Mobilize the healthcare workforce? Challenge accepted.

By: Katelyn Godoy
Alexi Nazem Featured Image

Alexi Nazem, MD, MBA, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine

Throughout his career in medicine, Dr. Alexi Nazem, MD, MBA, has carried a notebook in his pocket so he could write down what “isn’t working” in his day-to-day—from obstacles small to large and problems mundane to major.

Dr. Nazem, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, decided to take on a significant challenge: the severe shortage of physicians, nurses, and clinicians in the United States. He now works primarily as the founder and CEO of his company, Nomad Health, the first-ever online marketplace that directly connects hospitals with clinical practitioners looking for short-term, freelance work. It removes the need to work with staffing agencies, which gives hospital administration the ability to make their own hiring decisions quickly.

“I love taking care of patients, but I realized that even if I were incredibly productive as a physician I could only affect the lives of thousands of people,” Nazem says. “If I could be part of improving the healthcare system, I figured I would have the opportunity to affect millions or billions of people.”

It’s ambitions like these that make dual business and healthcare degree programs so valuable—especially the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadershipprogram. This joint program offered by the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medicine will educate students who will then have the potential to substantially impact the healthcare industry and, in turn, millions of lives.

An Executive MBA for Healthcare Professionals

Nazem sees a unique advantage for students in the new Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program: the ability to learn from each other and take action at the same time. Students in this executive program will continue to work during the week and take classes on the weekend; therefore, bringing individual cases to discuss with peers and faculty and then immediately applying what they learn at their jobs.

“Healthcare itself is a peculiar industry with a lot of different constituencies, skillsets, and missions,” Nazem says. “It merits its own kind of conversation… with access to Weill, a source of real life examples about what it’s like to lead and manage in healthcare … discussions will be rich and focused.”

When you work in healthcare, it’s important to network with other physicians and medical administrators. Nazem appreciates the network he gained while completing his MBA program, which is not uncommon for MBAs. It’s a big win for professionals to be able to tap into both Johnson and Weill networks as students, and then carry those connections with them as alumni.

“There is clear value in this program for people who want to be healthcare system administrators, but I’m an example of someone who is leveraging business skills in a different realm,” Nazem says. “I’m an entrepreneur outside of the hospital walls… While we want to train leaders to run hospitals and health systems, I’d also encourage students to think expansively. There are a lot of ways to make an impact on the system as a clinician who is also business person.”

Back to Basics: Empowerment and Confidence

Even if you don’t have plans to make huge changes in the healthcare system, there’s a significant advantage to gaining basic business skills. Yes, those skills include accounting, negotiating, and general management, but also leadership and confidence, which brings about empowerment.

When Nazem first started Nomad Health, he was responsible for tasks like bookkeeping and cash management. But as the company evolved, he still drew on his business skills to hire, lead, and manage the people doing marketing, sales, and accounting. Being able to understand those basic subject areas and having a shared vocabulary with his team helps Nazem build and maintain the company’s culture. He’s still the face of Nomad Health in everything from sales to fundraising.

“Anyone who doesn’t realize that healthcare is a business is going to be sorely disappointed in their ability to lead and make changes…” he says. “If nothing else, every business school student should strive to develop confidence as a leader and a manager.”

These skills are empowering. Healthcare professionals need to be able to communicate with stakeholders, lead projects, develop systems and share them with constituents, and speak intelligently to decision-makers who deal with the daily business of healthcare. So even if clinicians aren’t making changes themselves, they are certainly influencing them.

From Challenge Comes Opportunity

Medicine has come leaps and bounds over the years, but the healthcare system faces challenges like any other industry. It takes a business leader to make big changes that positively impact how healthcare works in areas like patient care, insurance negotiations, human resources, accounting, and more.

Starting Nomad Health was a “great business opportunity” for Nazem, but at a higher level, the company is truly benefitting an integral part of healthcare delivery. Nazem used the skills he gained while earning his MBA to solve a problem that he saw on the front lines of clinical care—and he recognized that he couldn’t mobilize the healthcare workforce as a physician alone. As a doctor or nurse you’re diagnosing and treating patients, not the healthcare system, Nazem explains.

“As a physician you see not only dysfunction but opportunities for improvements and solutions, and it’s frustrating to be unable to make changes in the role that you have,” he says. “When you have training in management and leadership, you’re able to see the solution and you’re given license to try to fix the problems, which is what business school is about—marshalling resources, finding strategies, and implementing them in meaningful ways.”