By Kara Sherrer
Last month, four Vanderbilt MD/MBA students from the class of 2021 had an article published in the Journal of Medical Systems, titled “Lessons from Operations Management to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The students co-wrote the article with two Vanderbilt faculty members, Mumin Kurtulus of Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management and Brian C. Drolet of the Vanderbilt Medical School.
The four students — James Randall Patrinley Jr, Sean T. Berkowitz, Danny Zakria, and Douglas J. Totten — conceived of the article during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. As both the business and medical school went fully remote, they found themselves with a bit of extra time and decided to put it to good use. “We had some extra time to think of important topics to write about related to COVID from our personal experiences, which really combines the business and healthcare worlds,” said Patrinley.
The students drew on their Professor Kurtulus’ operations management course to examine how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the medical supply chain, causing shortages of masks and other necessary equipment. When they finalized the draft, they sent it to Professor Kurtulus and Dr. Drolet for feedback. “I really appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of our MD/MBA students,” Professor Kurtulus said of their collaboration. “The paper was driven by the students, and they invited me to be a co-author, so this paper would have never been written if they did not initiate it.”
The students also received help from another business school professor, Ranga Ramanujan. While Professor Ramanujan does not study operations management, he does research healthcare organizations, and he used his knowledge to help the students further refine the article. “He was happy to give us some feedback and collaborate with us even without… receiving any credit (in the journal). I think that was a testament to how supportive Owen is,” Zakria said.
While all four of the MD/MBAs plan to practice as physicians after graduating next year, they say that the business knowledge gained through their MBA education will help them become better clinicians and advocates. “What really fascinated me is how little we knew about how much basic things cost and how unspoken that is on the clinical side,” Berkowitz said. “The landscape is very complicated right now, so it seemed like a logical next step to try to learn more about the system and its impact on patients on population wide scales.”
“The modern healthcare environment seems to be focused on business elements such as cost efficiency more than ever, and I think that’s only to keep being a focus,” Patrinley added. “All of us do want to practice medicine, and (getting the MBA) will help us be advocates locally in our hospitals and nationally in our respective fields, trying to get better representation for our colleagues and patients.”
Right now, all four students are focused on applying to residencies. They haven’t settled on another paper topic yet, but they have discussed possibilities and are keeping an eye on the pandemic’s affects on the healthcare field. “From an evolution-of-healthcare standpoint, there’s a lot of reason to be excited about what could happen in the future, and there’s also reason to be apprehensive. It’s a time of change,” Totten concluded.
The full text of their article can be read here.