Alumni Spotlight: David Classing

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Read about David Classing's experience in OHIO's Online MBA program

OHIO: When did you know that continuing your education was something that you wanted to do?

David: To answer this I must go back years when I began a Master’s Degree in Teaching (MAT). I completed the MAT coursework but when the time came to begin classroom observation and student-teaching, my current employers asked if I would help them open an independent pharmacy. I jumped at the opportunity because the work was detail-oriented, and I thrive on that. My initial thought would be that after the business was on its feet for a year, I would complete the MAT. After the first year, the business was doing very well, and my salary and flexibility were such that it was better than that of a teacher. Fast forward 12 years later, I was married, living in Vancouver, British Columbia, as my now ex-wife began PhD studies. My job search in Canada was fruitless, in that I had many years’ experience, however, similar vacancies required either a BBA or MBA. During my time in Canada, I had only two interviews, neither of which pertained to healthcare management. Life circumstances returned me to Ohio, I tried the easy way—earn a BBA, but the coursework was not intellectually challenging. My advisor, Ella McCown, encouraged me to pursue an MBA from Ohio University. My time in British Columbia forced me to realize that, though I had years of experience and expertise, without an advanced degree, I would be unable to find suitable employment.

OHIO: Why did you decide to start the Master of Business Administration program with a concentration in Health Care?

David: I did not see myself earning an MBA; I had no desire to earn an advanced business degree. After the Canadian experience, finding undergraduate work unchallenging, and my advisor’s direction to pursue an MBA, I began the process to investigate the possibility, and whether I had the dedication to complete it. Experience would only get me so far, and I realized earning an MBA would improve my marketability. Since I had worked in a pharmacy for so long, it was only natural for me to choose the healthcare concentration. I studied several other university MBA programs, but always found myself more drawn to Ohio’s program. The fact that OHIO is AACSCB accredited and ranks high in many MBA surveys were serious considerations that helped to solidify my decision to apply for admission to OHIO’s MBA program. Finally, I am proud to be from Ohio. In all my travels around the world, when people ask where I am from, I tell them “Ohio.” Though I live so close to Athens, the only thing I knew about Ohio University was The Convocation Center—where I had officiated OHIO’s women’s basketball. While learning about Ohio University’s history, and seeing its MBA rankings, I knew I wanted to be part of the rich tradition of leaders who earned their degrees from Ohio University.

OHIO: How has earning an MBA degree helped your career?

David: Since beginning the program, I have made more efficient the business aspects for my employer. I have collected data and recorded them onto spreadsheets, which make it easier to analyze company performance. I have saved the company money by analyzing performance and identifying where changes could be made to help improve performance. Moreover, I developed a marketing plan for a vaccination program, which increased revenue. Though I had not earned the MBA yet, being enrolled in the program gave me credibility when discussing issues with my state elected leaders about a reimbursement issue in Ohio. In short, Ohio Medicaid Managed Care (OMMC) plans began reimbursing pharmacies below their cost, while the pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) were paid $220 million more than what they paid pharmacy providers. On average, pharmacies were paid 50% below actual cost, which motivated my actions as this business model was unsustainable. For the first time, I was faced with the prospect that the pharmacy would be forced to close. I attended meetings in Columbus with State Representative Ryan Smith and State Senator Bob Peterson; I followed up with their staffs at least monthly for nearly two years. Last fall, at a luncheon for local business leaders, Senator Peterson recognized me as one to speak with if interested in learning what the PBMs were doing to the retail pharmacy industry. The healthcare concentration provided the knowledge to effectively communicate with our state leaders and community leaders. One of the ideas I discussed with our state leaders was the concept of Medicare’s disproportionate share reimbursement, where providers serving an unusually high number of Medicare patients are reimbursed at higher rates. I spoke with Representative Smith and Senator Peterson about a similar program for OMMC. I learned later that Representative Smith and Senator Peterson were two of the strongest proponents of these increased reimbursements in areas where a disproportionate share of OMMC patients seek care. In legislation that was directed to correct the OMMC reimbursement scheme, $100 million was allocated to pharmacies whose practices serve a disproportionate share of OMMC patients.

OHIO: Was there any inspiration behind getting your MBA with a concentration in Health Care?

David: Before I decided to pursue an MBA, I was unaware that concentrations were possible. I only knew I would pursue an MBA to further my career goals. OHIO’s was the first program I explored, and only then did I learn about a healthcare concentration. Other university programs offered a healthcare concentration, but in my view, OHIO’s would be the best option for me. Given my experience with pharmacy, it seemed only natural that a healthcare concentration would fit with me and my area of expertise. Moreover, a healthcare concentration opens doors and creates unique opportunities, from working as an administrator to a position with Congressional Legislative Affairs, which conducts healthcare research for Congress.

OHIO: What was your biggest takeaway from the MBA program?

David: The first takeaway is the faculty’s dedication to and sincere interest in seeing students succeed—not only during the class in which they are registered but also after the class ends. Dr. Young assisted after class when I encountered a formatting issue with Excel. At commencement, Dr. Young took the time to speak with graduates about their experiences and how to make the program better. Dr. Young and the MBA faculty are consummate professionals, who want students to succeed and excel in their professional careers. Though I singled out Dr. Young, I could give examples of how just about every other professor helped during and after their respective courses. A second takeaway is that the program, while online, makes it possible for students to make personal and professional connections through its LDP, classroom discussion boards, and team projects. Ohio’s curriculum structure creates personal connections and friendships with those in your cohort. I also feel a sense of connection with Ohio University. I have always been interested in history and politics and was amazed at how many presidents and other world leaders visited and spoke at Ohio University. President Johnson unveiled his “War on Poverty” at Ohio University. When students arrive on campus, they seem to almost instantly become enchanted with Ohio’s beautiful campus and charm—there is something special about an Athens state of mind.

OHIO: What innovative analytical tools did you enjoy/takeaway from the program?

David: I have become more analytical and find myself analyzing news stories from a business perspective and realizing that healthcare trends affect providers in my home area. Moreover, I am more capable of identifying these trends and finding ways to easily communicate them to members of my community. One of the local hospitals recently announced it would close by September 2020. I wondered whether reimbursements tied to patient outcomes were a cause and learned in the statement that one of the reasons given is that patient outcomes could not be improved, which led to decreased insurance reimbursement. Additionally, this hospital was in a rural state that did not expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA. A disturbing trend among rural hospitals in these states is that they are more likely to close. In fact, I read earlier that week that nearly 700 rural hospitals are on the verge of closure; 76% of those are in non-expansion states. These trends are extremely troubling for those of us who live in rural communities. Clearly, learning how to analyze these trends is a key takeaway from Ohio’s program. But analyzing these trends means nothing if I were unable to explain the trends to friends and colleagues. Ohio University’s MBA program taught me both—to gather and analyze information, and how to interpret it in meaningful and understandable ways.

OHIO: What is one piece of advice you would give to a person who wants to learn more about health care?

David: If you want to learn more about healthcare, turn off your television, ignore political candidates’ and politicians’ promises, and head to your local library to check out books. If one wants superficial knowledge of how the health system operates, I recommend “America’s Bitter Pill” by Steven Brill, and “The Healing of America” by T. R. Reid. For in-depth knowledge, there are multiple policy books available, as well as professional journals that examine the treatment and payment trends health providers now face. There are also websites that collect data from other nations that compare health outcomes. Americans spend more for health care yet experience the worst outcomes, compared to other industrial nations. Reducing costs while improving outcomes is a challenge that must be met. US costs are driven by administrative costs, which are the highest in the world. As part of the research, while working on my presentation for state leaders, I found that PBMs (one part of pharmacy administrative costs) add nearly 1/3 to the cost of prescription drugs Americans pay, through various schemes in which demands are made on manufacturers to ensure a PBM will include a drug on its formulary.The complexity of the US system makes learning about healthcare difficult, and quite frankly boring as it forces one to delve into the minutiae of various policy, economic, and philosophical considerations. The only way to learn about the system is to read—and read a lot. Healthcare delivery in the US is very complex and anyone who promises an easy fix lacks the understanding of the system’s complexity. Sadly, our culture has moved from 15-second sound bites to make political points to cute, sarcastic internet memes. This cannot be allowed to continue if we want to retain a healthy democracy. Healthcare reform and ensuring Americans have adequate access are serious matters that will take a thoughtful, informed populace for meaningful change to occur.

OHIO: What was it like maintaining your career while pursuing your degree?

David: This was the most daunting challenge that I faced while working on an MBA. In addition to working full-time, I also officiated high school basketball—typically 6 nights weekly. I learned early on that, to succeed, I would need to sacrifice and give up some extracurricular activities. I decreased officiating games to 3-4 per week; and I woke up between 4:30-5:00 every morning to work on coursework. Moreover, I spent 3 hours minimum each evening to work on coursework. It was not unusual for me to spend 30 to 35 hours weekly on the statistics, finance and operations courses. These sacrifices instilled in me discipline, time management, and a sense of responsibility.My wife, Anna (a former Fulbright Scholar), is a recent immigrant to the United States—has finally arrived in Ohio about half-way through my program. She sacrificed more than I ever could have imagined—leaving her Russian homeland and culture to settle in Appalachian Ohio. She had no ties to my hometown and knew no one, and when she arrived, she sacrificed time to spend with me as I completed my studies. I cannot tell her enough how much her patience and perseverance helped during the last year of the program. Anna was a huge motivation and source of inspiration to continue in this endeavor, often offering words of encouragement. She tirelessly proof-read papers and listened to my discussions about healthcare developments.

OHIO: What was an unexpected surprise/benefit you discovered while going through the program or after you graduated?

David: Personal discipline was an unexpected benefit that I developed during the program. I have always been intellectually curious, and read a lot—mostly about history, but lacked the discipline to do anything with my extensive reading. What I found after completing the program is that my intellectual curiosity is still piqued, but now I find myself making detailed notes about what I read and beginning to formulate some ideas towards reform. I have even begun to entertain the idea to develop public lectures about the state of US healthcare and comparing other nations’ systems with our own.I was also surprised how an old comment from a dean still motivates me. Because my undergraduate work was less than stellar, I was required to meet with the dean of the graduate college before I began my MAT studies. In that meeting, he told me that I would never succeed in an academic environment, that I would waste my time, the instructors’ time and should consider digging ditches, which could prove to be meaningful. After the MAT coursework was complete, my GPA was 3.80 and my advisor was encouraging me to pursue a PhD. That dean’s comments continue to motivate me–nearly 20 years later! I offer this insight so that potential applicants who have heard similar remarks or who have similar undergraduate backgrounds will be encouraged to apply. This program is not easy and it will challenge you—but if you want it and learn to sacrifice, you will succeed

OHIO: What are your career goals/plans?

David: When I began the program, one goal was to help my workplace become more efficient and data-driven. My employers are not only employers, but also friends—we’ve been together for more than 25 years, and no matter where I wind up, I am certain that I will continue to advise and help them in some capacity. It’s how we do things in southeastern Ohio—remember our friends and help them.I would, however, like to move on to bigger things and have begun the application process. Initially a hospital or clinical setting appealed to me. While that option is still open, I learned during the program that two other options began to appeal more to me. The first is to research US healthcare policy and work to promote positive, patient-centered reforms that pay providers for the care they deliver. Many of those jobs, though, are in Washington, DC. Given the political climate—where researchers’ work is often misrepresented and politicized—this would be a challenge. Another area that interests me is a position on a university campus, to mentor students toward career choices and career development. The idea of working with students as they begin to explore their careers is exciting. When I began the program, my goal was geared toward a clinical setting because this is the career path I believed MBA healthcare concentration candidates followed. Only during the program did I discover other options for MBA candidates with a healthcare concentration.No matter which direction I take next, one thing is clear. The Ohio University MBA is a key that has potential to unlock doors that were previously locked to me.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master of Business Administration

At Ohio University, we understand how important an MBA can be to advancing your career. We also know that your MBA should be affordable, engaging, and academically-rigorous. That’s why we have designed an online MBA that is comprehensive and challenging, yet flexible to fit your lifestyle. For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.