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Following a Moral Imperative

Philosophy informed ER doc’s decision to seek health care business expertise

Hank Lemley MD
Emergency Physician, Huntsville Emergency Physicians Group Huntsville, AL

Vanderbilt MM Health Care 2021

For years, Dr. Henry “Hank” Lemley mulled over the possibility of enrolling in a graduate business program. “I knew my professional knowledge base was deficient in the areas of health care management,” he says, “but I really didn’t have a reason or motivation to do anything about it. Then the pandemic hit.”

In March 2020, Hank eagerly volunteered to join his hospital’s Scarce Resource Committee, which was tasked with creating protocols for which patients would receive ventilators should they become scarce due to COVID-19. That role, in turn, drew Hank back to his undergraduate training as an ethicist (his degree was in moral philosophy).

Hank recalled Immanuel Kant’s principle of “ought implies can,” meaning that, if something cannot be done, then it cannot be held as a moral obligation. “That was my motivation to apply to the MMHC,” he says. “I needed to know what hospitals could do in order to help determine what we should do.”

The administration at Hank’s hospital supported his idea of pursuing an MMHC, even providing financial assistance that—together with a scholarship he received from Vanderbilt—made it more manageable financially. It helped, he says, that “my hospital had an established relationship with the MMHC program. It was a known ‘high-value quantity’ to me.”

Right away, Hank was impressed by what he describes as the “world-class faculty” in the program. The first day of Professor Larry Van Horn’s Economics of Health Care Delivery Class made an impression when he brought in celebrity guests via Zoom to speak with the students. Professor Van Horn’s course again stood out when Hank found himself engaged in a team project to develop a strategy for improving revenues via medical/surgical tourism for a remote community hospital in North Dakota.

All of that gave Hank confidence that he would be able to use what he learned to help his own hospital on a system-wide basis. Knowing what they could do, in other words, would help drive strategy for what they should undertake.

I needed to know what hospitals could do in order to help determine what we should do.