Physicians have many career options beyond clinical practice, academic instruction or laboratory research. They can be business owners, administrators, advocates, politicians, health insurance executives and more.
Barsam Kasravi, MD, MPH, MBA, took a path oriented to health policy and found a passion for population health. He's now a leader at Anthem Blue Cross of California, where he oversees clinical and provider strategies for the Medicaid program.
Gaining a larger perspective
As a child, Dr. Kasravi became passionate about the healthcare system when his uncle got sick and struggled to find appropriate care. "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 personal experience with medicine. After that, he attended the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM).
Dr. Kasravi wanted to understand all the ways the healthcare system can affect individuals. A health policy elective, along with numerous volunteer opportunities, gave him the perspective he craved. "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 he earned a Master's in Public Health from Harvard University. He learned that physicians could pursue policy-focused paths through work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Dr. Kasravi eventually took a role 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
Dr. Kasravi recalls how first-hand experiences helped him find his true calling. "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."
He encourages students to seek out diverse opportunities during medical school, by taking electives and volunteering. The DGSOM offers many medical degrees and programs that incorporate policy work, and UCLA as a whole offers concurrent and articulated degree programs that allow medical students to pursue interests related to public health and business.
"Expose yourself to different circles," Dr. Kasravi advises students. "Join summer research programs, volunteer, work in an administrative office. Understand what you like, and why you like or dislike other subjects."
By Patricia Chaney