Five Years Out: Kyle Dempsey ’11 Merges Medicine and Business to Improve Healthcare

The series “Five Years Out” catches up with Bowdoin alumni to learn what they’re up to and where they’ve been since earning their diplomas in 2011.

KyleDempsey

Kyle Dempsey ’11

When Kyle Dempsey ’11 started his five-year joint program at Harvard University’s medical and business schools, he was fairly certain he was on track to become a physician.

“I went to medical school because I wanted to serve underserved patients, and I thought it would be the most meaningful way to spend my career,” he explained.

But along the way, he changed course, a move he would not have anticipated a few years ago. Indeed, the job he has now—as a New York City-based advisor to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and many other businesses with the global business consulting firm Bain & Co.—was one he didn’t even know existed when he started graduate school.

Dempsey believes he’ll be able to do the most good, and affect the most change, in his new position in the business world. He originally decided to add a business degree to medical school because he thought one day he might work in healthcare administration, perhaps as a hospital executive. “[Being a hospital president] gives you a good opportunity to make changes in a hospital, enabling you to allocate resources better and to ensure more resources can be allocated to underserved patients,” he said.

Dempsey’s dedication to serving the needy has its roots at Bowdoin. Though he admitted he chose the college partly because it didn’t have a foreign language requirement, he was persuaded by his first-year advisor to fill an empty class slot with elementary Spanish. Growing up in the small mill town of East Millinocket, he had never studied Spanish before. Dempsey calls East Millinocket an “old-school Maine town,” where everyone he knew, including his grandfather, father, and brother, worked for the paper mill before it shut down.

Fairly quickly, Dempsey became proficient enough at Spanish to receive a Global Citizens Grant from Bowdoin to volunteer with a public hospital in Nicaragua. He landed the opportunity with help from his Spanish professor, Genie Wheelwright, who connected him with her father, a humanitarian physician who has worked in Nicaragua. The experience in Nicaragua has had lasting ramifications for Dempsey. “It opened so many doors for me,” he said.

When he returned to the states after working in Nicaragua for a summer, Dempsey linked the hospital to two nonprofits, one that sends medical supplies to the hospital and another that sends well-trained healthcare providers for long-term volunteer assignments. This experience helped him win a prestigious Truman scholarship, which is given to undergraduates who succeed academically and who have proven public-service records.

These experiences helped fortify Dempsey’s desire to work in healthcare. But when he actually began practicing in a Boston hospital as a medical student, he was disturbed by what he saw.

“Sometimes you’re just trying to prescribe a drug that a patient needs but the insurance company won’t allow it, and so you spend an hour arguing with them about why your patient needs it,” Dempsey described. “The system is so inefficient you can’t provide optimal care for patients no matter how much you try, or how well-intentioned you are.” He observed doctors spending 30 percent to 40 percent of their time on the computer, typing up medical notes, or on the phone with insurance companies—times they could have spent with patients. “I often felt we were offering suboptimal care,” he said.

Meanwhile, during his two years at Harvard Business School, Dempsey was exposed to other opportunities in the medical field. “One of those was management consulting,” he said. “I was intrigued by it—you get to work across all fields of medicine and and address some of healthcare’s highest-level problems.” He was one of 16 people offered an internship with Bain & Co. last summer. He was one of 17 people selected from a pool of more than 1,100. This led him to his full-time work now.

Bowdoin, where Dempsey majored in biochemistry and minored economics, helped prepare him for his career in several ways. “I was able to get into the MD-MBA program because I was able to study biochemistry and economics at Bowdoin,” he said. “Bowdoin gave me the flexibility and encouragement to explore two very different areas. I felt I was much better prepared than many of my peers.” Business school was also relatively straightforward, Dempsey added, because he had taken so many economics classes as an undergraduate.

“And at a macro-level,” Dempsey continued, “the liberal arts education at Bowdoin helped me to take a more integrated view of things, to apply knowledge across multiple disciplines, which is guiding my career….The most interesting, effective work has to be multidisciplinary, integrating physicians with business people.”

To understand inefficiencies in one hospital, you have to understand the healthcare system as a whole, Dempsey said. He believes his new career move will serve as “the training ground for making change for the healthcare system over all.”

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