Booth’s Healthcare Initiative

Booth’s Healthcare Initiative

When I applied to school, I had many goals that I wanted to accomplish with my MBA; I wanted to build upon my leadership skills, my business acumen and, I suppose, learn how to tighten up my writing skills through these blog articles! Above all, I planned to use my MBA as a way to pivot my career into the healthcare industry (Check out my earlier articles on why I wanted to pivot and how I pivoted).

Even prior to COVID-19, the number of Boothies hoping to enter or continue their careers in the healthcare industry has steadily increased over time; so, I was very excited to hear that Booth launched the Healthcare Initiative this past summer. The mission of the Healthcare Initiative is to serve as a center of gravity for the diverse disciplines that engage in healthcare research at Booth, and facilitate collaboration with partners across the university. To learn more, I was thrilled to have a chance to sit down (virtually) with Co-Director of the Healthcare Initiative and Professor of Economics, Matt Notowidigdo, and Associate Director of Healthcare Programs, Kateland Haas LaVigne.

Me: Thank you so much for sitting down to speak with me today. Can we start with where the idea for the Healthcare Initiative came from and how it began to take shape?

Kateland: When I first came to Booth, there was already a working group made up of faculty members and directors from other research centers. There was, and continues to be, a lot of amazing work going on in the space, resulting in a call for more coordination and advocacy for research operations and supported connections across the University. While the Healthcare Initiative is faculty driven, we had heard a lot of feedback from students that, while there’s healthcare content at Booth and there are healthcare courses at Booth, there needed to be more of a center of gravity to help coordinate and advocate for more resources in this space.

So, it had been in the air for a long time and there was a critical mass of students coming to our faculty and talking about this, asking for more visibility into the work. Which meant that after some focus groups with current students and alumni…we found that even if [alumni] don’t have a healthcare job immediately after graduating, many of our alumni find their way into healthcare just because it’s such a significant portion of the economy.

After all that discovery, we realized there was something we could do in the space and that is where the idea came from.

Me: What do you see as the main pillars of the Healthcare Initiative?

Professor Notowidigdo: One pillar is research. Primarily supporting research at Booth, but also, when we can, supporting healthcare research around the University and that support takes a couple of forms. It can be financial support. It can be help getting access to data. The healthcare system in the US is super complicated. There’s a lot of knowledge that we’ve accumulated and we can help other faculty and students get started on their healthcare research projects.

I see the Healthcare Initiative as being down the line, what Kilt’s is to marketing (referring to Booth’s Kilt’s Center for Marketing). One of the things that Kilts does is it makes data available to marketing researchers not just at Booth, but all around all around the world. That would be a big success in my mind. If we can achieve that in the next several years.

The second pillar is supporting MBA students in whatever way we can. In the short term, that’s going to be coming up with speaker series. This year, I participated in the Healthcare 101 series that the Healthcare Group put together and those are the kinds of things that the initiative can support both financially and logistically. I also have a plan of developing new healthcare classes and there will be support from the initiative for me to do that. It will probably start as an elective class that will focus on healthcare economics and healthcare strategy, and then we’ll build additional healthcare electives off of that.

The third pillar is a little vaguer, but we see part of our mission as trying to grow in terms of visibility about all the healthcare work that’s happening around Booth. This pillar will be focused on engagement with, and communication for, the healthcare community at Booth: students, alumni, faculty and the public that engages with research shared via academic journals and the Chicago Booth Review.

Me: Do you see there eventually being a healthcare concentration?

Professor Notowidigdo: The plan is eventually, when we’ve developed enough classes to have a critical mass, that we might offer a healthcare concentration. I know that’s something Dan (professor Dan Adelman is the other Co-Director of the Healthcare Initiative) has been talking about.

We’re close, we just need probably two or so more classes before we can do that. So, the plan is, hire other faculty that are interested in teaching healthcare classes, and then let them develop electives.

For the students starting next year, I will have a class that they can take and, if the students think it was worthwhile, it gives us the ability to go back to the Dean’s Office and say this was a success. That student voice is a compelling motivator in creating additional classes.  

Me: Do you see opportunities to integrate with Career Services?

Professor Notowidigdo: I’m thinking about the success that Kilts has had as being a template that we can try to follow. One of the things Kilts does is directly support MBA students in terms of finding internships and providing mentorship and the plan is to start that as early as next year.

Kateland: This goes back to the advocacy role that I see the initiative playing within Booth. We have a seat at the table with Career Services to talk about the types of things that we’re hearing from students and the Healthcare Group. We want to showcase the really amazing work that’s coming out of Booth in terms of research, but then also where students are going and the great things that they’re doing. Being able to showcase that and track it in a way that’s really visible is part of the mission.

Me: What are some of the trends in healthcare that you think prospective students should be thinking about as they’re looking into completing an MBA?

Professor Notowidigdo: That’s a great question. What Booth offers right now is Dan Adelman’s class, the Healthcare Analytics Lab. It’s pretty great in depth exposure to how healthcare organizations make decisions. They work on real business problems and they present to pretty senior people at various organizations.

Kateland:  Projects for the class have come from Rush University Medical Center, also Geisinger, which is a really large healthcare system out East. We do work really closely with our affiliated hospital, UChicago Medicine, as well, but there are a multitude of sponsors.

Professor Notowidigdo: That’s one thing I would encourage prospective students to pay attention to if they’re thinking about going pretty deep into healthcare. But, the philosophy that I have is we want to take the disciplinary insights that are being generated at Booth right now and figure out the best ways of applying them to healthcare. My pitch…is that this initiative is going to sit on top of all of the great disciplinary expertise that’s being generated, whether it’s in marketing or psychology or economics or finance. We’re going to build on all of that expertise and figure out where it’s going to be most useful in the healthcare space.

My background, for example, is in economics; so, for me it’s figuring out the kinds of economic principles that are going to be most interesting and appropriate to apply to healthcare finance. We also have a faculty advisory board with colleagues like Sendhil Mullainathan and Ralph Koijen. Ralph’s expertise is in finance and Sendhil’s expertise is in everything, but I would say more recently it’s in analytics like machine learning and artificial intelligence. So, he’s been thinking a lot about how to apply those tools and technologies to healthcare. That could range from detecting discrimination or racial bias as well as figuring out ways of knowing which patients are most suitable for particular types of treatments…or using machine learning to figure out how to finance different types of healthcare innovation. Those are just examples of how the existing expertise of Booth faculty can be applied to interesting healthcare problems.

Me: What are you most excited about regarding the Healthcare Initiative?

Professor Notowidigdo: Since coming to Booth, more and more of my research is ending up related to healthcare. I started out as a labor economist and a health economist. But now I’m doing more and more work in healthcare. I see the initiative for me personally, as a way to support my research for the next several years in healthcare, and that’s going to take a lot of different forms. That’s going to be looking at healthcare policy, so things like Medicaid and Medicare. I’ve been working with state governments to try to improve the delivery of their healthcare and then the part of the research that I’m most excited about is at the intersection of healthcare and consumer and household finance. I’ve been talking to the finance department about like what kinds of consumer finance classes are being offered. Right now, there’s a lot of Fintech. I see the potential to combine that with healthcare and that could be a really neat area, not just in research, but something that the MBA students could be really excited about.

Booth is a great place to do this kind of work at the intersection of healthcare and consumer finance because Booth has a lot of good relationships with the credit reporting agencies, which have all of the data on consumer and household finance, and that is where expertise is already proven. Super valuable. Figuring out a way of merging healthcare data with consumer finance data to me is one of the most exciting research areas for the next few years. It could also have a lot of big business opportunities as well, but this is not straightforward because the healthcare data itself and consumer credit report data are super sensitive. Getting two different types of data that are super sensitive merged together and analyzed from a research perspective causes a lot of logistical privacy issues. It takes a lot of expertise and I’m hoping the initiative will be able to keep supporting it. There would also be a mini course on healthcare and consumer finance that we could offer down the line on that as well.

Me: Is there anything else about the Healthcare Initiative that you want to mention?

Professor Notowidigdo: There’s one thing we didn’t mention that is a little bit specialized, but another thing that the initiative is going to be working on for the next few years is trying to increase connections and alignments with the medical school.

One form this could take on is encouraging current MDs to consider also getting an MBA. That could be new ways of engagement and support for our joint MD/MBA program or it could just be encouraging doctors to think about getting an MBA at the same time they’re getting their MD. We have a terrific medical school and a terrific Business School and we can give a lot of attention to people that want to do both. The initiative is going to be able to help facilitate that and, down the line, with more resources, we could even start helping students finance that.  

From an MBA student perspective, I had a couple of doctors in my classes and they bring a useful perspective. For the MBA students, having a handful of doctors in their class every year would be really useful.

Overall, I would just tell people to pay attention and keep checking the website. There’s a lot of stuff happening and it’s updating pretty rapidly. Unfortunately, we had this pandemic that made it hard to do more in person events the first year, but my hope is that next year things will start to shift back to normal and I’m looking forward to having lots of seminars and brown bags where we can bring in healthcare speakers.

As a current MBA student interested in Healthcare, I’m extremely excited about what the Healthcare Initiative could do for Booth. For any prospective students reading this blog post, keep an eye out for more on this as you continue to research business schools. You can also check out the Healthcare Group or use the Connect with a Student tool to talk with a current student about Healthcare at Booth!