Medical Staff Pulse Newsletter

Open Houses for Health Delivery Science Program


After nearly 15 years as a management assistant in the nursing department, Harlem Lee wanted to move up in his career and have more impact at Cedars-Sinai.

He had developed an interest in doing data analysis related to performance improvement. But Lee, who mainly studied  the liberal arts in college, felt he didn’t have the background to advance in that specialized area.

So in 2017 he successfully applied for a spot in the inaugural class of the Cedars-Sinai Master’s Degree in Health Delivery Science (MHDS) program. Lee graduated from the 20-month MHDS program last year—and just was promoted to a project manager position for health equity issues.

"It's actually the best possible outcome that I could have ever possibly hoped for," said Lee, who is eager to use his recently developed analytical skills in his new job.

Lee plans to share part of his story on Monday, Jan. 13, at an open house about the MHDS program for prospective students from noon to 1 p.m. in Harvey Morse Auditorium. Two more open houses will follow: March 6, from noon to 1 p.m., at the 6500 Wilshire Building in the San Vicente Conference Room; and March 16, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Pavilion, PEC 6 and 7.

The MHDS program, which enrolls 15 to 20 students every September, is one of only a handful of such offerings in the U.S. A much more common path for people hoping to advance their careers is to pursue a master’s degree in business administration or public health. To some extent, the MHDS offers coursework similar to a business or public health curriculum, including classes in biostatistics and healthcare financing.


Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS

But Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, the founder and director of the MHDS program, said traditional MBA or MPH programs miss the mark for many people working in healthcare. Cedars-Sinai’s MHDS program is aimed at students who “need to learn pragmatic skills like, ‘How do I allocate a budget?' or ‘How do I create data slides that will be compelling to leadership?’ or ‘How do I manage a data set?’”

To suit the needs of working students, classes are taught on the Cedars-Sinai campus. Students go to class for the first 12 months of the program two or three times a week from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m. Then, for the final eight months, they focus on a "capstone project"—essentially a master's thesis—that analyzes a healthcare delivery issue.

Spiegel called the capstone project "the secret sauce" of the program. "It's one thing to learn from a textbook or in a classroom. It's another to actually apply it to a real problem. So all of our students need to identify a health system problem that they want to address, and directly apply the skills that they learned in the classroom to solve that problem," he said.

The program has drawn students from a wide range of backgrounds. About one-quarter are doctors, and another quarter are pharmacists, nurses and other clinicians. An additional quarter are in research positions, and the rest of the students generally are in operational or management roles.

"The diversity of the students is something that really makes this program work," said Welmoed van Deen, MD, PhD, the associate director of the program. 

She said students "build upon each other's experience," which she likened to "a real-life situation where you have to work with people from very different disciplines."

The MHDS program is one of three in Cedars-Sinai’s Graduate School of Biomedical Science, which overall has about 100 students. The other programs in the school serve students earning a master’s degree in magnetic resonance in medicine or a PhD in biomedical sciences.

For Cecille Pallagao, who joined Cedars-Sinai 17 years ago as a nurse and who was promoted to an assistant nursing manager position last year, one of the chief benefits of the MHDS program was learning leadership skills. Before starting work on her master's degree, Pallagao was frustrated by the lengthy turnover times between cardiac surgery patients in the operating room where she worked. Yet she didn't have the knowhow to carry out the needed changes.

Pallagao focused on the turnover issue for her capstone project, and her findings were used to cut turnover time. One of the keys was cultivating "buy-in" by the OR staff, a pivotal factor whose importance she hadn't fully recognized before.

Pallagao said she used to have more of a "this is how it has to be done" approach. But now she emphasizes making sure that her co-workers understand her perspective and what's at stake.

Lee considered himself a "non-traditional" student in the program. On the first day of class, when he realized his classmates included accomplished doctors and nurses, "It was very intimidating," he said. Yet Lee thrived in his studies. His capstone project, which explored the relationship between the demographic backgrounds of Cedars-Sinai patients and their level of satisfaction with their care, was brought to the attention of senior leadership, and helped him gain his new position in health equity.

"I found a field of study that I was so passionate about," Lee said. "We’re helping our patients, and we're creating a better experience for them."

In addition, Lee said, "It’s a win for our organization. And it's a win for me because I'm growing professionally. I just feel thankful that I took the chance on this program and that they took a chance on me."

For more information, click here. The application deadline is May 1.