Why UChicago business students are learning about global health

Booth course and initiative foster interdisciplinary collaboration with UChicago Medicine

We often think of global health as something vast, but Prof. Olufunmilayo Olopade wants us to realize that impacting global health can be a local endeavor.

“We need to create new models for reaching the unreached: It doesn’t matter where they are,” she said. 

This is one of the forces that guides Olopade’s work—from her entrepreneurship, to the new class she launched with her husband, Prof. Christopher Sola Olopade. The two University of Chicago physicians realized that many health care scenarios can benefit from someone with business acumen, while most entrepreneurs lack connections to medical expertise.

To help bridge this gap, they designed a course at the Booth School of Business. Taught for the first time this past winter, “Global Health and Social Policy” covers topics such as reproductive health, data science and climate change.

Olufunmilayo Olopade, the Walter L. Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics at UChicago, has found overlap between medicine and business before. She is the founder of the company CancerIQ, which helps providers use genetic information to prevent cancer across populations in urban and rural settings.

When she was setting up CancerIQ, her daughter—then an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School—suggested she recruit as interns Booth students with biology backgrounds. One of the first students that Olopade contacted, Haibo Lu, MBA’14, eventually became the company’s co-founder and vice president of product.

“They were able to get the concept so much faster than I could get the business concept,” said Olopade, who is also the associate dean for global health, and the director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and the Center for Global Health. “I have learned so much from them about how to think about sustainability and business models.”

Sola Olopade, who also has a master’s degree in public health policy, said global health includes not only improving health outcomes but also opening markets, developing innovation, and using science and technology to address the most important questions of our time.

“Look at what the World Economic Forum has been about,” said Olopade, a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians. “This is a long overdue program for Booth students to be exposed to.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration between medicine and business is also at the heart of Booth’s recently launched Healthcare Initiative. Prof. Dan Adelman, who co-directs the initiative, said it serves as a “hub and spoke” model—a core of support for programs such as his Healthcare Analytics Laboratory, and for faculty and students interested the intersection of business and medicine.

The initiative provides guidance for faculty and students on navigating the institutional review board process, accessing and interpreting health care data, interpreting HIPAA regulations, and connecting with experts at UChicago Medicine. It also collaborates with the Booth Healthcare Club.

“We’re a venue for faculty to share their research results in a centralized place where external constituents can learn about the great work at Booth in the health care space,” said Adelman, the Charles I. Clough, Jr. Professor of Operations Management. “If you look at our peers, almost all of them have some sort of health care center or initiative. Health care is 18% of GDP, so there’s an interest in developing this space at Booth.”

Ultimately, he hopes the initiative will serve as a business and health care destination—similar to the way Booth’s Kilts Center for Marketing does for that field. “We’ve talked about fellowship programs and mentorship opportunities,” Adelman added. “We aspire to develop scholarship money and we’d like to bring in residents—not just from our hospital but broadly—who are interested in getting their MBA.”

One of the initiative’s first events, in late 2020, was a virtual conversation between Adelman and Omar B. Lateef, president and CEO of Rush University Medical Center. The pair discussed the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 response, as well as issues such as PPE price gouging and nursing shortages.

These are the sorts of discussions that Booth faculty and students will continue to foster—with help from their colleagues at UChicago Medicine.

“It’s important that Booth students take advantage of the fact that we have a superb medical center right on campus and that we teach international differences in health care systems versus the U.S. health care system,” said Olufunmilayo Olopade, a fellow of the American College of Physicians. “It provides an opportunity to have a global education on what health and wellness should be about.”

“Many average Americans do not have health literacy,” she added. “That’s why it’s important to teach this to MBA students. After all, they’ll be creating solutions.”

—Adapted by a story first published by the Booth School of Business.