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Population Health Scholars Program a cause for celebration

Population health addresses factors that can lead to illness and injury and works to prevent them.

In April, University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare leaders and physicians gathered to celebrate. Attendees also included 11 first-year medical students, the inaugural cohort of the Intermountain Healthcare Population Health Scholars Program.

This one-of-a-kind medical education partnership between the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare (IHC) is now a year old. Its goal: improve health and well-being by training future physicians to deliver high quality care using an innovative population health framework.

Population health addresses factors that can lead to illness and injury and works to prevent them. It also considers social determinants that can impact health, including financial, social, and behavioral issues.

In addition to learning population health, program scholars pay half-tuition for medical school and have a guaranteed employment offer with Intermountain Healthcare after finishing residency.

A valued—and valuable—partnership

At the April celebration, leaders from both health systems lauded the program’s inception and goals. They also talked up the importance of population health for the future of health care.

“My very first meeting on my very first day at University of Utah was with Dr. Marc Harrison,” said Michael Good, MD, U of U Health CEO. “I’ll always remember that, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to partner with him again on this program. Both Marc and I believe in population health and it being the future and the way we are going to be able to address many—if not all—of the challenges in the American health care system. I don’t think either of our organizations could have created a program like this by ourselves.”

“Mike is collaborative and positive,” said Marc Harrison, MD, IHC president and CEO. “We both knew this partnership and program could change the paradigm for health care. We started with a blank piece of paper and have had a lot of help from a lot of hard-working people to get where we are today.”

Speaking to student scholars in the program, Harrison noted that while Intermountain Healthcare is excellent at population health, there is still a lot to learn. “Health care in the United States is badly broken,” he said. “Scholars in this program are the solution.”

“We need to figure out how to keep people well, and not just take care of them when they are sick,” Harrison continued. “We also need to get an economic system in place that makes it sustainable to keep people well. It’s all possible, but it’s going to take your leadership and your courage to get us over the hump.”

An experience like no other

Karyn A. Springer, MD, of IHC remarked on program opportunities. “Those who have been medical students before know it’s not a common thing to be able to connect with those who are in physician leadership,” she said. “The success of health care going forward is going to be dependent upon our leadership, and this program gives our scholars a chance to ask physician leaders questions and get advice and support on how to grow as not only a future physician, but a future leader in health care.”

The scholars are excited and ready to make the most of every opportunity in the classroom and working with physician mentors. In just the first year, scholars have been exposed to population health concepts ranging from health care policy to the social determinants of health impacting surrounding communities.

“I’m super excited and impressed that the leaders here tonight are proactively giving us opportunities and laying out the expectation that they want us to be leaders and forge the path for what health care looks like in the future,” said program scholar Collin Hunter. “We have a great class and an opportunity to be leaders in our own class and advocate for the changes we want to see in health care.”

Another scholar, Ivy Hansen, is grateful the program gives her the ability to connect with different health systems in Utah.

“Learning about Intermountain has been awesome because we just have this experience with the U, and it’s very academic,” she said. “Getting out in the community and seeing different populations across the state in the Intermountain system has been really awesome. We are really going somewhere with this program.”

Jordan Tucker, another scholar, noted the validation of being in a program offering so much freedom to explore his interests. “Whether it’s [with] rural or homeless populations, it’s exciting…that I can choose a path that I’m passionate about,” he said.

Scholar Rebekah Ford agreed. “It was really enlightening for me to hear all the different ways we can take this program and tailor it to what we find interesting and important,” she said.

A program for the future of health care

For everyone at the celebration—leaders, scholars, and mentors—the future of health care looks bright thanks to programs like this one. Physicians like Springer look forward to the positive impact of the partnership between U of U Health and IHC.

“The vision for the future is exciting because this is an opportunity to start upstream in medical education,” she said. “To have a pipeline of future physicians who have been exposed to population health from the very beginning of their medical education. [They’re] more prepared to lead health care to where it needs to be.”