Collaborating to create health care leaders

MBA for surgical residents will enhance patient care and resident training

By Ellen Goldbaum

In an increasingly complex health care system, hospitals need high quality clinicians who also have strong business and leadership skills.

The University at Buffalo, in partnership with Kaleida Health, Western New York’s largest health care provider, has developed an innovative, sponsored MBA program for residents and fellows.

UB’s Accelerated MBA for Residents and Fellows is tailored to medical school graduates doing their postgraduate training at UB. It adds only one year to their residency or fellowship and allows them to pursue an MBA health care management track.

The program is unique for surgical residents in that Kaleida Health provides all of the tuition.

“We’ve created a three-way, collaborative model between UB, the surgical residency program and the corporate health care entity sponsoring it,” says Erin O’Brien, assistant dean and director of graduate programs for the School of Management. “We have fully integrated the MBA into the residency so the student will act as a business consultant, working on projects that deliver immediate business benefit to Kaleida.”

Rafael Perez interacts with his MBA colleagues in class in the Alfiero Center. Photo: Douglas Levere

The collaboration was possible thanks to the enthusiastic participation of the partners, particularly Jody Lomeo, BS ’91, chief executive officer of Kaleida Health and Great Lakes Health, the consortium that includes the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, Kaleida and Erie County Medical Center.

“It’s an all-boats-rise kind of program,” says Lomeo. “Once we started having discussions with UB, we knew it was just the right thing to do.”

Also critical was the strong support of Paul Tesluk, dean of the School of Management, Michael Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Steven Schwaitzberg, MD, chair of the UB Department of Surgery and a surgeon with UBMD Surgery.

Backed by the Office of Graduate Medical Education at the medical school, the program was recently approved by the American Board of Surgery under its flexible training rotation for the general surgery residency.

The program is strengthened by a growing strategic focus on health care in the School of Management, O’Brien notes, where 16 percent of MBA students participate in a health-related graduate program.

It’s hard to fix a plane while it’s in the air

Plans to develop the Accelerated MBA for Residents and Fellows got a boost in 2015 from Schwaitzberg, who was recruited to UB after spending most of his career at Harvard and Tufts universities, and who has long been interested in the complex relationship between business and health care.

“Running a hospital is like flying a plane,” Schwaitzberg says. “It’s hard to fix that plane while you’re still in the air. The challenge of health care moving forward is that, as clinicians, we have to learn to perform at the highest possible levels of quality of care and cost efficiency.”

At Harvard and Tufts, Schwaitzberg was impressed by the value MBA students brought to health care, even when they took on seemingly small projects. For example, the finding that one hospital used many kinds of mesh during hernia operations with no difference in patient outcomes led a hospital to decide to use only a few, which allowed for better pricing from vendors and substantial health care savings.

“This program has been uniquely tailored to me as a resident. When I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was too good to pass up.”
Rafael Perez, DO, UB Surgical Resident and MBA Student

“The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is home to the third largest surgical residency in the U.S. and we offer great training with all of our hospitals participating,” he continues. “But to succeed in this increasingly complex health care system, we need clinicians who also have the necessary finance, organizational design and management skills that allow them to provide great systems and programs of care.”

Lomeo agrees: “We have tremendous talent in the health care system and throughout the university,” he said, adding that when a physician who has the passion and desire to make things better also has the MBA skill set, everyone benefits. 

Learning the business side of medicine

Schwaitzberg sees those attributes in Rafael Perez, DO, the UB surgical resident who started his MBA classes this fall, after completing two years of residency.

“Rafael is bright and motivated — a perfect inaugural candidate,” Schwaitzberg says. “He’s taking all the classes MBA students take, but his internship and capstone projects will take some aspect at Kaleida Health, where there’s opportunity for improvement, and make it better.”

That’s the kind of experience Perez is seeking. “I am confident I’ll come out of my UB residency as a well-trained, capable surgeon,” he says. “However, for better or worse, medicine is a business. My knowledge of the business side of medicine is lacking and I am sure that most of my colleagues here and around the nation probably feel the same.

“As busy as we are during residency, it would be nearly impossible to include business or management courses in our curriculum,” he continues. “But this program has been uniquely tailored to me as a resident. I am extremely grateful to the medical school, the School of Management and Kaleida Health for their investment in my training. When I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was too good to pass up.”

Schwaitzberg notes that while the first student is a surgical resident, the program is applicable across a wide range of clinical specialties in medicine and health care. “Defining and delivering the ‘win-win’ was key to generating support for the program,” he says.