Nearly a century ago, a young woman by the name of Frances Perkins bolstered her clinical background as a social worker when she pursued advanced education in economics at Wharton. A staunch advocate for women, children, and factory workers employed under deplorable and unsafe conditions, Perkins would go on to become the first woman appointed to a Presidential Cabinet post as the secretary of labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is clear that her clinical experiences shaped her ideas and her focus. As part of the Administration's New Deal programs, recommendations for national health insurance were first broached in December 1934 by Perkins as part of her work on the Council on Economic Security.

I think of Frances Perkins often. Her work to help shape national policy, including this early attempt at health-care reform, took place during a far worse period of national economic devastation and when women had only just attained the right to vote. As a former Frances Perkins Scholar from my Mount Holyoke days, I can't help but feel committed to her legacy, and I am excited to think that the ideas she put forth so long ago may well come to fruition. As a woman relying on my clinical background as I bolster my business acumen at Yale and move my career ahead, I can't help but think that Frances would approve. As I move forward through the program two weeks at a time, Yale is helping prepare me for the next phase of my career on multiple fronts both inside and outside the classroom.

With the expanding health-care industry currently representing nearly 20% of the GDP, the sound business principles taught as part of a health-care MBA will be needed for many years to come. With value, access, quality, and safety being demanded by the public from health-care leaders, Yale is cultivating the human capital necessary to help meet that consumer demand. While the classroom experience is invaluable and at the heart of the MBA experience, these past months have seen an expansion of my education beyond the walls of B-school and the core curriculum. Through exposure to visiting scholars, an exemplary career-development office, and informational interviews with various alumni, the requisite experience required by the program is built upon through the cultivation of future business relationships.

As working professionals with years of experience and as with any executive program, the focus for first-year students is not on attaining summer internships but rather on the exploration of ways to marry past experience with the MBA to chart a new trajectory for current or future employers. At Yale, those seeking career transitions are supported through individual mid-career counseling and a series of seminars presented by Chris Young of the Career Development Office. Presence and presentation skills have been honed through coaching with an executive communications consultant, Dr. William Vance, of the Executive Voice. Directors of the program, generous in their willingness to make introductions individually through the visiting scholars program and through an extensive alumni network, all seem vested in the success of each individual in the program, and we are expected to make good use of the resources available to us.

Visiting Scholars

The visiting-scholars program is a unique aspect of the Yale EMBA and it has become a part of the program that I look forward to with every class meeting. Every two weeks our class enjoys an engaging speaker ready to challenge how we think about various aspects of health care and the unique challenges it presents to the industry as well as to our individual interests. With my interest in health-care policy, I particularly enjoyed the spirited discussion we had with Dr. David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner, as he walked us through the perils and pitfalls of his takedown of big tobacco in the early 1990s. Health-care access and patient safety approached through early preventative care was touched upon by Alan D. Aviles, president and CEO of the New York City Health & Hospitals Corp.

As the largest municipal health-care system in the nation, his organization is addressing the diverse needs of 1.3 million New Yorkers while maintaining a long-standing commitment to safe, efficient, quality care. My interest in the national nurse staffing crisis, nursing unions, and the impact of nurse-patient ratios relative to safety and nurse job satisfaction was touched upon by Benjamin Chu, President and CEO of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. A public policy report issued by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and available on the JCAHO Web site recognized Kaiser Permanente's long-standing commitment to decreasing nursing turnover and creating a culture of retention to help control costs. Its goal to become the "employer of choice" for nurses seems to be working. Following his presentation, Chu confirmed what has become common knowledge among nurses: Kaiser has no trouble attracting and keeping them.

Outside the confines of the classroom, I have encountered alumni as generous with their time as they are with career advice, informal mentoring, and introductions to their own contacts within the business world. In just the past few months, I have spoken with managers and executives at such organizations as Americares, Save the Children, Yale New Haven Hospital, Boehringer Ingelheim, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Center, and Cardiopulmonary Corporation. Each individual has helped me glimpse various aspects of the for-profit and nonprofit world of health care, and the meetings have been an invaluable education in and of themselves.

Classes in hypothesis testing and regression, leadership, financial theory, and mathematical modeling with spreadsheets have all wound down as I gear up for marketing management, health-care economics, operations management, and power and politics. Reading assignments and individual writing projects come fast and furious, while the team aspect of our education takes on the unique challenges that distance, work, and family commitments can impose. I've heard others in my class say, as I feel, that our lives have become inextricably intertwined. Perhaps some of the greatest lessons so far have been about individual relationships and group dynamics.

As the spring semester approaches, I'm struck by how much I have already learned and how much is yet to come. The readings, the group and individual assignments, and the expectations are only increasing. With the health-care industry in a state of undeniable transition, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed with thoughts about the future. Questions about how my clinical background will shape my eventual career choices remain unanswered; somehow I know that all will be fine. With colleagues, teachers, mentors, and friends by my side, a favorite motto of Frances Perkins helps move me forward with a sense of purpose and confidence. "Be ye steadfast"—words as appropriate in her time as they are in mine.

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