Faculty distinction: Katherine Kim
Grabbing opportunity, guided by 'the why'
School of Nursing Assistant Professor combines business principles with health technologies
Katherine Kim learned early in her sophomore year at Harvard College that collaboration and teamwork are crucial to effective research. Driven by the nagging question "why?" she tapped into the passion that propels her professionally and furthers the mission of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.
Kim, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing, embraces business principles and argues they are essential to solving problems in health care.
“If you go in with the mindset that business is bad and health is good, you will always be in conflict,” Kim explained. “The adage ‘no margin, no mission’ rings true. If you don’t have the money and infrastructure, you can’t provide the service.”
Kim earned master’s degrees in business administration and public health in a dual program at UC Berkeley. At the time, more than 1,000 physicians from UCSF Medical Group and California Pacific Medical Center had just merged to form Brown & Toland Medical Group. During a presentation in San Francisco, Michael Abel, a San Francisco surgeon and president of the group, gave a speech that prompted Kim to call the company and ultimately chart a course for her future.
“Here was a group of physicians who thought they could be responsible for the entire health of their patients. Managed care was brand new,” Kim recalled. “The company’s chief operating officer agreed to meet with me then offered me a job. I took it on the spot. I wanted to help create something new.”
Kim combined her business consultant perspective and public health knowledge to lessen the hassle of managed care paperwork and procedures. After using the skills in writing business plans she had cultivated in graduate school and investigating a new tool in technology called the Internet (this was 1997), Kim had a full-blown plan and, soon thereafter, the funding to build it.
“I had no clue how to make it a reality. But a colleague asked me to share my idea at a dinner he was hosting with executives from our medical group,” Kim said. “The other dinner guests were the founding team of Healthscape, started by Netscape’s Jim Clark. They had the technical expertise in place and were looking for the problem to solve in health care. We built the solution together.”
Bitten by the technology bug, Kim ultimately left Brown & Toland, secured angel and venture capital funding and founded Vitalz, an enterprise resource management software firm. The company successfully developed a service to allow people and their health care providers to take care of critical business online. In one instance, a clinic in Austin, Texas, reduced costs by 30 percent. With that success, Kim moved into another phase of her career guiding other technology start-up companies, so they too, could operate as profitable companies independently.
“I knew I could sell products, build and run businesses and services, but I didn’t know if my efforts were effective or making a difference in the health of people,” Kim explained. “In order to understand what was working, I knew I had to develop research skills. I needed to earn my doctorate.”
Kim said she logged onto the website for the School of Nursing at UC Davis and read the words ‘bold transformation’ and ‘interprofessional.’ It was “love at first sight.” Not sure if she was eligible for acceptance without a degree in nursing, she dropped everything to complete her application. Less than four years later, she became the school’s first doctor of philosophy graduate.
Currently, Kim is part of a research team developing PCORnet, a national patient-centered clinical research network, to bring research and care together to explore the questions that matter most to people and their families. Ironically, the current $16 million pSCANNER project grew out of project she began with colleagues at UC San Diego on the first day of her doctoral program. It also became the topic of her dissertation.
“There’s no master plan in my life or my research. I’m a business development person at heart. So when I see something interesting, I look for opportunities to connect it with something else,” Kim acknowledged. “I hope I don’t have to focus on only one thing. The generation of new ideas comes from being exposed to many different ideas. That’s what works for me.”