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How a Business Teacher Inspired a Medical Doctor
Teamwork and building relationships go a long way in both fields

I was stunned when the medical residents under my program presented me with the “Clinical Educator of the Year” award during a graduation ceremony for the UC Davis Department of Family and Community Medicine this year.

As I made my way around the room later to thank the residents, they shared with me how much they specifically appreciated my core lectures on kidney diseases. More importantly, they enjoyed my talks on teamwork and negotiations.

Looking back to the exercises I ran for those two classes, I realized these residents benefitted from what I had once learned as a UC Davis Sacramento MBA student. Specifically, the courses taught by Jim Olson, a Silicon Valley veteran turned lecturer at the Graduate School of Management who was named “Teacher of the Year” in 2016 and is a former Robert A. Fox executive-in-residence at the School. Even as an MBA student, I knew Olson’s methods and materials could someday enrich my medical residents. 

I am thankful for his insight and his willingness to share his approaches. I am a better teacher having been his student. 

One way I applied Olson’s approach was resident’s inpatient training. The most junior member of the treating team spends the most time with the patient. Yet, because of the rigid hierarchy within medical programs, the junior member is typically reluctant to take the lead during team rounds. And without the coordination of this information and their efforts, the team can be inefficient and potentially make errors in judgment.

In his Teams and Technology course, Olson used a murder mystery exercise to highlight how a team needed to coordinate findings to piece together a comprehensive picture of the situation. I put this concept into play with my residents and they learned about the importance of ensuring that each member of the team has an opportunity to contribute—and how asynchronization can increase a patient’s risk with adverse outcomes.

I knew his methods and materials could someday enrich my own medical residents.

In his Negotiations course, Olson stresses the value of relationships. Negotiating is not a zero sum endeavor, he emphasizes. Successful negotiations create value for both parties. I borrowed his negotiations exercise for my residents and they found it extremely valuable, specifically in the treatment of patients with opioid addiction.

Encounters with opioid users can be fraught with emotionally charged words. Patients often feel there is no alternative to opioids and they don’t accept reduced doses. Physicians are caught between this narrow perspective from patients and new regulations aimed at slowing the opioid crisis.

Residents have told me how relieved they’ve felt with Olson’s approach. In some cases, they were able to arrive at a mutually agreed upon solution, instead of being trapped in a tug-of-war over filling a prescription. 

Olson’s teaching reaches far beyond the Graduate School of Management. I am thankful for his insight and his willingness to share his approaches. I am a better teacher having been his student.

And, it’s another reason why doctors can benefit from pursuing a part-time MBA or take professional development courses to enhance their skills.

Olson will teach one-day executive education courses on “Building and Leading Great Teams,” on October 26, 2018, and “Effective Negotiations: Strategies and Tactics,” on December 14, 2018, both at the Graduate School of Management’s Gallagher Hall on the Davis campus.