Students learn healthcare in real-time

U.S. Health Care class teaches students about local and foreign systems to evaluate potential, current healthcare reforms


Mayes teaches health care as it evolves, with a focus on policy and business.

Courtesy University of Virginia

University Assoc. Nursing Prof. Rick Mayes currently teaches “Intro to the U.S. Health Care System,” a graduate level course designed to teach Medical and Nursing students about the inner workings of the healthcare industry and enhance their abilities as advocates for patients away from the bedside. 

“There’s this back and forth in the class between students of all kinds of backgrounds, and then you have students in the clinical setting, Med students and Nursing students and they can pull back the veil and show what it’s really like inside a healthcare system,” Mayes said. “There aren’t many classes where you have that mix of people, of backgrounds.”

Mayes said that a mix of Medical and Nursing students, Commerce and other undergraduate students are drawn to taking his class due to the significance of understanding healthcare today. He said that college students often have life experiences that help them connect to the subject material. 

“This class is beneficial to all U.Va. students because health care is relevant to each and every one of us,” fourth-year College student Lexi Graham said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We all have the responsibility to maintain our own health, and many of us know someone battling a chronic disease or recovering from an acute illness — therefore, we ought to be informed of the way our health care system works.”

Mayes’ class is structured into different sections composed of a lecture, class presentation and often guest speakers who provide anecdotes on their experience in the health system. 

For the first month of class, students focus on learning the history of the Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as Obamacare — and the political side of healthcare reform. Soon, Mayes says the class will transition into learning about the development of healthcare via the business sector that creates new innovations in medicine to provide cost-friendly medical care. 

“It is such an important class for nursing and med students because it helps them see the big picture,” Ben Colalillo, a member Class of 2015 alumnus and current Vanderbilt University law student, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “A lot of med students are so caught up in ‘defensive medicine’ and the high costs of malpractice insurance, but Mayes exposes us to accountable care organizations and other whole-health techniques that healthcare providers like Kaiser or Mayo or Cleveland are using.”

Mayes stresses the importance of building a network of alumni for his students to access for exposure to information that cannot be found in books. In his opinion, the interest in his class grows due to the real-world knowledge offered to students through guest speakers and current events. 

“We learned that there is no perfect system, but the best systems ensure that everybody has access to healthcare when they need it,” said Payam Pourtaheri, a Class of 2016 alumnus and co-founder of AgroSpheres, a startup biotechnology company. “In my life, being able to stay on my parents' healthcare plan until I am 26 is a huge help to me.”

After four years of teaching this class, Mayes has a collection of alumni working as doctors, healthcare consultants and nurses who provide real-life experience and advice to students who one day hope to achieve similar careers. 

“Health care is so much a challenge on how [you] motivate people … healthcare is still vitally dependent on individuals delivering the product,” Mayes said. “You can only automate [it] so much.”

Mayes’ class will continue to focus on relevant topics such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and women’s health for the rest of the semester. Students will also present on healthcare systems in the U.S. and abroad to learn about the pros and cons that are worth considering when thinking about future healthcare reforms. 

“Even if someone isn’t planning on going into healthcare and has no ambitions to go into the medical field, I would actually say a fundamental basic knowledge of healthcare is something every human being should know,” Mayes said. “The U.S. healthcare system responds very well to people who know how to work the system.”

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