As medical students, exposure to business school has been a wake-up call to the inner workings of our healthcare system. Much of the American healthcare system is run by large corporations, and physicians face pressures and constraints from corporate administration in everything from how long they have to spend with each patient to what therapies they prescribe. Whether these corporations are non-profit or for-profit, they are rapidly consolidating healthcare delivery in this country. Some of these corporations are doing very well both financially and for patients, but others are failing.
The word “corporation” derives from the Latin corpus, body. Just like a body, these corporations can develop ailments with time. During these times corporations have the option of turning to consultants. Consultants meet with corporate thought leaders to determine not only what the problem is for the corporation, but how to fix it. They do so by building rapport, asking a series of diagnostic questions, establishing a differential of potential problems a corporation is facing, gathering data, consulting with experts in the field as needed, and finally formulating a plan to fix what ails the corporation; they may even make house calls. In a way, consultants are doctors for the system. In training for experiences in corporate consulting, we have learned much about how to determine what ails these bodies of people, how to gather the data needed to narrow our differential, and how to communicate news effectively.
Clearly, treating humans versus corporations is distinct in several important facets. While corporations can suffer from terminal illnesses and perish in bankruptcy, the loss of these organizations does not mean the loss of the people that constitute them. Corporations can be absorbed into other corporations or resurrected—the same cannot be said for treating their human counterparts. Ethical questions abound with these corporations as well that are quite distinct from those focused on medical ethics. Should corporations that pay their workers below living wages be fixed? Should those corporations who pollute the earth be helped, with their promises that they will change in the future?
Distinctions and ethical dilemmas aside, the process of treating corporations bears more than a passing resemblance to treating individuals. The process of asking questions, formulating hypotheses, testing and refining those hypotheses, coming up with a treatment plan, and presenting it to the team and patient is the fundamental process of both fields. As medical students we are trained in clinical skills that may seem non-transferable. Yet these skills under a different lens and with a different fund of knowledge form the backbone of essential industries. As future diagnosticians we do well to remember the skills of creative, critical, and organized thinking we learn in medical school are fundamentally tools in the search for understanding, an understanding that is essential in fields far flung from medicine.
-John L. Havlik, BS and Michael J. Murphy, BS, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT