Source: Bruce Y. Lee from Forbes
This is not your typical ho-hum merger. It’s not every day (or every year or every decade) that a medical school with a long, distinguished history merges with a school well known for the arts and design. But then again, “typical” is not a word that you would use to describe Stephen K. Klasko, M.D., MBA, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, and Stephen Spinelli Jr., Ph.D., president of Philadelphia University, who helped bring their educational institutions together…officially on July 1, 2017, at 12:01 a.m.
What do art and design have to do with medicine and healthcare? Does this merger between Jefferson and Philadelphia University simply mean that doctors and nurses will replace stethoscopes with paint brushes and designers will start asking you about your diarrhea? No, this merger could really shake up medical and professional education in a good way, infuse more creativity into healthcare, bring a healthcare perspective to other fields and generate needed innovative solutions to a broken healthcare system. It can further invigorate design, the arts and engineering. Without real changes (and not the ones currently discussed in Congress), the healthcare system and medical education are hurtling into a wall. Other types of education also will face challenges. It’s fitting that Philadelphia, the original capital of the U.S., is the setting where this innovative merger of not just institutions, but also disciplines and ways of thinking, is happening.
If there were an eHarmony or a Match.com for institutions and organizations, these two may not have found each other. After all, many healthcare mergers are between those who are ostensibly and superficially more similar. Oh, you have an ER, so do I. You have primary clinics, I do, too. You like long walks in the OR, as do I. In many typical healthcare mergers, there’s talk of synergies and adding capabilities, but frequently the driving force is increasing market share, negotiating power and cutting costs. Mergers in other arenas are similar.
By contrast, the superficial profiles of these two institutions are quite different. The roots of Thomas Jefferson University date back to 1824, when the founding of Jefferson Medical College gave the U.S. a fifth medical college in addition to Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Dartmouth. A year later, it became the first medical college in the U.S. to open a clinic, and four years later Jefferson established the second hospital in the nation connected to a medical college. The roots of Philadelphia University date back to the same century in 1884, with the opening of the Philadelphia Textile School. Over the ensuing century the school grew and changed its name several times to account for the addition of programs in the arts, architecture, sciences, business administration and other disciplines. In 1999, the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science became a university with the name Philadelphia University, a name it held until this month…which brings us to the first meeting between Klasko and Spinelli roughly two years ago.
The first meeting was supposed to be only 15 minutes, a blip on the schedule. But it was a classic example of why you should always keep an open mind before meeting someone and how you never know when you will meet a soulmate (institutionally, professionally or personally). That 15-minute meeting turned into an hour-and-a-half meeting as the two Steves found that they had shared interests and visions.
Dr. Klasko has been president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health since September 2013. Prior to that he was senior vice president and CEO of University of South Florida (USF) Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine for nine years and dean of the Drexel University College of Medicine and CEO of Drexel University Physicians for four years. He got an MBA from the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, back when doctors getting MBAs was considered weird. He’s written and lectured extensively on healthcare including his 1999 book, The Phantom Stethoscope: A Field Manual for an Optimistic Future in Medicine, and a more recent book, We CAN Fix Healthcare in America. He’s also an OB-GYN specialist. The man knows healthcare.
Dr. Spinelli, who is now the chancellor of Jefferson, became president of Philadelphia University on September 1, 2007. Dr. Spinelli’s biography reads like several successful people’s bios rolled into one. Previously, he was a cofounder of Jiffy Lube International and chairman and CEO of the American Oil Change Corporation. He also held a variety of faculty and leadership positions at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, including vice provost for entrepreneurship and global management, chair of the entrepreneurship division and director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. In 2008, Spinelli’s first act as president of Philadelphia University (PhilaU) was working with the board of trustees to develop the vision and strategic plan of PhilaU becoming the 21st century model for professional university education. This helped lead to the first meeting with Klasko.
Klasko joked that “the two were married at first sight” (the institutions, that is–how Klasko met his wife was a little different and didn’t involve discussing a strategic plan). He said that the two agreed to “start with the concept of a merger and walk backwards to see how they could make it happen. With NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding going away, tuition going away as students are no longer willing or able to pay tuition, and clinical income going away, what’s going to happen in 5 years?”
Spinelli agreed: “The time was right. For years, the healthcare field had relied on stable government scientific funding, social structures in place and resources for healthcare. Now the dam has broken, and no one knows how to handle it. At this point, it is better to stick an oar in the water and try to chart a new course. The goal is to bring together leaders for the next 40 years and not just the next four years.”
The oar, as Spinelli continued, is to “get doctors and designers talking to each other. Architects talking to nurses. Start interactions between professions that traditionally don’t regularly talk to each other. This can help generate new ideas and new ways of thinking.”
After the initial talks, things within the institutions moved reasonably quickly. They had the benefit of flexible thinkers (such as Mark Tykocinski, M.D., executive vice president, university provost and Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean, Sidney Kimmel Medical College) around them and, of course, their personalities that could convey their enthusiasm and vision. After six months, the institutions had an agreement to move forward with the merger. But this was a bit like getting engaged before talking those outside the immediate families: the extended family, the other friends, the wedding planner, the caterers, etc. Both Dr. Spinelli and Dr. Klasko said one of the toughest aspects of the merger was getting approval from all the different accreditation/governing organizations involved in healthcare, education and athletics. Many such organizations could not initially understand the purpose of value or the merger. (By the way, take a guess which current college men’s basketball coach has the most wins in history and doesn’t have a name that rhymes with Krzyzewski or Statham? Herb Magee, now coach of the Thomas Jefferson University Rams, who amassed 1,053 as coach of the Philadelphia University Rams.)
Not everyone could see beyond the standard approaches to education, which is why you needed Drs. Klasko and Spinelli to get and keep the ball rolling. Talking to Drs. Spinelli and Klasko is like talking to two people with fire hoses of ideas…and telescopes into the future. Neither seems content to just let what is happening in healthcare and education happen without doing something about it. Both recognize the growing need to radically change medical education and education in general. By “radical,” they don’t just mean adding a few courses about feelings or forcing students to take another standardized test. They don’t see today’s medical students and doctors being prepared to handle what is occurring now and will hit them in the future. For example, Dr. Klasko sees very different future models for healthcare professionals, their practices and their education: “Medicine has been like a cult with four biases: competitive, autonomous, hierarchical and non-creative. What we need to do is deprogram these biases and bring empathy and creativity.” He went on to decry the continued use of multiple choice tests, one-size-fits-all educational models, guild mentalities and the need for doctors to be fact repositories when computers can do that work better. As he emphasized, “the main job of doctors is to be human, not a machine.”
Klasko and Bon Ku, M.D., MPP, assistant dean for health and design and associate professor of emergency medicine, gave me a tour of the vault…literally formerly a Federal Reserve Bank vault…that houses health technology design labs where medical students and design students are working side by side to come up with new solutions to various healthcare challenges. The vault definitely did not have a traditional medical education feel to it, but instead seemed more like a Silicon Valley innovation incubation lab. Getting medical and healthcare students and professionals to express and hone their creativity and empathy could help them be more innovative in changing healthcare for the better.
As you may have noticed, so far, I’ve focused on the merger’s potential effects on medicine and healthcare. But other professions can benefit from closer contact with medical and healthcare professionals. Better understanding the body and people can lead to better design of products, buildings, parks, clothes and many other aspects of society. Bringing medical and scientific approaches and thinking to other professions can only enhance and expand the possibilities. Expanding our society’s understanding of health and healthcare and expanding the roles of doctors beyond the clinic and hospital will help bring improved solutions to all sectors (e.g., city design that promotes physical activity and access to healthy food).
Yes, this merger is not your typical run-of-the-mill merger that we’ll forget in a year or two. The balance sheet alone is not driving this merger. And Drs. Klasko and Spinelli are not your typical thinkers. The two Steves are leading a merger that could genuinely change medicine, healthcare, design and the arts education and subsequently the professions in many ways. When I first heard the word “merger,” the initial reaction was “meh,” but after hearing the institutions and people involved, this took new and greater meeting. Medical education is in desperate need of a shake-up. Perhaps everyone should watch closely what happens to Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in the coming years as the two Steves try to take not just medical education but also all of professional education and, in the words of the Cars, “Shake It Up.”