Student Profile: Learning by Doing
On March 30, 2007, the SOM Healthcare Club hosted its third annual conference at the Omni Hotel in New Haven. More than 160 business leaders, physicians, and entrepreneurs gathered to discuss the future of healthcare. The conference’s two leaders were Alexandra Beale, an MBA/MPH candidate in the Class of ’08, and Victoria Potterton, an MD/MBA candidate in the Class of ’07. The two discussed their experiences organizing the conference.
Beale: After last year’s healthcare conference, I agreed to run this year’s event. Considering that this year’s was supposed to be bigger than last year’s, I knew I needed help. So I asked Vicky to be the co-leader. Each year the conference grows bigger. For this year, we were particularly excited because we booked former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neal to be the keynote speaker. But he had bypass surgery in January. We already had a much bigger venue and the expectations were really raised after last year. Now we didn’t have a keynote speaker.
Potterton: So we panicked. Luckily, we got a lot of good suggestions from our advisory board and after many, many phone calls were able to line up two really good replacements: Marna Borgstron, the CEO of Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Dick Foster, who is the managing partner for Millbrook Management Group.
Beale: Our goal for this year's conference was to expand it beyond SOM to include a larger, broader community at Yale and beyond — anyone who is interested in healthcare, who has any kind of connection to healthcare. So, instead of just having a very management-based discussion, we sought to expand the conversation into all the corners of healthcare. On each panel we were looking to balance the topics. So, if the topic was How do you get physicians to change the way they do things?, we wanted someone who manages physicians, and we also wanted someone on the outside who might approach that manager with a new device.
Potterton: One of the most interesting sessions was the one on luxury medicine. It’s like concierge medicine, based on a membership concept. Think of it like the elite lounge at the airport where you get better service. You pay a premium and when you go to the hospital, you stay in a separate, more luxurious wing. Or you have a doctor who has a limited number of patients who pay to keep him on retainer.
Beale: You can call him any time and he’ll show up at the door.
Potterton: And healthcare is not just medicine. There's a lot of cross relations that have to happen between providers, patients, and businesses that participate in the healthcare market. And so the theme of the conference this year was "excellence, efficiency, and economics: what healthcare can learn from other industries." It was really looking at what healthcare can learn from different techniques applied elsewhere. That was really supposed to be the impact of the conference and where we wanted to focus our efforts. We’ve seen a lot of it lately in the popular press. The pit-crew for Ferrari was written up as having an impact in hospitals, and there's been a lot of research on airline processes in terms of safety measures and implementing all of that.
Beale: Or how the Ritz Carleton is becoming involved in hospitals.
Potterton: And how to use the lessons, whether it's marketing, operations, or finance, from other businesses that are more traditionally profit-driven. Which is not to say that, now, healthcare is not profit-driven. But in terms of the patient-doctor-provider sphere, how can we change the way that healthcare itself is delivered? Other businesses have to enter into that discussion.
In the end, organizing this was a really great learning experience. The conference was completely student-run. I managed the budget and the finances. It's been said by a number of people that if you can do something like this, you can do almost anything. It really put into perspective and into practice a lot of the skills that SOM has taught us.
Beale: We were "managers" in the situation, and what we managed turned out well. One of our mentors said that we won’t even realize some of the management lessons we learned from this until ten years down the road. It’s not like with a school project, where if it doesn’t get done perfectly, the world is not going to end. Midway through the planning process, Vicky and I suddenly thought, "If we check out for a week or drop the ball on something, we're answering to 50 very angry speakers."
Interviewed on April 4, 2007.