HMP Connections - A New Way to Connect!

Interviews with HMP Alumni from the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.


Thomas Klein

A Conversation with Thomas Klein

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Thomas Klein, who is currently the Director of Physician Relations and Business Development at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, part of Trinity Health. Thomas is also a member of the University of Michigan HMP Alumni Board and a 2013 MHSA graduate.

Thomas shared valuable insight into making the most of the Michigan HMP experience, navigating the fellowship/job search, and the future of healthcare.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

Esha Kamath, MHSA Candidate '19
(April 2018)


Q: What is your best memory that you have from your Michigan HMP experience?
It has to be the friendships and the relationships I built and developed – not only my colleagues and classmates who are some of my best friends, but also the faculty. Just being able to continue to stay connected with the program speaks volumes. There are several of my classmates who I keep in very close touch with, not only in the professional level, but also the personal level. We bounce ideas off each other. Everybody is around the country doing really great things at completely different organizations; it's a really great network to be a part of.

Q: How do stay connected with your cohort, faculty, and alumni?
There are various forms of communication – whether it's LinkedIn, phone calls, texting – depending on your relationship with each of those individuals, you'll have a different style of communicating with them. This past fall, I visited a few colleagues in DC and we went to the Michigan vs. Maryland football game. It just depends, but if folks are in town – get together to meet up – whether that's dinner, drinks, sporting events. Conferences like ACHE are also opportunities to keep connected, get to know someone outside of your current environment and your current work. It's good to reach out to some of those folks who may be in a different organization and have a different perspective on how to solve a problem.

Q: What is your biggest regret from your HMP experience?
That's a hard question to answer. As an undergrad at Michigan, I took courses at the Ross School of Business as well as HMP prior to joining HMP as a graduate student. I probably could have taken a course or two as a graduate student in Ross or Ford school to get a different perspective. SPH is great, HMP is great, but just another one or two classes outside of the School of Public Health, to not only diversify my portfolio a little bit, but also to think critically on topics. Healthcare is always changing, you now see JPMorgan Chase, you see Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon getting into the business and you see CVS buying Aetna. With that in mind, a couple of courses from other schools would have helped gain a greater breadth of perspective, so that is probably one thing I would have done differently.

Q: You mentioned the changing landscape of healthcare and I wanted to hear your perspective on that. Where do you see the future of healthcare going?
I don't want to give the textbook answer on this question, but it's going to sound like that. You see other entities, other businesses trying to get into healthcare, and why is that? It's because 20 cents of every dollar is spent on healthcare, and it's going to continue increasing. We are talking about a quarter of every dollar in the economy being spent on healthcare. That's a big deal. With that being said, where is it going? We have to reduce costs. There are only so many dollars to go around, both for the federal government and for local governments. It's not competitive in the global economy and also locally, so I think what you are going to see is – where's the heavy cost? The heavy cost is in the hospital. The continued push that we have seen, even in our organization, is toward more outpatient, more ambulatory care. Total join replacements are going from inpatient to outpatient as we speak, and we're working on that. Other cardiac procedures are being done more outpatient, and also making sure you have enough ambulatory centers in the communities where people live and work to support population growth and population health. Also making sure people go to the urgent care for a $200 visit versus a $5,000 visit in the emergency department. That push from the bricks and mortar of a hospital to more ambulatory care is actually some of my work in my current role, and a key part of our strategic plan.

Q: Reflecting on your current role, how did you decide to enter the provider setting after HMP?
I wasn't totally sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do an administrative internship to see if a fellowship was right for me. The quote from Wayne Gretzky is, "skate where the puck is going, not where it's at." I actually did my capstone project on accountable care organizations. A couple of my colleagues and I went and interviewed different leaders who ran ACOs in the state of Michigan, built a report, and developed our project on that. What really intrigued me was being on the physician side of things – medical group management, physician alignment and growth. I actually chose an administrative fellowship with Trinity Health that was specific to physician network organization development. I'm coming up on my fifth year here since I graduated. I've continued the same work, with progressive responsibility over those five years. It's exciting work, it's an exciting time. I believe that personally, I chose this field because my goal is to make communities healthier and make the system more equitable and more efficient. I think I can do that through an administrative role in making sure we're providing the right physicians, providing the right care and in the right places. That's a lot of what my work is. We want physicians who are high-quality, committed to population health initiatives, and doing the right thing for our patients. That's really where my passion lies, and I think it's a very exciting time to be doing this work.

Q: Could you talk a little bit more about your fellowship experience and how that led to the role that you have today at Trinity?
I'd be happy to do so. I applied to various fellowships around the Midwest, and ultimately chose the one with physician-side work because that is where my passions lie. I really wanted to get a few things out of a fellowship. One, an opportunity to work with physicians and medical staff, two, work with senior leaders on significant projects, and finally be a part of a large health system.

The differentiated part about the Trinity Health fellowship is that you get two preceptors. If you're based at the corporate office which is in Livonia, Michigan, you get a system office preceptor, and then you get a hospital-based preceptor to get the dual experience. And then vice-versa, if you're based at a hospital for your fellowship, you get a secondary preceptor at the system office, which allows you to link in with the system and also your local level. My primary preceptor was at the system office, and my secondary preceptor was the physician network leader in Oakland County. I think three or four months into my fellowship, my secondary preceptor's leader over at the primary care clinics was going out on maternity leave. At that time I was asked, "Tom, I need somebody to serve as Interim Director at the primary care clinics. Are you interested?" Of course I was excited and ended up doing that for six and a half weeks. During that time, more opportunities became available at St. Joe's Oakland working on special projects for the president in terms of business development. That kind of rolled into my first job, Manager of Business Development, which I was in for a year and a half or so. Then, I got promoted to the Director of Physician Relations and Business Development, which is my current role. There are usually a few ways in which someone gets a role post fellowship – one, there's either a new role that was created because they're offering a new service at the time and need someone to support that. Two, a job opens up due to someone retiring or leaving. Or three, there is something you do in your fellowship or job that you are leading or working on that becomes a full-time role.

Q: As students, we often get told when searching for jobs to find an organization that's the right "fit." How do you characterize "fit" and how did you find that in your current organization?
That's a great question. I think a lot of people talk about "fit" and I remember when I was sitting in your shoes going, "what does that really mean?" But, here's what I can tell you. It's actually really important and it's hard to put into words, but you understand it when you start going to interviews and you meet with the leaders and you connect. You'll understand – is this an organization with values that you support? Do they live, work, and breathe their values and their mission statement? Is this a leader that not only you can learn from, but they can also learn from you when you partner together?

When you're interviewing for a fellowship, make sure you are interviewing with the preceptor because that's how you get to see that "fit." Most fellowships do, but some don't. Look to an organization that has a history of fellows and understands the program; talk to current and former fellows when you have the dinners and lunches beforehand. You'll really get an idea for how they embrace the fellowship and go from there.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for current students and recent graduates?
A couple things. Use your network at Michigan to build those relationships that are important and stay connected. The program is what it is because of its people, its history, its commitment to excellence, and its research. Give back. Make sure you're spending time mentoring students and do the same thing that you have benefited from. You may have been an H-Net mentee or you may have had a preceptor who's an alumnus, but when you get into roles and are in those situations, do the same and be helpful and give back to the program.

Esha KamathEsha Kamath is a second-year MHSA candidate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Outside of classes and her role on the MHESA executive board, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, running, and trying new restaurants