I spoke to Dr. Mark Smith, the Chief Innovation Officer of MedStarHealth and Director of the MedStar Institute for Innovation, about their Health for America program, why they are investing in the program, why work travel appeals so much to millennials, and his best career advice.
In this role, Dr. Smith leads a system-wide initiative to catalyze and foster innovation at MedStar Health. Prior to his appointment as Director of MI2, Dr. Smith served as chair of the department of emergency medicine at MedStar Washington Hospital Center for 14 years and as founding chair of MedStar Emergency Physicians. Dr. Smith is also professor of emergency medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, where he served as academic chair of emergency medicine from 2001-2015. Prior to that, he was chair of emergency medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center for 12 years and the director of its Ronald Reagan Institute of Emergency Medicine.
Dan Schawbel: What is Health for America?
Mark Smith: Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health is a yearlong health innovation fellowship for young Americans within three years of having earned a bachelor’s degree. HFA’s curriculum covers design, entrepreneurship and innovation — all applied to health. The experience is sharply focused through the lens of a specific content domain in health care (e.g. diabetes, congestive heart failure), the identification of a meaningful unsolved problem in that domain, the creation of a specific solution to that problem, and the translation of that solution into a sustainable business model. Content domains of prior interdisciplinary HFA fellowship teams are childhood asthma, congestive heart failure and type 2 diabetes. MedStar’s current HFA fellows are focused on stroke — their fellowship runs mid-September 2016 through July 2017.
HFA fellows spend the first few months “exploring” stroke through patient interviews, clinician shadowing and disease simulations; and then apply principles of design thinking to understand the real problems experienced by patients and clinicians. They then develop and test a variety of solutions to those problems, using lean startup and design thinking methodologies. The culmination of the fellowship is building out of one of those solutions — which can be a product or service — into a sustainable business model, capable of making a difference in health and well-being long after the fellowship is complete.
Schawbel: Why is MedStar investing in the program?
Smith: HFA was founded as a standalone initiative by two individuals in 2012. Different healthcare systems hosted the fellowship on an annual basis and MedStar served as HFA’s host institution starting in September 2015. By December 2015, it became clear that HFA would benefit from having a large institution bring an enduring commitment and substantive resources. In January 2015, MedStar Health became the permanent home of HFA through our MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2).
MedStar’s decision to take on HFA flowed from a simple premise: the way health care is organized and delivered 20 years from now is going to look totally different from the way it exists today, in terms of types and organization of services, accelerated application of new technologies, changed funding models, and the central position of the empowered consumer of care. For MedStar to be a leader in creating, inventing and succeeding in this future state, we will have to think and act innovatively about how to get there. HFA is one way for MedStar to innovatively invest in the future.
HFA helps MedStar find extremely talented young people and give them an immersion experience that may be the launching pad for a lifetime of work in health. MedStar gets the tangible benefit of the creative output of these young professionals, who possess a “we can change the world” enthusiasm that more than makes up for what they lack in experience. The 2015-16 HFA fellows created WellRooted, a meal delivery and nutritional literacy program that is helping frame MedStar’s diet and nutrition approach for our large population of patients with type 2 diabetes.
HFA creates an energizing force among those MedStar associates who work with the HFA fellows. MedStar associates feel good about personally investing in young people who are trying to create the future. The spread of good energy is contagious.
Additionally, those MedStar patients who have helped educate HFA fellows about what having a particular chronic illness is like have found it to be a very fulfilling experience. For MedStar, it is a significant step in creating a health learning community of patients, clinicians, students, and the rest of the provider infrastructure.
Schawbel: Part of the program allows for travel, which really appeals to millennials. Why do you think it has this appeal?
Smith: One of the core principles of the MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2), the entity within MedStar that hosts HFA, is the importance of connecting with people outside of one’s own discipline in order to see with fresh eyes and be able to create something new and innovative. HFA fellows participated in more than 50 educational events this past year, including traveling to South by Southwest® Interactive in Austin and the Startup Grind Global Conference in San Francisco. Because the HFA curriculum is so broad — health, design, entrepreneurship — and because the ways of thinking differ in each of these domains, it is a great experience for the HFA fellows to get exposure to the “ground truth” of how these disciplines think. Millennials tell us this type of travel is appealing — it fuels an energy of change that helps to inspire possibilities. At many conferences, our HFA fellows are the youngest people in attendance, and conference leaders want to meet them for that reason.
Schawbel: Why do you think millennials are so interested in intrapreneurship and how can companies best support them?
Smith: Our experience with the millennial generation is that its members have a passionate desire to make a difference, to change things for the better, and — at risk of sounding trite — to make the world a better place. Most importantly, they actually believe in their own power to make that difference. That is the single necessary prerequisite for success: a belief that one person can do wondrous things. The model for change they have naturally gravitated to is social entrepreneurship. The beauty of social entrepreneurship is that it is not just the one-off creation of solutions; it is about scaling and sustaining those solutions. Millennials want to create change that lasts and build innovation that matters — and many choose to do so within existing systems and organizations. Companies can strive to strike the right balance of structure and hands-on experience to best support them.
Schawbel: What are your top pieces of career advice?
Smith: Just when you start to think there is only three of anything, you will be surprised at how wrong you are:
1. Embrace the fact that the path forward takes unexpected turns.Greatness cannot always be planned. One thing leads to another leads to another, in a sort of steppingstone manner. The key is to be open to new possibilities as they present themselves. In the words of Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
2. Reach out to mentors and reciprocate. People want to give back; they just need to be asked. We all share the experience of having been young and new once —and having so much to learn.
3. Nurture and cultivate positive energy. It begets positive energy back. And one special type of energy is relational energy. How you connect, how someone feels in your presence, can make all the difference.
4. Never forget who your friends are. Treat everyone as you would wish to be treated.
5. Question conventional wisdom. Question the perception of what’s possible. Who says four young people can’t create the next big thing in stroke care?
Dan Schawbel is a keynote speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. Subscribe to his free newsletter.