Recognizing the enormous talent among undergraduates at The University of Texas, the Dell Medical School launched a Health Leadership Apprentice program to help develop future leaders in health care delivery, policy and public health with a special focus on value-based care. Of the 109 applicants who applied for the inaugural class, 11 were chosen. They ultimately dedicated more than 180 hours each to the community and school over a ten week period. The selection and matching process included an evaluation of the undergraduate student apprentice’s passion to learn, potential to practice stewardship, and their leadership and academic experience.
The executive sponsor of the pilot program was Steve Steffensen, MD, the Chief of the Learning Health System at Dell Medical School. The apprentice program was coordinated and led by Dana Le, a recent graduate of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.
“I wanted to create a program to introduce aspiring undergraduates to alternative career paths in the health care sector. These career paths require expertise across many disciplines including design, business, program management and information systems,” Dana said.
Undergraduate students participated in carefully crafted career building workshops and worked on self-directed projects alongside faculty mentors in their assigned departments. Additionally, students came together weekly for small group sessions with Dell Med speakers and distinguished guests who shared their background, experience and vision for health innovation in Central Texas. By engaging UT Austin undergraduate and graduate students, Dell Med is collaborating across campus to help align shared community goals.
Below are personal reflections on the interactions the undergraduate apprentices had during the small group lecture series.
Speaker: William Tierney, MD, Chair of the Department of Population Health
“Health is not separate from everyday living, so why would an academic institution bent on ensuring a vital, inclusive ecosystem separate itself from the everyday lives of its community members? Bill Tierney is leading the Department of Population Health’s efforts to enhance the health and wellbeing of the residents of Austin, Travis Country and Central Texas — with an emphasis on vulnerable persons and those suffering from health inequities. Tierney emphasized the importance of perspective and humility, especially in the medical profession. In his own words, “The more you know, the more you don’t know.'”
—Erika Rodrigues, Senior, Business Honors & Plan II Honors major
“Everyone can agree that medicine is a science, but fewer people realize it is also an art. This is what Carrie Barron and David Ring made clear to me. A great health care provider does not simply assess a patient’s physical symptoms and make the appropriate diagnosis. Rather, they recognize that properly treating a patient, a fellow human being, involves addressing their emotional and mental states as well. To accomplish this, a skilled physician effectively utilizes both nonverbal and verbal communication to express empathy and build trust, validating a patient’s concerns while delivering expertise in a manner that encourages open discussion. I now have a better understanding of how to create a strong doctor-patient relationship and provide comprehensive care.”
—Casandra Lynnette Compean, Senior, Psychology & Health and Society major
“All great care is built upon strong patient-provider relationships. The art of medicine is in how we develop these relationships — through empathy, sensitivity and support — to foster a sense of understanding and trust between patient and physician. It’s found in effective communication, such as in asking permission before we deliver information and in inviting discussion to find areas of common ground. And it’s found in empowering patients to tell us what they think we should know, and likewise in letting ourselves be dedicated observers and listeners. This model of narrative medicine presented by Ring and Barron will undoubtedly inform my future pursuits and leadership in the medical field.”
—Ryan James Steppe, Junior, Plan II Honors major
Donald Berwick, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement
“Don Berwick spoke of his pursuit of the Triple Aim, a framework developed by him that hopes for better care for individuals, better public health for populations and lower costs per capita in health care. His lecture touched specifically on one principle that reflects these objectives and that is being adopted by many organizations: changing the balance of power. Berwick cited examples of empowering patients and families to provide self-care, regaining their autonomy and input in their own care. Most notably, an example was the case of Zac Wohl, who has Crohn’s Disease. Zac not only learned to put his own feeding tube in, but also created a YouTube video to teach other kids like himself how to do the same.”
—Alice Kanitz Sanchez, Junior, Biochemistry major
Colonel James Geracci, MD
“Dell Med embraces the idea that new ideas and opportunities to learn can come from anywhere, and that as health care leaders we should seek out differing viewpoints, educational backgrounds, and areas of expertise to best serve our communities. Colonel James Geracci sets a great example of putting this into practice. As a decorated Army Physician with over 26 years of experience, Colonel Geracci spoke to us about the lessons to be learned from the combat setting in developing best practices for trauma care in the civilian sector. Hearing about Colonel Geracci’s specific insights and goals was fascinating, and it was inspiring to see that both he and Dell Med leadership were excited to connect and learn from each other.”
—Claire McCarthy Zagorski, Post-Baccalaureate, Pre-Medicine
Lourdes Rodriguez, DrPH, Director of the Center for Place-Based Initiatives at Dell Med
“It was fascinating to learn about the improving health care scene in Austin while gaining insight on the function of the school’s Center for Place-Based Initiatives. We learned about unique ideas on homeless health equity — one example is a mobile showering unit for the homeless. We learned that health disparities are shaped by economic policies and social determinants, especially a person’s geographic region. Because of the lecture I feel more inclined to contribute to the beautiful city of Austin and hope to do so in the future.”
—Viraj Muthyala, Junior, Public Health major
Nishi Viswanathan, MBBS, MBA, Director of the Texas Health Catalyst
“Nishi Viswanathan is a physician, researcher and business school graduate. After (amazingly) condensing her wide variety of career enriching experiences into just a few minutes, Viswanathan explained exactly why she was attracted to the opportunity to lead the Texas Health Catalyst program. Beyond the seed funding that the catalyst grants, the program bridges the often-overlooked gap between the translation of promising scientific research into viable projects with more concrete developmental pathways. It was inspiring to see how her background lends a uniquely comprehensive look at both the clinical and commercial feasibility of proposed health technologies. ”
—Hufsa Husain, Junior, Management Information Systems major
Ric Bonnell, MD, Director of the Division of Global Health
“Ric Bonnell carries health care initiatives overseas to inspire a global perspective in medicine and provide relief for those lacking access and resources. During his talk, he asked us why none of his Haitian patients had eaten the diabetes medication they were given. Dumbfounded, none of us realized that it was because the patients were trying to save the medication for more dire situations. This one scenario unveils the huge discrepancies in health care, and the lack of proper medication and education in many countries. His talk elevated my appreciation for my time volunteering in Nicaragua and reinforced my future aspirations in becoming a Doctors Without Borders volunteer.”
—Andi Liang, Junior, Human Biology & Plan II Honors major
Richard Freeman, MD, Vice Dean of Clinical Affairs
“Renowned transplant surgeon Rich Freeman spoke about his experiences which have shown him the determinants of health care, the importance of linking payments to outcomes instead of services, and how humanistic medicine is present throughout health care. Using his specialty as an example, he described how transparency, public-private policy partnerships and a robust data system allowed for refining of the organ transplant system. The example demonstrates how medicine as an interdisciplinary field is continually changing. His honest thoughts and opinions have shown me that we are all responsible for improving the system that we use to provide care for patients.”
—Swetha Maddipudi, Senior, Biomedical Engineering Honors major
“In a world where we recognize that health (and by extension, health care) is a human right, we must also recognize that health disparities exist among populations due to race, gender, ability and other facets of our identities. The single biggest predictor of our health and health outcomes is our zip code. If we want to achieve an equitable society, as reimbursement is increasingly tied to outcomes, we must work to address these disparities at their roots. The roots extend beyond the doctor’s office and emergency room into communities. We must look at education, housing, clean air and water, crime, racism and more.”
—Alexandra Mulconnery, Junior, Business Honors & Supply Chain Management major