Feb. 10, 2017 | Most new doctors leave medical school with a dollar-sign-shaped gap in their knowledge.

Particularly in the first year after medical school, graduates are faced with financial decisions that have a major impact on both their careers and private lives. It’s time to set up their practice, start paying student loan debt, consider buying a home and begin saving for retirement.

However, most lack the education to make these decisions, said Jason Mizell, M.D., associate professor of surgery in the Division of Colorectal Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the Surgery Clerkship.

The aim of his Business of Medicine course is to ensure that this doesn’t apply to UAMS graduates.

“I sympathize and empathize with the students because I know they’re just not taught this,” Mizell said. “So much of the time, they’re just trying to keep their heads above water. So I feel like it’s my job to learn some of this for them, weed through it, tell them essentially what they need to know and present that information so they don’t have to try to learn it themselves or make the mistakes that I did.”

Mizell – with the help of several fellow UAMS faculty – started a version of the class in 2012 for his surgery residents. The expanded course for fourth-year medical students began in 2015 and is held each spring.

It covers two main areas:

  • Practice management – billing and coding, updates on health care, setting up your first practice, use of electronic medical records, negotiating contracts, Medicare and Medicaid, and avoiding malpractice.
  • Personal finance – retirement planning, personal investing, debt management, buying a home, tax basics, estate planning and lifestyle choices.

Mizell’s goal is for the course to be full of practical information that is easily understandable.

Students in lecture hall

Participants in the Business of Medicine course learn how to run their own clinics and manage their personal finances, among other topics.

“I think people assume that just because they’re doctors or medical students they are these smart people who know everything. While I think they are intelligent, that doesn’t mean that they have a lot of knowledge about things outside of medicine,” Mizell said. “And so I try to make it fairly simple for them starting out. Because if you don’t talk to people in language they understand, you’re sort of wasting your time and theirs.”

Using surveys, Mizell monitors student feedback before and after the class and makes adjustments accordingly.

Mizell considers himself more of the course curator than the financial guru and structures the course primarily around guest experts. However, his detailed attention to how the information is presented and is received is paying off. Student feedback is positive and administrators have taken notice: in April 2016 Mizell was given the Educational Innovation Award from the College of Medicine at the annual Dean’s Honor Day.

“Dr. Mizell’s Business of Medicine course is likely the single most applicable classroom course I have ever had,” said Will Woodruff, M.D., who took the course in spring 2016, graduated that year and is now a general surgery intern at UAMS. “Like many young medical students, I was about to graduate 20-plus years of formal education with a huge gap in my knowledge concerning all things business, personal finance and health care management.”

Woodruff said Mizell’s passion for the topic and skill as an educator made all the difference.

“He provided me with practical advice that my family and I will benefit from for many years to come and has inspired me to continue to learn on my own, which is the sign of an excellent educator,” Woodruff said.

Mizell called the positive student feedback from the course “staggering,” noting that student knowledge and confidence in each topic increased significantly, while anxiety over financial decisions decreased dramatically.

Word is spreading among students. The first year of the course, 74 students of the class’s 160 enrolled in the course. That number increased to 124 for spring 2017. One hundred percent of students rated the course as helpful and 90 percent responded that the course should be mandatory in medical schools.

Looking forward, Mizell hopes other programs will pick up the course or be inspired to create their own. He said Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s surgery department has already patterned a course after the one at UAMS.

Mizell welcomes others to audit the classes and bring family members. The class is held 5-7 p.m. Mondays in the College of Public Health building, room G219.