Invest in yourself

A month after beginning his new job as an anesthesiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals, Jacob (Jake) Thomas (EMBA18) dove into his Iowa MBA. While he was doing his residency, he recognized that a strategic investment in high-level business would better position him to solve big challenges in health care.

On a typical 12-hour day, he manages anesthesia for up to 12 patients, analyzing medical histories to plan their anesthesia medication while they undergo surgery. Anesthesiologists have a unique perspective in hospital operations, Jake says, because they have a comprehensive view of how everything fits together and they collaborate with various specialists.

“Each operating room requires someone like me to supervise the anesthesia. But more than that, the whole enterprise and the flow of 100 to 200 people through the operating room requires people to coordinate,” Jake says. “I want to have the job of physicians who think about how the operating room is managed. They decide how best to deploy millions of dollars of resources that are consumed every day in the way that makes the most sense for patients, the institution, and health care in America.”

See how Jake is already using tools from classes to analyze clinical quality and safety outcomes, and to teach residents.

Why are anesthesiologists a good fit for business leadership?

Anesthesiologists are everywhere. We go to all the major catastrophe situations. We’re a service. While no one comes to the hospital to see their anesthesiologist, we get a unique perspective to see the whole enterprise at once. Having the training of both hospital administrators, who are very finance-driven, and physicians, who are very clinically savvy, is one of the tools that I’ll acquire from Tippie. And my MBA will provide me with the skill set to function in that capacity.

How important is it to have a comprehensive business perspective in today’s health care climate?

It’s incredibly necessary. As health care has grown and evolved, especially in the U.S., the cost of care has risen and the people involved have grown ten-fold. Delivering health care is an enormous line item for government spending and private enterprise spending. If we aren’t mindful of health care having a meaningful cost and concerned about the value we deliver as physicians, the whole profession stands to be jeopardized, especially if there’s a rise of administrators who don’t have high-quality medical backgrounds. The intersection of these two worlds is going to be increasingly necessary in months, years, decades ahead, and an endeavor worthy of my time.

Have you used anything from your classes in your job yet?

Applying statistical technique to process improvement and quality is fundamental to what it takes to be the kind of physician administrator that I got into this program for in the first place. That kind of thinking is the cornerstone of this whole movement in health care about quality and safety. The models for process improvement are useful in the spot quality and safety projects that we do throughout the hospital.

Another one of my responsibilities, in addition to being a clinical anesthesiologist, is being the director of a quality and safety rotation for our junior residents. I’ve already passed down a lot of the analogies and understanding that I picked up from that statistics class to three or four different residents in rotation.

What have you learned in your first semester?

It’s already benefited me. I was on a project to get a drug approved at the hospital, and the pharmacist didn’t want to pay for the drug because it was too expensive. But I knew it was safer for patients and gives us the ability to do things for patients we haven’t done before. I understood that I needed to make it approved because it was something that we couldn’t live without.

I gained the skills at Tippie to put together my presentation, choose my language, and persuade them. But I could have had those skills and still not have understood that building the relationship and accepting a small consolation that wasn’t adversarial is the one thing you try to win for. It’s the ability to work well with others and be collaborative. It has been revolutionary for my thinking.

What is the dynamic like with your classmates?

From the outset, I’ve been very impressed with the caliber of my classmates. My classmates at my medical school were all brilliant but not always team-driven, meaning they didn’t always play well together or know when to take the lead. They weren’t always able to build consensus or be willing to step back and share responsibility. People in business school are friendly, go out of their way to learn about you, remember what you say, and seek to understand your perspective.

The interactions you have with people and the relationships that you build with people are what will judge you in your career. Forcing everything to go through this team keeps your mind oriented about how things must happen in the real world in order to get buy-in and make change happen meaningfully.