Leveraging Business Skills to Increase Healthcare Quality in My Internship

This post was written by MBA student, Ashley Humienny in October 2014. Ashley interned this summer at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Ashley’s internship was supported by the Summer Internship Fund.

Of all of the places open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hospitals have always interested me the most. The constant white noise of activity, interrupted by a flurry of running nurses or beeping machines, is a testament to how important America’s health care system is.

My experience interning at Massachusetts General Hospital this summer allowed me to examine the incredibly complex provider organization from within, an exercise that was as exciting as it was exhausting. By the end of my 11 weeks at Mass General, my sense of appreciation grew for the unique types of leaders who are needed at the helm of an organization under such tremendous pressure from both internal and external forces.

Mass General is one of the oldest hospitals in the US, and has grown vastly since its founding in 1811. Each year, it handles close to 1.5 million outpatient visits and 100,000 emergency room visits. It is an academic medical center that emphasizes teaching and research excellence in every specialty and sub-specialty area you can think of. I was lucky enough to be given a position in the Neurology Department, one of Mass General’s largest, with over 230 physicians and some of the best research funding in the country.


I took the internship at Mass General because I wanted to better understand not only the opportunities to improve the efficiency and quality of health care, but also the constraints and distortions that administrators and physicians face. Once I began meeting and speaking to leaders from across the hospital, my appreciation for the challenges that our care system faces grew – departments had become islands, isolated from other service areas, the pieces that needed to be strung together were complex, changes were expensive, and more. These are the challenges that the next generation of health system executives will consistently face.

My work focused on scaling up two new service lines: Neurology’s “Virtual Visit” program, which allows neurologists to hold office visits over video chat, and the department’s Spanish Speaking Center.  After a few weeks of speaking with and questioning physicians and administrative managers, I thought I had a good picture of the tools and decision systems I could design to implement these initiatives. After a first attempt, however, I learned just how delicate the operations of a large outpatient department are. It took a lot of listening, testing, and constant data analysis to move the needle on execution. This, however, is a hallmark of working in healthcare. Although disruptive transformation is needed, many of the most effective changes occur incrementally – you just don’t hear about them as often.

I am extremely indebted to the Summer Internship Fund for allowing me to pursue my aspirations of interning for a non-profit hospital. It was a tremendous experience, and without it, I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared as I am to dedicate my career to improving the status quo in health care.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more than 150 students, distributed nearly $470,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online using your credit card.