For the average medical student in their first two years, the words “health systems innovation,” provokes a similar reaction as “quantum mechanics;” a vague concession that the concept exists, followed by a momentary consideration of why that might be important, a shrug, and finally a resumption of trying to memorize 1023 facts before dawn.
While our most basic motivation stems from helping our future patients, the daily Sisyphean pursuit of medical knowledge shapes us into experts at deciphering what we must learn in order to survive academically. Thus, the focus is most often on the what, and not the why.
That is, until we interact with patients in weekly clinical rounds, or through volunteer work. It is then that the why becomes perfectly lucid. We find ourselves saying, “aha,” as the lectures, notes and mnemonics suddenly manifest in perfect order as the basis for a metabolic disorder, or the clearing of an infection. We become reinvigorated with wonder and motivation for understanding all we can.
As a research intern studying health systems innovation, the same process applies. My head swirls as I grapple with impossible complexities; hospitals, state and federal policies, study designs and alternative payment models (APM). But when I visit a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) utilizing an APM to best serve their patients, the minutia comes to life, the dots connect and I realize why learning the details is so important.
Medical students are invariably curious people who learn how to approach knowledge acquisition in the most efficient possible way. The shear magnitude and complexity inherent in health system innovation can be daunting and often acts as a barrier to medical students’ pursuit of knowledge in this critical area of health care. But these same barriers exist for biochemistry and physiology. What keeps us going is a faith that this knowledge will help us to help others.
When they see the why for learning about this vital component of their future profession, I believe the task becomes imperative, and much less daunting. I hope that many of my fellow students will share my good fortune and see innovation, because only by engaging can we hope to make a positive impact on our patients and communities.
Glenn Kautz, MPH, is a second-year medical student at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), working with OCHIN and OHSU Family Medicine as a summer research intern through a grant from the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians. He is interested in a primary care, underserved populations and health policy analytics.