President's Report Masthead
September 30, 2013

Health systems masters program takes off in Manhattan

Back in 2001, the need for a master’s program with a concentration in healthcare systems was virtually unheard of. Why would industrial engineers be needed in hospital or healthcare settings? The Watson Institute for Systems Science (WISE) broke through that barrier a dozen years ago, taking on its very first project in healthcare to improve operations for UHS hospitals, and that research now extends to the classroom.

“That was the start,” said Mohammad Khasawneh, professor of systems science and industrial engineering, and WISE assistant director for health systems. “With a couple of graduate students and faculty in WISE, working with UHS hospitals to improve operations, we established credibility with UHS, and at that time it was a very unique initiative for our group,” said Khasawneh. “In general, there was a huge reluctance from clinicians in the healthcare industry to accept industrial engineers. But UHS brought WISE into a second contract and we’ve now had many years running of a very successful partnership with 2-4 graduate students fully funded with these projects.”

The projects enabled WISE and its affiliated faculty to develop extensive knowledge in healthcare systems, resulting in technical reports, journal and conference papers, theses and dissertations, said Khasawneh. “Back then, there were a very few at national and international conferences talking about industrial engineering in healthcare, but we saw a trend as academia picked up on this.”

Establishing a master’s program in health systems was a natural extension of the successes WISE had, Khasawneh said. “For instance, one of our first graduates became the first management engineer at Virtua Health, a comprehensive healthcare system in New Jersey, and helped us establish a partnership with them a few years later. Even though UHS and Virtua are different hospital systems in different geographical regions, the types of problems we were solving for them were very similar. That’s when we started to build on those successes to go beyond UHS and Virtua.

“But it’s not just research experience that’s important,” Khasawneh added. “It was time to bring those experiences into the classroom. [Dean and Distinguished Professor Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari], who started this new area of research in WISE in 2001, introduced the first healthcare systems engineering course in 2006, and that opened up more opportunities for students not funded by WISE to have some of the same experiences in healthcare. In 2008, we developed a healthcare systems concentration.”

Binghamton was an early adopter of this new concentration as only the fourth university in the nation to offer one, after Georgia Tech, Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue. ”We’re very proud of this because in 2005, a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies titled ‘Building a Better Delivery System: A New Engineering/Health Care Partnership’ talked about how, if we want to improve efficiency, effectiveness, quality, safety and timeliness, we need partnerships, and the discipline that was highlighted in that report was systems engineering.”

There was a lot of interest from hospital systems and students, said Khasawneh, so WISE expanded beyond UHS and Virtua to partnerships with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Montefiore Medical Center and its Care Management Organization in New York City, Mount Sinai, the New York Organ Donor Network and others for the research side of the program. “Given the unique nature of what WISE does on continuous improvement processes, operational excellence and analytics in healthcare, the research experience got us to this academic program.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun work,” said Khasawneh. “I learned healthcare through WISE and I’m very passionate about improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery. It’s a very rewarding experience for me − very demanding and very challenging − but very rewarding. I get to work on all kinds of projects with my colleagues and students through WISE, in emergency rooms, pharmacies, inpatient units, operating rooms, outpatient clinics, looking at the big picture of large systems. Every day there’s something new and that keeps us going and gives us something to take back to the classroom.”

After a very successful launch on campus, the Watson School saw additional demand for the health systems concentration, with New York City being a logical expansion location. “New York City has lots of hospitals and the concept of systems engineering in healthcare is still fairly new there,” said Khasawneh. “So why not take our program down to Manhattan in an executive format on Saturdays?”

The Executive Master of Science in Health Systems program, taught at the SUNY Global Center, aimed for 25 students when it started in April 2013. Khasawneh said demand was overwhelming and 31 students were enrolled in the first cohort of the year-long program – about 90 percent of them are Binghamton alumni. “Courses are taught with healthcare in mind and things are going really well so far. We had orientation here on campus, and got excellent feedback. We also do teaching evaluations and the feedback has been excellent.”

Students in the one-year program can earn either a Master of Science in Systems Science with a Health Systems Concentration or, if they hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field, a Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering with a Health Systems Concentration.

The field is growing and there seems to be no problem placing students, said Khasawneh. “Our graduates are in demand. In fact, I’m running out of resumes to send to hospitals,” he said. “Students who work with us through WISE in the healthcare industry get jobs almost right away – for example, one student just finished his master’s degree with a health systems concentration and immediately started at Montefiore Medical Center as a Management Engineer. There is so much demand in the city for industrial engineers who understand the challenges and complexities of the healthcare industry, so we hope to place these students well.”

Current students are helping recruit for the next cohort, which will begin in August 2014. “We’re already talking to about 25 prospective students,” Khasawneh said. “Binghamton is indeed well-positioned to continue to deliver high quality education in this area.”

For more information on the Executive Master of Science in Health Systems in Manhattan, go online.