After completing an arduous learning journey that took her from Tallahassee, Florida to Ann Arbor, Michigan and spanned 13 years, Dr. Karoline Mortensen started her teaching career as an Assistant Professor of the Practice at Rice University in Houston. A two-year consultancy for the Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative was followed by another Assistant Professorship, this time at the University of Maryland. In 2015 the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School came calling and Dr. Mortensen decided to return to Florida.
At the beginning of this year, she ascended to her current role as Associate Dean, Business Programs. She also serves as a Professor and Associate Director for the Center for Health Management and Policy. Karoline Mortensen’s research interests are focused on health insurance and health care utilization of vulnerable populations, particularly utilization of Medicaid enrollees and the uninsured. Her research areas also include assessing impacts of the Affordable Care Act, and innovative payment mechanisms in the state of Maryland. She is an Editorial Board Member for Health Services Research, an associate editor for the International Journal of Health Economics and Management, and was recently named a Poets&Quants top undergraduate business school professor. She has testified before Congress on the Medicare Advantage program.
I had a chance to chat with Dr. Mortensen recently in conjunction with our Women in Medicine series. We discussed the challenges of climbing the career ladder, as well as the rewards. Dr. Mortensen also offered some insight into where we are headed, now that COVID is (hopefully) in the rear-view mirror. She offered an optimistic but cautionary forecast for the healthcare industry as well as the healthcare education space. She even reveals if green and orange are her favorite colors! Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
CQ So what got you initially interested in business and economics and what was it that led you to specialize in the healthcare sector?
KM I majored in economics in my undergraduate studies, and found myself fascinated by business and large government programs like Social Security. Connections helped me get a job with the Michigan Public Health Institute, where I worked on a health care portfolio that introduced me to Medicare, Medicaid, and the complexity of our health care system. These experiences made me realize that in my graduate studies, I wanted to apply economic concepts to the health care system. The health services organization and policy doctoral program at the University of Michigan was the perfect fit for, and I am forever grateful to the employers, faculty, and staff that helped me find my path.
CQ After six years in College Park as an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, what was your motivation to take the position at Miami Herbert?
KM I loved every moment at the University of Maryland, but I wanted to be home, closer to my family to raise my kids near my parents. Miami Herbert was just establishing one of the few health management and policy departments housed in a business school, and the fit was just too perfect. I thought that being close to my family would mean a career sacrifice, but fortuitously it was just the opposite. My research, teaching, and leadership opportunities at Miami Herbert have been beyond what I had ever expected.
CQ Can you describe some of the hurdles you’ve faced in your career journey and what did you did to overcome them?
KM Transitioning from a career in a school of public health to a school of business came with some challenges. I went up for a promotion that I did not receive, and I let that affect my confidence. Nevertheless, she persisted, and with the support of colleagues, friends, and my family, I learned that when things are challenging me it is my opportunity to learn and grow. There were some leadership opportunities that I aspired to achieve, but they didn’t happen right away. I stayed focused on what I needed to do and my “why” for doing it. (I have since received the promotion!)
CQ What advice would you offer to a mid-level healthcare business/administrative professional looking to take the next step in their career climb? Given that it’s Women in Medicine month, do you have any additional advice for female professionals?
KM I encourage everyone to leverage and build their network. Make the time to get to know your colleagues. Get and stay involved in events and activities that bring you passion. My advice for female professionals is to have a personal mission and vision for your career, but be forgiving of yourself when the path isn’t straight or clear.
CQ What academic innovations need to be added to healthcare administration education to better prepare our future healthcare leaders?
KM Health care administration education needs more hands on, experiential learning. Many of us educators are excellent at lecturing, but we need to move out of our comfort zone. Giving students real life cases and problems to solve, and immersing them in these scenarios via internships, case competitions, and projects is so important for building their skill sets.
CQ In this strange new post-COVID world, what are the three things a healthcare professional should be most worried about?
KM Provider burnout, workforce shortages, and the impacts of inflation on our already high and rising health care costs are three major challenges we are facing in our health care system. We need to find new ways to train and support providers, and how to provide high quality care that is accessible and affordable.
CQ Are orange and green your favorite colors?
KM Honestly, yes! Green has been my favorite color since I was a child, since it makes me think of nature. Orange is growing on me…