Eskind Diabetes Center and a DaVita dialysis clinic. The atmosphere at the diabetes center was refreshing and optimistic, offering creative conveniences to patients. A separate children’s waiting area was full of magical décor and toys. Obesity chairs were nestled in the mix for adults who may not be able to sit comfortably in traditional seats. Also those patients who cannot afford to travel to Nashville are given the option of a phone appointment.

While the Eskind Diabetes Center was full of research and teaching conference rooms aimed at improving treatments for those with the disease, it was the concept of prevention that made the greatest impression on me. I learned that age and obesity are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. I also came away convinced that a healthy diet and exercise are personal investments worth making.

As one might imagine, the visit to the DaVita dialysis clinic later in the day was an emotional experience. DaVita employs an upbeat staff committed to their patients who face a ritualistic procedure to remain alive. The clinic requires a small factory of silos, pumps, tubes and chemicals, all of which must work in perfect harmony to produce the fluid that will cleanse the blood in each patient’s body.

On the last day of Immersion Week, we took the researcher’s perspective and visited BioMimetic Therapeutics in Franklin, Tenn., a company that specializes in the development of drug-device combination products used for the repair of orthopedic injuries. The visit opened my eyes to the fun and risk associated with venture capital, and I learned some sound advice in the process: If you have a good idea with an expert staff, strong patents and clinical data, you just might land yourself some investors.

As I now reflect on the week and all it offered, I can say that I was totally immersed and engaged. The timing was perfect, as Immersion Week gave me a new perspective on the health care classes that have since followed. I now have a better understanding of the complex pro-blems of insurance, disease management, talent shortages and IT adoption because I experienced them. Although I miss my scrubs, I’m sure my true calling is on the business side of health care, and I can’t wait to put my MBA degree to use.

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