Breaking down university silos

Posted 2018-07-16

A new partnership between the UBC Sauder School of Business and UBC’s Department of Radiology is helping physicians gain a stronger understanding of the business world.

“Unfortunately, physicians are typically not well trained in business,” explains Dr. Bruce Forster, head of the department of radiology in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

But it wasn’t until Forster audited a Physician Leadership course organized by UBC Sauder and the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) three years ago that he realized the promising relationship between medicine and business, and an intriguing solution to this problem began to take shape.

“I thought to myself: if physicians need to know more about the business world, why can’t we as physicians help create a unique course tailored to our needs? There’s great benefit in today’s health care system for physicians to have some fundamental business skills like leadership, teamwork, operations and negotiation.”

What was born from Dr. Forster’s initial musing was a new relationship between UBC Sauder and UBC’s Department of Radiology, along with the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) and the Canadian Radiological Foundation. The partnership has so far produced two Executive Education courses targeted at Canada’s radiologists, helping to effectively bridge the once large divide between business and medicine.

The 21st century physician
In today’s world, more than ever before, physicians may find themselves filling the roles of founder, CEO, and manager of their own medical services business, while also navigating the responsibilities and skill requirements that those roles demand.

“Gone are the days when physicians could just do medicine. Now there are so many other aspects of a physician’s role that simply aren’t taught in medical school, and which they need to learn on their own,” explains Dr. Emil Lee, president of the Canadian Association of Radiologists and the regional medical director for medical imaging in Fraser Health Authority.

“The concepts of leadership and business aren’t natural for physicians, but thankfully it’s a skill that can be learned. Building bench strength in the Canadian radiology community in leadership will be sorely needed in the future.”

And the medical community agrees. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst found that graduating medical students lack the fundamental business and leadership training needed to maximize quality and reduce costs in a clinical practice, while The Atlantic revealed growing complaints that the medical curriculum in the United States has changed very little since 1910.

In fact, it’s only within the last few decades that students have decided to supplement their M.D. degrees with programs in different disciplines. For example, the number of joint M.D./MBA programs in the United States grew from six to 65 in just 20 years, and currently, it’s estimated that more than 500 students are attending those programs across the country.

For Forster, the two courses developed so far by UBC Sauder and the Radiology department are meant to act as a primer, teaching the essential business principles that are key to addressing current challenges faced by Canadian radiologists. Last year’s program – co-moderated by Dr. Forster – was delivered at the annual CAR conference and focused on elements of operations management and leadership, while this year’s workshop delved into negotiation.

Dr. Lee attended both courses, which gave him an opportunity to gain knowledge from key leaders in the field of radiology while also improving professionally.

“The course was quite customized, and featured lectures from radiology industry experts like Dr. Frank Lexa. It was clear that UBC Sauder specifically chose speakers based on their knowledge and experience in the subject matter, which made the workshop even more valuable to attendees.”

Breaking down faculty silos
After the success of the two courses so far, Forster believes that more university faculties should work together to create synergies.

“With universities, traditionally a silo approach exists when it comes to working together and integrating subjects like business and law into the curriculum,” says Bruce Wiesner, associate dean of UBC Sauder’s Executive Education program. “But, as we’ve seen with this partnership, when different university faculties and outside organizations work together, we can create compelling content for attendees while also improving patient care.”

Wiesner adds that the Executive Education program – which is consistently ranked among the world’s best programs by the Financial Times – already has a strong partnership with the Faculty of Medicine and other key health care organizations to deliver the Physician Leadership Program. PLP is a 10-day training program for senior physicians, designed to teach the leadership behaviours and skills needed to plan, deliver and transform B.C.’s health care system.

“The advantage of being a university-based business school is that we can work across faculties and support them with business and leadership education,” Wiesner explains.

Another bonus, he adds, is UBC Sauder’s ability to impact organizations beyond the traditional business metric of dollars and cents.

“We worked to develop a course that not only transformed individual radiologists’ professional development, but also impacted the broader field of radiology by identifying potential efficiencies in the health care system. Ultimately, as education providers we want to create this kind of sustainable impact for organizations and individuals through these kinds of learning partnerships.”