Graduate Natasha VanWright speaks during a June 4 dinner celebrating the inaugural graduating class of the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Inaugural class graduates from health care leadership program

Health care transformation isn’t just a concept to pharmacist Sarah Thompson – it’s her passion.

Since joining Coastal Medical, the largest primary care practice in Rhode Island, a decade ago, Thompson has made it her mission to help patients receive high-quality, comprehensive health care at the greatest value. At first she directly engaged patients to ensure that they knew how to properly use their medications and that they could afford them. Then as director of clinical services, Thompson led teams that conducted this work.

Dr. Rainu Kaushal, chair of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Mark Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Johnson School, are pictured at the June 4 dinner.

As she rose through the ranks and became more immersed in emerging models of health care delivery, Thompson wanted to gain proficiency in the industry’s business aspects so she could drive innovations in the field. In 2015, she began researching graduate programs, identifying ones that focused on health care or business administration but not both.

Enter Cornell’s Executive M.B.A./M.S. in Healthcare Leadership, which combines a Master of Science degree in health care leadership from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences with a Master of Business Administration from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Established in 2016, the two-year program equips health care professionals and leaders like Thompson with the skills and experience to facilitate change in the industry.

Thompson was accepted as a student in the program’s first class; in May she joined 38 of her classmates as inaugural graduates.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me, both personally and professionally,” said Thompson, who recently became Coastal Medical’s vice president of clinical operations and pharmacy, a role in which she is already applying lessons learned from the graduate program. “I can now envision a whole new future for me – one that wasn’t possible before I completed the program.”

The inaugural graduates celebrated their achievements at two Commencement ceremonies – at the Johnson School’s, May 25 in Ithaca; and at Weill Cornell Medicine’s, May 30 at Carnegie Hall – as well as during a private dinner June 4 at the Rubin Museum of Art.

The program is co-chaired by Dr. Rainu Kaushal, chair of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Mark Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Johnson School, and managed by director Shivani Dhir. It prepares students to address challenges and opportunities faced by the health care industry at large. These skills are critical in order to succeed as a well-rounded leader as well as to effectively drive national dialogue and spearhead initiatives in health care policy and delivery amid a rapidly changing health care landscape.

The inaugural graduates, program leaders say, are the perfect emissaries to do just that.

“When we launched this program two years ago, we set out with a very unique mission,” Kaushal said during the private dinner. “We wanted to train the most innovative future leaders of health care. When we saw your applications, we were very impressed, and after a rigorous two years, we are proud to see you graduate. We are excited for the impact you will make in the industry as leaders.”

“You are our best ambassadors,” Nelson added. “We couldn’t have picked anyone better to hold as the exemplars, the pioneers of this program.”

The dinner also featured speeches from Dhir; Dr. Geraldine McGinty, who was the program’s inaugural academic director and is an assistant professor of health care policy and research, chief strategy officer of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Physician Organization and mentor to the program’s students; and from graduate Natasha VanWright, who was also a banner bearer at Cornell Commencement.

Class representative Nicholas Gavin gave the inaugural Healthcare Leadership Faculty Award to Soumitra Dutta, professor of management at the Johnson School. And graduate Andrea Cohen, who is the cohort’s alumni representative, announced the class gift to the program – sponsorship of the lunchtime speaker series for the next five years.

For Dr. Andres Jimenez, the program was the logical next step in his professional development. He was in surgical residency a decade ago, just as implementation of electronic health records was gaining momentum. Marrying his medical expertise with his postdoctoral research on the use of technology to train physicians, Jimenez in 2009 established his own company, ImplementHIT, to help physicians learn how to maximize use of these systems.

Shortly thereafter, Jimenez began contemplating a master’s in business administration, with a specialization in health care, to enhance his skills in business strategy, accounting and marketing, along with health care policy.

The Executive M.B.A./M.S. in Healthcare Leadership Program was a perfect fit.

“Health care is evolving very quickly,” said Jimenez, who’s CEO of ImplementHIT. “I’ve gained a deeper understanding of health care regulation, and how it connects to so many different aspects of health care and the market. I’ve gained a set of tools I use daily to critically evaluate new policy, develop ideas to meaningfully improve health care and create advanced strategies to continue to grow my company.”

Alyssa Sunkin-Strube is newsroom manager for Weill Cornell Medicine.

Media Contact

Grace Naugle