Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. last week pulled out of a master's in business administration program it planned to offer its physicians through a joint venture with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The university intends to launch the program without Columbia and open it up to all physicians, not just those at Columbia hospitals. The program is targeted to potential physician executives.
Columbia and the university unveiled the joint educational program in June, shortly after the Tennessee Legislature nixed legislation that would have allowed the university to transfer ownership or management of its hospital, 600-bed UT Medical Center, to a private corporation. Columbia had been interested in the hospital.
The program, originally scheduled to debut this fall, was going to be yearlong, taught primarily through intensive on-campus visits and via teleconferencing and Internet systems. The program would also have pulled in faculty from Tulane University in New Orleans, whose hospital is owned by Columbia. With Columbia's departure, Tulane said it will no longer participate in the program.
The company's chairman and chief executive officer, Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., decided to take a close look at all aspects of physician relationships, a Columbia spokesman said. Frist decided to withdraw Columbia from the program because of concern over a potential conflict of interest, the spokesman said. As a condition of enrollment, physicians had to agree to return to Columbia in a management position.
The revised program is being delayed a semester, but the basic outline of the degree remains intact, said Michael Stahl, M.D., associate dean of the university's College of Business Administration and director of the MBA program.
One big difference, though, is that physicians will be taught mostly via cyberspace on Saturday mornings. Previously, Columbia physicians would have traveled to nearby Columbia facilities to take classes via teleconferencing.
The program will be offered to the same number of students as the original program. Several Columbia physicians had applied for the fall semester, some of whom plan to attend this winter, Stahl says. Without Columbia's support, though, these physicians will have to foot their own bill.
In an interview prior to Columbia's withdrawal, Stahl said he didn't expect Columbia executives to teach major portions of the program, but he did indicate that these executives would have a prominent role in targeting issues and content for classes.
Stahl says the university will continue the program if it's popular among physicians.