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Getting Beyond One Patient at a Time

‘Transforming’ EMBA experience helped Tom DiSalvo get to the heart of health care operations

Tom DiSalvo
Medical Director, Division of Cardiology, Medical University of South Carolina

Vanderbilt Executive MBA 2007

When Dr. Tom DiSalvo took on the role of Medical Director at the Vanderbilt Heart Institute, he was an accomplished cardiologist with relatively little experience as a business manager. He was immediately faced with a major challenge: the parent hospital had charged the organization to continue its pattern of explosive growth in an exceptionally competitive environment. Tom needed management expertise on multiple fronts—fast—and the Vanderbilt Executive MBA program was an ideal fit.

“As a physician, I was woefully underprepared to manage a rapidly growing clinical enterprise,” he says. “In medicine you deal with one patient at a time. I needed to learn to think strategically about all of the organization’s challenges: marketing, finance, operations, organizational development.

“The Executive MBA program profoundly broadened my perspective, improving my ability to think with sophistication, depth, breadth and creativity. Even while I was still in the program, I implemented some of the operational processes I learned at Owen to provide better service to our patients. The program has been completely transforming.”

In 2015, Dr. DiSalvo applied his Vanderbilt education to a new challenge — taking on the role of Medical Director for the Division of Cardiology at the Medical University of South Carolina. There, he is working to prepare physicians to improve heart health in a state where cardiac disease is either the No. 1 or No. 2 cause of death in any given year.

We are taking patients for a lifetime,” he says. “Adult heart disease starts at childhood — actually it starts with our genetic legacy. At some point we have to engage in a broader dialogue and involve developmental biology and pediatric cardiology. We are good at touching patients as needed for crisis intervention, but we are not good at preventing things from happening in the first place, and that starts at birth. Through prevention and risk stratification – even if we can’t correct things — if we can diagnose earlier, over time we’ll do far less interventions because we will have prevented them.”

“The program has been completely transforming."