Physician's Perspective Aids Management Program
Jun. 10, 2010
Having a physician run a master’s-level management program may seem unusual. Dr. Forney Fleming considers it a distinct advantage.
“Someone who has been in any of the professional fields they’re dealing with brings life experiences to that particular arena,” he said. “That is not the typical approach that most programs take.”
Fleming, who heads up the Healthcare Management master’s program at UT Dallas, came to the University after decades of working as an orthopedic surgeon. Add an MBA and teaching experience to the equation, and it becomes clear that Fleming’s credentials are unparalleled.
“This was my idea for retirement—to have a second career in teaching,” he said. “My mother, who was a teacher, was an inspiration to me. I prepared for it by getting an MBA a few years ago with the specific career desire to teach. During my practice career, I was involved in a lot of teaching—I taught residents, I gave lectures, I was program director of an EMT training course—and I enjoyed the classroom environment.”
That kind of wide-ranging experience is essential for leading a program that trains its graduates to succeed in one of the largest industries in the nation, one with huge growth potential. Fleming says healthcare remains one of the largest employers in the DFW area. “It is one of the last areas to be affected by a recession,” he says, “and one of the first to emerge from a recession. Future demands for healthcare managers will be great.”
Fleming’s goal is to have the best healthcare management program in the region. “Ultimately, it’s going to be the biggest,” he said. “We’re already up to 105 students, and it’s growing every semester.”
The program has grown along with the industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that the health care industry provided about 14.3 million jobs in 2008 would generate 3.2 million new ones by 2018, more than any other industry, largely in response to rapid growth in the elderly population. Ten of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are related to healthcare.
The program is geared toward a broad spectrum of disciplines —hospital administration, medical and dental clinic management, managed care, health insurance, and consulting practices that deal with healthcare and governmental agencies.
Fleming’s career started in 1965 in medical school, the same year Medicare was introduced. “It’s a sentinel event in terms of the way the American healthcare system functions today because that was the year that government intervention was created,” he said.
“I lived through all of that as part of my practice career, so I can deliver hands-on exposure and experiences to students in terms of what it was like, what happened and why it happened,” Fleming said. “I can impart information to my students that people from outside the profession really cannot do.”
David Link, a student in the Healthcare Management MS program, agrees. “Dr. Fleming understands not only the medical and legal requirements for doctors and hospitals, but the business impact of decisions in this arena,” Link said. “His ability to easily field in-depth questions from students on the healthcare industry makes him an invaluable resource that could not be compressed into a single textbook. It definitely enhances student understanding.”
Most healthcare management programs have very limited input from physicians. “Those programs may have guest lecturers who give spot lectures, but in terms of giving input into designing the curriculums and teaching some of the core classes, most of the programs don’t do that,” said Fleming. “Their emphasis is on the business aspects, which is perfectly good, but we add another dimension to it by utilization of people who have been out there in the trenches.”
For Chris Boynick, a student in the Healthcare Management MS program, that’s what sets the program at UT Dallas apart from similar ones. “Frankly, no textbook or journal article could provide the same level of timely, in-depth, and tailored advice that Dr. Fleming offers,” Boynick said.
Fleming and his colleagues try to impart in their future hospital administrators knowledge of the physician’s perspective. “If you are going to deal with physicians on a daily basis, it’s very helpful to understand where they’re coming from,” he said.
As a faculty member, Fleming is not just a wealth of knowledge and experience but he is in a perfect position to advocate with members of the healthcare community on behalf of the program and its students. “When I go out and meet the CEO of one of the larger hospital systems, for example, the fact that I am a physician opens doors and enables me to establish a degree of rapport with them,” he said. “Ultimately, this is of benefit to the program, and that reflects well on the students.”
Students who are intrigued by the possibility of having a career in healthcare management can get a glimpse into that field before making a full commitment. This fall, Fleming is teaching a new undergraduate course titled Introduction to Healthcare Management that may help them make that decision.
“We are particularly interested in attracting undergraduates who have decided to get a graduate degree,” he said. “They may only be thinking in broader terms of finance or accounting. We want them to start thinking about the opportunities that exist in healthcare. It doesn’t matter what undergraduate degree they pursue. This is a self-contained program. By that, I mean that you do not need a background in business or healthcare. We’re going to give it to you. With evening classes, it’s geared for the working professional.”