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Longtime Physicians Aim to Overturn the Status Quo, Alongside the Next Generation

Nov. 18, 2020

Atlanta physicians Joe and Kathleen Funk started their careers in Schertz, Texas, an hour south of Austin down Interstate 35, where they worked as first responders after high school and throughout college. Some 78 years of combined health care experience later, they returned to the classroom.

The Funks graduated in August from a new master’s program focused on high-value, relationship-centered health care, the Master of Science in Health Care Transformation. The first of its kind, the degree program is offered to working professionals by the Value Institute for Health and Care, a joint venture of Dell Medical School and the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Funks, both practicing emergency physicians, enrolled out of a desire to refocus on patients and their care. Driven by their real-world experiences, the Funks wanted to resolve the conflict between seeing a quota of patients and providing the best care — a tension they say often arises when large corporations acquire smaller physician practices.

“We really wanted to chart a course back to our original purpose,” Kathleen Funk says. “Even during our training, we recognized there was a systemic shift away from physician input into the health delivery system. We need to get back to seeing people as our most valuable resource while improving efficiencies, providing better care and reducing physician burnout.”

Since they completed the program, the Funks have put theories of value-based care into practice. While supporting front-line workers and COVID-19 patients, the Funks have addressed needs beyond the scope of traditional health care. These efforts include aligning with community physicians who see patients who have lost insurance and are struggling financially.

“We need to develop the ability to evolve from pandemic crisis mode to a pioneering mindset, using our new knowledge and safety precautions to move forward,” Joe Funk says. “While the pandemic has accelerated many technical aspects of how we deliver care, we need to engage decision-makers in discussions that allow them to effectively embrace value-based care.”

Learning Alongside Leaders — Including Future Physicians

The master’s program is the brainchild of Value Institute directors Elizabeth Teisberg, Ph.D., and Scott Wallace, J.D. It focuses on “high-value care,” improving the health outcomes that matter most to individuals and families in less time — and at a lower cost. The Value Institute inspires and supports health care professionals to lead transformations within health care organizations.

“This program is designed to give leaders frameworks, skills and insights about how to lead meaningful transformation,” Teisberg says. “We need health and care solutions that enable better health for more people and eliminate health disparities.”

Each program cohort is composed of a diverse range of members, including a select few medical students, like Kayla Nussbaum, who graduated from the M.S. program this summer and is now in her fourth year at Dell Medical School. Nussbaum met the Funks as a first-year medical student when she received the Drs. Joseph P. and Kathleen G. Funk Endowed Scholarship in Medicine — then found herself learning alongside them in the classroom, which was an experience she calls a “serendipitous joy.”

“I was initially hyperaware of my status as a student surrounded by health care providers at the top of their fields,” Nussbaum says. “However, the collaborative environment quickly built my confidence, and the opportunity to learn from different perspectives was invaluable. My experience in the M.S. program has reaffirmed my passion for value-driven care and the creation of more affordable and accessible health systems.”

The Funks have been emergency medicine physicians at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital since 2001. Joe Funk is chief of staff, and Kathleen Funk manages physician engagement and well-being efforts. They are members of the Founders Circle at Dell Med.