Today's physicians are asked to do much more than what earned them their doctorate. They can be business owners, leaders, administrators, advocates, politicians, health insurance executives and similar positions surrounding the healthcare industry. For this reason, medical degree options go far beyond private practice or academic medicine.
Barsam Kasravi, MD, MPH, MBA, took a path oriented to health policy, finding a passion for population health. He's now chief medical officer of Anthem Blue Cross of California, where he oversees the Medicaid program.
Gaining a larger perspective
Dr. Kasravi's introduction to the healthcare system took place when he was a child, when his uncle became sick. Seeing an immigrant struggle to navigate the healthcare system made a significant impact on him.
"I saw how difficult the process was but also how important healthcare is in someone's life," he recalls. As an undergraduate at UCLA, Dr. Kasravi studied microbiology, learning how diseases work and how cures are uncovered. He also volunteered at UCLA Health to get more of the personal experience with medicine. He next attended the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Dr. Kasravi was always interested in the big picture of how the healthcare system affects an individual's life. A health policy elective he took during medical school, along with numerous volunteer opportunities, gave him more direction to this end.
"What I love about UCLA is that you get assigned to different hospitals: tertiary centers, a VA hospital, clinics, county hospitals; every few weeks it was different," he says. After medical school, he did a residency at the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity, which solidified his interest in population health.
"I liked seeing patients, but what really interested me was how to develop programs, how to address the big picture of 100 people with diabetes or 1,000 people," he explains. "How to work with the hospital, clinic, insurance companies — I felt I could make more of an impact."
Pursuing a policy track
After his Family Medicine residency, Dr. Kasravi pursued a fellowship for physician leaders with a focus on health policy, and earned a Master's in Public Health from Harvard University. During this time he was exposed to many different options for physicians, from working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to working on Capitol Hill.
These experiences led him to working at Blue Cross Blue Shield, first in Massachusetts and then in California.
"I learned about the role of physicians in health insurance," he says. "Population health programs are built around data that insurance companies have but other health systems don't have. When you pay for every component of the system, you have the ability to impact behavior. You can create incentives to take care of patients effectively."
Finding the right path
"It wasn't common for a physician to become a physician administrator early on. I jumped into it early," he admits. "I always enjoyed discussions and analytics and developing programs, but it still took many experiences to realize this was my calling."
The former Ivy League student encourages students to seek out diverse opportunities during medical school, through electives and volunteering alike. He himself teaches an elective at UCLA for first- and second-year med students about physician leadership. UCLA also offers many medical degree options for pursuing population health, combined degree programs or a focus on health disparities — in addition to numerous courses in the medical, public health and business schools.
"Expose yourself to different circles," he says. "Join summer research programs, volunteering, working in an administrative office. Understand what you like, and why you like or dislike other subjects."
By Patricia Chaney