Soaking Up Many Disciplines
Jacque Kaster Torrens’92
As I reread the Organizational Studies summary from the Pitzer course catalogue, it reinforced the thoughts running through my mind since being asked to reflect on my Pitzer experience. When I read those paragraphs back in 1990, I recall being excited to think that there was actually a major that would allow a curious mind to soak up information from so many disciplines. What I did not know then was how skillfully Kate Rogers would link all of the disciplines together in her Organizational Theory classes, pushing us to take the broad view as we worked through cases and studied organizational theory.
Little did I know how valuable that broad, interdisciplinary view of organizations would be to me in my career in health care. Think about it. Can you imagine better preparation to understanding the Byzantine world of U.S. health care than to be grounded in economics, political studies, sociology and psychology? Add to that a thorough understanding of how individual and linked organizations work internally and externally and it’s a combination that can’t be topped.
I went on from Pitzer to earn an MPH (Master of Public Health) with a focus in administration and policy from UCLA. I chose to work in the hospital environment and my career moved along through various administrative positions but always with a link to the financial and clinical sides. I recently retired from my position as director of strategic planning. The bulk of my work entailed constantly scanning the environment of health care, i.e., the economics, politics and policy, social justice issues, sociology and psychology of the industry, as well as of our community of patients. My job was to synthesize all of that information in all kinds of formats and feed it back to my organization so that it could plan strategically for the future to fulfill the mission and vision of the hospital, as well as remain competitive and therefore viable and continue to serve the community.
Here’s a brief “for-instance” about how one dimension (economics) from the Organizational Studies core plays out in the real world: The economics of health care are truly scary in terms of organizational viability, i.e., a hospital’s survival. It is even scarier if you are an uninsured or underinsured patient. And it is different altogether if your view of the world is from the physician’s perspective. How about if you are a pharmaceutical company selling the newest meds and “cures?”
How do you manage the expectations of patients who think everything new is automatically “better?” And, if you are a hospital spending freely on the latest and greatest, how does your nursing staff view those expenditures if their pay has been stagnant for several years? Do you hear rumblings about unions? You bet you do!
If your hospital is part of a larger system, how do you square the fact that the economics of your organization may be in great shape because the hospital is run by an effective administrative team, yet down the freeway a sister hospital is struggling in an entirely different marketplace, under inferior leadership and your hospital is told to surrender a good hunk of its budget to shore up the other hospital’s finances.
Then we shift to the psychology piece. That’s where organizational psychology comes in. How do you keep the team from being demoralized? How do you help your organization understand that although it seems unfair, in fact the sister hospital serves a very needy, underserved population (enter sociology…) and the mission of the parent organization is centered on meeting the needs of the disenfranchised. Not to mention, it’s just the right thing to do.
And, at the end of the day, what on earth are those policy makers at the state and federal level thinking about health care? Are they thinking at all, or are they too focused on the economics? And so it goes.
I shudder to think how lost I would have been in my career had I not studied under Kate (and Jack Sullivan and Jeff Lewis and Ann Stromberg, and others) and learned how important it is to study organizations and all the disciplines that affect and shape them and the people in them … not to mention the effect those organizations have on the people and organizations on the outside looking in.
I’ve worked with far too many one-dimensional professionals who bring to the organization only one strength, and look at their work through only one prism, so to speak. Trust me—they don’t last very long in the health care arena.
Organizational Studies and its inherent interdisciplinary approach was the key to success in my health care career. Kate Rogers’ approach (not to mention her support and understanding of a New Resources student scared to death about returning to school after a 25-year hiatus) was the best thing that ever happened to me!
— Jacque Kaster Torrens ’92