By Ben Mattison
Crystal Yates, Kennetha Gaines, and Cecelia Calhoun are already accomplished healthcare professionals by any standard.
Yates is the assistant deputy fire commissioner for the city of Philadelphia, overseeing the city’s EMS system; she serves on an interdepartmental team tackling the city’s opioid crisis. Gaines is a nurse and a leader of maternal and newborn infant care at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, a hospital she helped reopen; she holds master’s degrees in urban planning and African American studies and is in the final year of the doctoral program at the Yale School of Nursing. Calhoun is an attending pediatric hematologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and an expert on sickle cell disease.
But Yates, Gaines, and Calhoun aren’t done building their skills. The three arrived at Yale SOM last month to begin 22 months of study in the school’s MBA for Executives program through the Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Minority Health Leadership at Yale. The fellowship, created by Yale SOM in collaboration with the Commonwealth Fund and endowed by a gift from Robert C. Pozen, was created to give healthcare practitioners the leadership skills and the deep understanding of teams, markets, and organizations necessary to tackle major inequities in the U.S. healthcare system.
Why take on a world-class MBA program while working full-time on a demanding job? For Yates, it’s about getting the skills to address complex problems in her hometown.
“People of color in Philadelphia suffer from poorer health outcomes, earlier death, lack of education, and exposure to violent crime more than any other demographic,” she says. “Health and other inequities can only decrease with systematic policy change.”
Her experience working with stakeholders around the city illuminated the difference that a business degree would make, she adds. “While I have earned a seat at the local policy table, I lack the business knowledge and the language I need to make the business case for more collaboration across city agencies and disciplines. I know the strategies and tools I learn at Yale SOM will enable me to make a difference for the most vulnerable people in Philadelphia.”
Gaines says that working with vulnerable populations requires the ability to lead and to execute. “I characterize leadership as seeking to inspire towards a common goal; of equal importance are the managerial skills to maintain momentum.”
She was drawn to the MBA for Executives program’s mix of studies in leadership and healthcare, she says—“a perfect combination of strategic forward thinking and the practical. From this experience, I intend to continue to pursue a career that is grounded in my mission: to be a catalyst for change and maximize quality of care for historically disadvantaged populations through policy work and advocacy.”
Calhoun’s work with adolescents and young adults with sickle cell disease has shown her the complex connections between health, poverty, and disparities in care. Her patients, she says, “are deeply impacted by socio-economic challenges that translate into their care and quality of life. The Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship gives me the opportunity to go beyond my clinical and research expertise to gain an in-depth understanding of economics of healthcare layered with the complexities of health disparities to find innovative and equitable solutions to challenges faced in many healthcare systems and various disease processes.”