This is an interesting time for medical students in the class of 2016. With the end of second year right around the corner, Doctoring in Vermont under my belt, and my sights set on USMLE Step 1, I have become very aware of the profound amount of preclinical knowledge we all have accumulated in the past year and a half. At times, it has felt overwhelming. However, I have also become aware of a minor gap in medical education. During first year, I quickly realized that most, if not all, M.D. degree granting programs do not incorporate formal courses on practice management and health insurance, accounting and finance, and the principles of business into their curricula. It is absolutely true that acquiring a solid grasp of the foundations material is essential to becoming a good physician, but knowing how to run your own practice, deal with insurance companies, and hire essential personnel are equally important, as is an understanding of healthcare economics.
This gap in our education is not because medical schools lack resources; in fact, less than a handful of allopathic medical schools are stand-alone or are affiliated with universities that do not have business schools. It is due to the constraints and intense pressure placed on medical schools by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which demands that we are taught a large volume of high yield scientific knowledge in a specific time frame. It is the same reason why medical school professors cannot go on and on about their personal research and innovations – that information, however intriguing, may still be in its infancy and therefore far from standard practice or general fact. In other words, there is too much to learn already, and barely enough time to learn it all.
Despite the intense focus of our medical education, I saw a chance during my first year to gain unique insight into the University of Vermont and learn about business management, strategy, and governance. This opportunity presented as an opening for a student on the University of Vermont’s Board of Trustees. I chose to pursue the position of student trustee because I wanted to gain insight into how this successful enterprise was run. Additionally, as a firm believer in the merits of higher education, I wanted to contribute to the greater university community by being at the forefront of shaping the future of our fine institution.
So, what is a trustee? What are the responsibilities of the Board? These are questions I pondered as I started my application a little over a year ago. A trustee is someone who acts on a Board to help protect and appropriately restructure a university’s endowment. This is accomplished by keeping informed about university issues, strategic decision-making, and quality control and auditing. This applies to several scenarios, whether it is a significant curricular modification, the acquisition of property, major construction projects, or the allocation of gifts or funding.
Being a medical student on the UVM Board of Trustees is a challenging, but invaluable, experience. Reviewing hundreds of pages of Board materials before each major meeting, in addition to staying on top of my medical education and research can be overwhelming at times. The monumental support I have received from the Office of Medical Student Education, the trustee coordinators, and my peers has helped make serving on the Board possible. However, since I never formally studied business management in college or grad school, the learning curve has been steep. By working with various university constituencies, such as executive committees and administrators, I have learned about board governance, fiduciary responsibility, national issues that affect higher education, and some of UVM’s administrative policies and regulations. Although I am still becoming familiar with my role, I feel that I have become better prepared to make decisions that impact UVM. With this exposure, I hope to hone my interpersonal skills and gain leadership and management skills.
I also hope to develop a strong and unique business acumen, which I cannot cultivate elsewhere. The University of Vermont is a large business whose trajectory is guided by the Board of Trustees. By having the opportunity to be involved with curricular development, university governance, financial management, property development, and legal issues, I am gaining a unique experience outside of medicine, albeit one that is essential to creating a successful medical practice in the future.