Partner, Bain & Company
Seeing the tremendous need for innovation and evolution in the health care system, I found myself becoming more and more interested in the business side of health care as opposed to wanting to become a doctor.
By Adam Sylvain
From his earliest days as a Dartmouth undergrad, Jeff Woods D’97, GR’98, MED’98, T’05 knew he wanted to work in health care. He majored in biology and followed the conventional pre-med path until an economics course during his junior year sparked another enduring passion: business.
After graduation, Woods delayed a decision on medical school and instead completed a one-year master’s program at what was then called the Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences (CECS) at the Geisel School of Medicine, hoping to gain a more well-rounded view of the industry he was preparing to enter. He then planned to work for a few years, still with the eventual goal of enrolling in medical school.
He joined Health Management Systems (HMS), which provided decision support software for hospitals. The software would take in large volumes of patient data and identify payment discrepancies. The follow-up to this work exposed him to the complexities of payer contracting and sometimes entailed sifting through crates of paper medical records looking for implant barcodes that were improperly documented. In short, the role gave him an up-close view of the rampant inefficiencies in the U.S. health care system.
“It was staggering to see the magnitude of these discrepancies. We’re talking millions of dollars in health care expenses that were not being properly adjudicated,” says Woods. “Seeing the tremendous need for innovation and evolution in the health care system, I found myself becoming more and more interested in the business side of health care as opposed to wanting to become a doctor.”
To discern his next steps, Woods would often compare notes with his roommate who at the time was working as a consultant at Bain & Company. Intrigued by the depth and variety of projects involved in management consulting, Woods pivoted to an associate role at The Parthenon Group (now EY-Parthenon), founded by Bill Achtmeyer T’81. Although the firm did not have an established health care practice at the time, Woods naturally jumped at those assignments when they came his way.
Three years into his consulting career, Woods returned to Hanover to pursue his MBA at Tuck. The decision was a natural one, given his deep ties to Dartmouth and enthusiastic support from Parthenon’s leadership, including Achtmeyer who was then a member of Tuck’s Board of Overseers (now Board of Advisors). Woods also gravitated toward the general management curriculum which helped bolster a range of business skills he mostly had to learn on-the-fly up to that point.
The MBA experience brought him up to speed on all the essentials, from accounting and statistics to capital markets and strategy, but he says the most pivotal aspects of his Tuck education were the opportunities he had to work within study groups and project teams.
“When you think about what management consulting entails, it usually involves working in teams of five to 10 people on a discreet project for anywhere from three weeks to three months,” says Woods. “Coming out of Tuck and continuing in my career, that ability to collaborate and work effectively within and across teams has been critical.”
Today, the Center for Health Care is an invaluable resource for Tuck students looking to grow their knowledge and build a network in the industry. The number of health care initiatives, in the form of dual degree programs, elective courses, and co-curricular opportunities, has also grown exponentially in recent years. This includes the creation of a new Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine. The MHA announcement follows the success of other joint-degree offerings, including the Master of Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS) and the MD-MBA dual degree program.
While at Tuck, Woods took an intrepid approach to deepen his knowledge of health care. He completed a summer internship with the medical device company Guidant (now part of Abbott Labs) and wrote a paper for a technology course about drug-eluting stents, one example among many emerging health care innovations at the time. He also conducted an independent study during his second year which had him working on strategy alongside the CEO of another high-growth medtech company.
Taking all that he learned from these experiences back to Parthenon, Woods was soon asked to launch the firm’s first health care consulting practice. He says the initial years were a grind leading into the 2008 recession, but he eventually grew an eight-partner team and enjoyed a successful 11-year run with the firm before taking his current role as partner at Bain & Company in 2020. The move was an opportunity for Woods to focus more exclusively on private equity transactions in health care.
When it comes to solving the complex challenges impacting the U.S. health care system, Woods sees private sector innovation playing an outsize role.
“I’m convinced that the for-profit motive in health care is going to drive change much more than policy or regulation, which also has its place,” he says. “By and large, it’ll be driven by smart people who recognize inefficiencies and are able to create innovative solutions. We’re talking about $4 trillion in health care spending, so the opportunities for impact are immense.”
For the past eight years, Woods has returned to campus as a visiting lecturer in the course Structure, Organization and Economics of the Healthcare Industry, taught by professors Michael Zubkoff and Paul Gardent T’76. Whether or not a student decides to launch a career in health care, Woods believes a foundational understanding of how the health care system operates is critical for any business leader.
“Most, if not all, MBA students are going to see health care no matter what they do,” says Woods. “If you go into management consulting and 20 percent of a firm’s revenue is devoted to health care, you’re going to see it. If you are running a business, eventually you are going to see a big percentage of your employee costs in health care. There is no escaping it.”
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