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Davidson Business in Society Lecture Addresses the Art of Medicine

Katherine Stohlman

Rushika Fernandopulle, M.D., M.P.P. answers question

Rushika Fernandopulle, M.D., M.P.P., founder and CEO of Iora Health, answers a student's question.

Rushika Fernandopulle, M.D., M.P.P., the founder and CEO of Iora Health, and Mount alumna Mary Jackson, M.S., P.A.-C., C.A.Q.-E.M., director of the proposed university physician assistant program, teamed up on March 23 to present the 2022 Davidson Business in Society Lecture. Both speakers focused on “Putting the Human Back in Health Care.”

mary-jackson.pngThe lecture, sponsored by the university’s BB&T Center for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Capitalism, led by Associate Professor of Economics John D. Larivee, Ph.D., is available on the university’s Livestream channel.

Jackson, a physician assistant in emergency medicine who is directing the Mount’s planned graduate physician assistant program, opened the lecture by giving a brief overview of the plans for the PA program and Graduate School of Health Professions. Prompted by concern over a lack of empathy in mainstream medical practice, as well as high rates of healthcare worker burnout, Mount employees, board members and supporters worked together over the past few years to plan the new school. The university’s graduate applied behavior analysis program and the proposed PA program, which is currently under review by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, would form the foundation of the school.

The Daughters of Charity has partnered with the Mount for this project, and the Graduate School of Health Professions will be located on their campus in Emmitsburg. The goal of the program is to make healthcare more accessible by making education for healthcare workers more accessible and service-oriented. The Mount also aims to establish the Center for Holistic Wellness, emphasizing to health sciences students the need to care for themselves to prevent burnout, and view their patient’s physical health as part of their integration as a human person. “It’s really that compassionate encounter that is the art of medicine,” Jackson observed.

Fernandopulle’s Iora Health is a collection of health practices dedicated to serving their patients with compassion and a holistic look at their lives. Delivering the primary part of the lecture, Fernandopulle discussed the need to revolutionize the American healthcare system. The U.S., he said, spends significantly more per capita than other Western countries on health care, but does not have the correspondingly higher life expectancy that other countries enjoy. He believes that this is due in large part to an overemphasis on science and technology, at the expense of the human needs and complexities of patients. “What we’ve forgotten is the humanity,” he noted. “That’s what heals people.”

To counter this trend, Fernandopulle, a primary care physician, helped raise millions of dollars in investments and started Iora Health in 2010. What began as one small practice grew to 50 practices nationwide, with 750 employees, 45,000 patients, and hundreds of millions in revenue. Their innovative methods of treating patients through relationships involve hosting socials for seniors, asking patients about their life goals to see how their health fits in, taking those with nutrition-impacted conditions to the grocery store to show them how to eat well, and having an in-house social worker, health coach and psychologist for an easy, holistic patient experience.

While much of this sounds like the work of a nonprofit, Fernandopulle stressed that Iora is a for-profit company rooted in capitalist thought. He believes that capitalist systems work best when those participating in them think in terms of principles, and not just transactions. Seeking to revolutionize the system while working within the American economy, he puts values such as empathy, humility, and passion at the heart of Iora. Fernandopulle encouraged workers and consumers that they can “harness capitalism to solve problems—but this means being value-rooted. Don’t say you can make money or do good; do both.”

Valuing the dignity and wholeness of the human person is, of course, at the heart of the Mount’s mission as much as Iora’s and has been a major consideration in designing the programs for the Graduate School of Health Professions. Lab sciences, technological advancement and medical knowledge are all fundamental parts of healthcare, but both Jackson and Fernandopulle successfully argued that there is far more to it. Fernandopulle noted that “the solution is not more technology or more rules—the solution is restoring humanity to health care.” In establishing a mission-driven School of Health Sciences, the Mount hopes to follow Iora Health’s lead and be a part of the solution.

Katherine Stohlman