Jakub Madej

Students at the Yale School of Management are exploring ways to improve the American medical system through “Comparative Health Systems,” a student-designed independent study course that will culminate with on-site visits to medical facilities in Norway and the United Kingdom.

Although pursuing independent study projects at the SOM is not uncommon, “Comparative Health Systems” is the first independent study course that has also been approved to fulfill the MBA program’s Global Studies Requirement, said Kayla Ringelheim SOM ’18 SPH ’18, one of eight students in the class. According to the SOM’s curriculum description, this requirement allows students to “gain a meaningful exposure to complex issues facing business and society in different regions of the world.”

The Comparative Health Systems students meet for weekly seminars, during which the members of the class take turns giving presentations on topics relevant to understanding the Norwegian and U.K. medical systems, according to Emily Trask-Young SOM ’18 SPH ’18. In the meetings, the students also incorporate team building and professional development exercises in preparation for their time abroad. Set to take place in March, the trip will consist of six site-visit days to medical, academic, social service and governmental facilities and organizations in Norway and the U.K., Ringelheim said.

“I’m really interested in the preventative and access issues that the U.S. faces,” said Ray Pichardo SOM ’18 SPH ’18, another student in the class. “I’m hoping at the end of this experience, we will walk away with a better sense of how other countries are tackling these problems and a better understanding of the thought processes of people leading these groups. No matter what career I’m in in the future, I hope I can take these lessons and really start to build something cool with it, to make actual change in the U.S.”

Howard Forman, a professor at the SOM and the School of Public Health, serves as the faculty advisor for “Comparative Health Systems.” He assisted the class in setting up site visits, connecting the students with his contacts in Norway and the U.K.

However, Forman emphasized that the class is completely student-run, with students behind most of the organizing effort. He added that this class, in particular, embraces the spirit and desire of the SOM to be a global school, highlighting the number of dual degree students in the class.

“People talk about different [health care] models, but the reality is there are as many models as there are countries,” Forman said. “Nobody delivers health care identically, and I personally don’t think you could make a mistake trying to learn about the health care system of any country.”

Ringelheim said she first proposed this alternative to fulfilling the Global Studies Requirement last August. After discussing the idea with SOM professor David Bach ’98, the senior associate dean for executive MBA and global programs, Ringelheim pitched the potential class to other students in the SOM’s health care management community. Since then, the class has evolved from an idea into a fully fledged course that incorporates a trip to Europe with “multiple high-profile visits,” Bach said.

Bach added that SOM students frequently propose their own independent study projects, even with the diverse electives offered at the school. He praised the students for being “very entrepreneurial” with their studies, and underscored that “Comparative Health Systems” is unique because it is a global project that involves fieldwork abroad.

“It’s always exciting when students take the initiative to propose a new curriculum, particularly when it comes to global studies,” Bach said. “The students have a genuine interest to learn about European healthcare systems — a critical issue in light of the ongoing debate about Obamacare in the U.S. — and so I’ve worked with them to try to make it possible.”

According to Ringelheim, the class chose to focus on Norway and the U.K. because they have socialized medical systems — universal health care, which differs from the American system of both public and private health insurance that is not extended automatically to all citizens. She added that the two European countries also invest more heavily than the U.S. in preventative services and support broader social service programs.

The current political climate “breeds uncertainty” around the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Ringelheim said, pointing out that the law has expanded health care coverage and access to millions of Americans. She emphasized the importance of protecting the right to health and health care for people living in America, noting that there are lessons to learn from European countries about how to “continue fighting for these values, which are ingrained in the U.K. and Norwegian systems.”

“I’m really interested in how people access care and how that plays out across different socioeconomic statuses,” Trask-Young said. “Looking at socialized medicine is interesting for me to see how other countries view health care as a national problem and feel that it’s an important thing to fund. Learning about how other countries have succeeded and the challenges they face can help build a framework for the U.S.”

The Yale School of Management offers a total of nine joint-degree programs with the University’s other professional schools.