I used to have a regular feature on this blog called "Wednesday is Student Day", to respond to questions raised by students of all ages. That faded away after a while, but I still get occasional questions from students, and some of them are of general interest. When they pop up, I will post them here. The latest arrived last week. Here it is, with my answers in italics.
Hi Mr. Levy!
My name is Savina Mehta and I'm a sophomore finance major at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Michigan.
Although I am a business major, I have always had this passion for medicine. A few months ago, I was even toying with idea of changing majors , and transferring into a pre-med program. However, after researching the healthcare industry, I realized that I could combine my two greatest academic interests: business and medicine. And that's when I decided that I wanted to hold an executive position at a hospital, specifically holding the position of CEO.
Mr. Levy, I've read your blog and I'm really interested in what you do. I just had a few questions about how you got started in this industry.
When you were in school, what did you study?
At the time, I had no plans whatsoever to be involved in health care. I was interested in regional planning and infrastructure issues. At MIT, after the required math, science, and humanities courses, I took a composite of engineering, city planning, economics and econometrics, statistics and probability (to keep up my math skills!), operations research, and decision analysis. (And then there was one really great course in art history when I cross-registered at Wellesley College, which might have had something to do with an interest in art history and might have had something more to do with the relative gender mix at Wellesley versus MIT at the time.)
Are there particular subjects that would best prepared me for a position such as yours?
Beyond the particular topics, look for classes that have interesting and involved professors, where written and oral communication skills are emphasized, and where quantitative reasoning and rigorous analytical problem solving are expected.
How did you get the position of President and CEO at your hospital? Did you start off as a consultant or an adviser?
My path to this job was unusual in that I had virtually no background in the field. I was hired mainly because of my managerial experience in other settings.
Is it common to find business people holding executive positions at hospitals? Or are many of them M.D's?
I think, nowadays, there is about a 50:50 split at the CEO level.
What do you like about your job? What do you dislike?
I love, not like, the people who choose to work in hospitals. They are the most well-intentioned people you will ever meet, devoted to alleviating human suffering caused by disease. I dislike the fact that those of us in hospitals are not yet fulfilling our ability to reduce harm to patients. It is a sad paradox that well-meaning and committed people inadvertently end up hurting the very people they seek to serve.
What advice can you give a student who wants to hold a position like yours, one day?
Don't even think about planning a career. It will follow its own course. (This is my ninth job in 35 years.) Take jobs that do good for the world, where you can learn something new, and where you can have fun (i.e., where you can enjoy the people with whom you work.) Follow your instincts and your inclinations. Be alert to opportunities as they arise. Take risks: Ask for difficult assignments and do your best to carry them out. Learn to trust the people with whom you work, give others the credit when things go well, take responsibility when things go awry, and be generous with positive reinforcement with your peers and with those you supervise. Follow the golden rule, which is the same in all the world's religions.
I know that you are probably very busy, Mr. Levy and I am so sorry to bother you with questions. But I would really appreciate any help you can offer me.
Thank you so much!