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Tell us about your background

I was born in South Korea but I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My dad was in the army and met my mom in Korea. They returned to the US to raise a family. The University of Chicago was a household name yet it was a pipe dream for my dad, who came from a lower socioeconomic community that could only aspire to those heights. Both my parents earned their college degrees as they were raising our family and my father eventually got his MBA from a local community college. Chicago Booth was always a school he looked up to and I got to know the school better while my sister was at the University of Chicago’s Law School. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Biology and worked in Big Pharma and the Biotech industry. During the recession, I saw many things fall apart financially and even though I was successful in my job, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world while people were suffering. 

Why Healthcare?

There was a moment when I was at Northwestern Hospital and saw an older man sitting across from me who couldn’t open a drink because his hands were too arthritic. I walked over to help him and there was such a human connection there, that I realized I was in the wrong lane. I have a passion for science and people. Healthcare blends medicine and the human connection. As a healthcare provider, I am able to use problem-solving medical skills while fostering a connection with my patients and ultimately making an impact in their life.

Why did you decide to become a Physician Assistant?

I decided to change careers and go into medicine, but many of my customers who were physicians convinced me to consider becoming a Physician Assistant (PA). The Physician Assistant is a healthcare provider educated in the medical model or MD curriculum who can examine, diagnose, and treat a patient’s disease, perform certain procedures, and provide patient education. From an economic perspective, PAs are beneficial to the healthcare system because they provide affordable care without sacrificing quality. This role also happens to be at the top of the US News 2021 list of best jobs.

What was your first experience as a PA like?

When I came out of PA school, the military moved my husband to Hawaii. I couldn’t find a job there despite a healthcare provider shortage as Hawaii’s healthcare system was not set up well for PAs. I ultimately found employment and also became the president of the Hawaii Academy of PAs, which needed a complete transformation and overhaul of its member service. Furthermore, Hawaii’s statutes for PAs had not been updated in decades and it was a hurdle to utilize PAs in the healthcare system. This did not help the PA profession’s reputation, nor did it help the 900-physician shortage and healthcare access issues Hawaiian’s were facing.  Something had to be done. By my fourth year there, we were able to go after the state laws and make it easier for PAs to practice and be effective. I worked at a Rheumatology clinic caring for patients with arthritic and autoimmune disease and gave educational talks to Hawaii’s seniors at community events with the Arthritis Foundation.

What was your most rewarding moment in medicine?

I saw one patient with gout who had not walked in seven years. He had started a traditional medication but I knew it would not be enough to truly help him. There was a novel medication I was aware of, and I challenged my supervising physician to consider it. I submitted a request to the insurance company and had to do a peer-to-peer review with the insurance company’s medical director, which is extremely difficult to do, but I was able to win the case and get them to cover his treatment. He was able to start walking again.

Chicago Booth Evening MBA student Christina Starks

"I think that physicians, healthcare providers, policymakers, and business folks are not speaking the same language. There isn't good collaboration. Maybe if there were more people who understood how to bridge that gap, they could come up with a better process...I am pursuing an MBA to be able to make a bigger impact on healthcare."

— Christina Starks

What is the best thing about your job?

Hands down, patient care. If I’m able to make an impact in someone’s life or health, I’m fulfilled.

Why did you choose to pursue an MBA?

I’ve always enjoyed looking through the lens of business, at not only what the medical situation is, but at the costs associated with it. Now I am able to look at the bigger picture, from a multifaceted perspective. As a healthcare provider, I have come face to face with some of the challenges in our healthcare system. We are spending too much money on healthcare per capita, yet our population is sick. We have the highest spend with the sickest people — this is what keeps me up at night. I think that physicians, healthcare providers, policymakers, and business folks are not speaking the same language. There isn’t good collaboration. Maybe if there were more people who understood how to bridge that gap, they could come up with a better process and ultimately a better delivery of healthcare at a more affordable price. I am pursuing an MBA to be able to make a bigger impact on healthcare.

Why should students interested in healthcare choose Chicago Booth?

The University of Chicago has been around in this space for a long time, so the resources are quite robust. There are several different healthcare courses that Chicago Booth offers, but one of the most unique things is its MBA/Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy (GPHAP).This interdisciplinary program connects you to students and faculty across other schools in the University. It has been around for over 80 years and is the first of its kind and truly a hidden gem.

Chicago Booth was always committed to healthcare, but is now even more so after the pandemic. The new Chicago Booth Healthcare Initiative engages faculty, students, alumni, and leaders to make a positive impact on the healthcare industry. There are so many additional opportunities for students; I am doing a research assistantship with UChicago Medicine’s Center for Asian Health Equity, which focuses on addressing healthcare disparities for diverse ethnic communities.

The Healthcare Club is very active. They just put on their 19th annual health care conference, which featured a great discussion with Griffin Myers, the Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer from Oak Street Health.

Classes I recommend include:

Business Statistics with Professor Nicholas Polson – he covers a lot of health/medical related scenarios including use of big data and AI. Great primer before Healthcare Data Analytics.

Global Health and Social Policy – this is a new Healthcare class offered at Chicago Booth and given the current global pandemic there is no better time than now to take a course like this.

Healthcare Data Analytics with Professor Dan Adelman – one of a kind MBA class unique to Chicago Booth, we examined real-world healthcare delivery challenges through the analysis of large datasets.

New Venture Strategy –helped me gain fundamental knowledge for entrepreneurship. If you work on a Healthcare case, this counts for GPHAP.

How does Chicago Booth make an impact on your day to day work?

Overall, I am gaining strong analytical skills that allow me view healthcare through a value-based lens. As a healthcare provider, I have a better understanding of the effectiveness of clinical practices on a macro level. On a micro level, I can use this knowledge analyze my own patient population, identify higher risks patients, and proactively reach out and provide the care to improve their clinical outcomes.

Do you see a position in policy or strategy in your future?

It’s really not my background, but when I lived in Hawaii and chose to go after the PA laws there, I tackled that by learning what the statutes were, and about the process of navigating legislation to change the law. After that milestone, I felt I needed an MBA. Will I become a policymaker? Healthcare administrator? Biotech CEO? I don’t know!

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