Executive Education

HMS designs and delivers custom courses for national and global companies that want to deepen their health care expertise


Irene Nyavor. Image: Bethany Versoy

As a premed student in college, Irene Nyavor (MDiv, ’08) had an unexpected realization—medical school might not provide the best path for her to solve the larger problems she wanted to address in health care.

“If I had become a doctor, I often would be seeing patients at just one point in their lives, when they’re already in the hospital,” she said. “I wanted to keep people out of the hospital.”

Nyavor studied economics instead, focusing on the myriad consequences of income inequality. She grew determined to increase access to education and thereby improve overall health for low-income patients.

After earning her master of divinity at Harvard and working for nonprofits, she became a program manager on the Google health search team, the group responsible for helping people find relevant and authoritative health information when they search the web for information on conditions such as “the flu” or “asthma.” Nyavor sees Google as a way for all people to access reliable health information.

Now, Harvard Medical School has given Nyavor and her colleagues an invaluable opportunity to ensure that such technological innovations are designed to be as effective as possible for doctors and patients.

During a custom five-day program in April 2018 organized by Nyavor and HMS Executive Education, part of the Office for External Education, 40 people from Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, participated in classroom discussions and clinical immersions where they worked to gain firsthand knowledge of current challenges and opportunities in real-world health care delivery.

“The better we understand health care, the more impact we can have,” said Nyavor. “Even though we often collaborate with doctors in developing products, for those of us who do not have medical backgrounds, coming to HMS means that the challenges doctors and patients face aren’t abstract for us anymore. We’re able to draw on firsthand experience when thinking about the needs of patients and providers when it comes to seeking health information.”

The program was the latest in a series that the School’s Executive Education team has been designing and delivering for national and global companies that want to deepen their health care expertise, including GE, athenahealth, Amgen and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Offering a mix of patient and physician perspectives and the latest research and discussions of best practices for innovation at every level of health care, the programs provide access to the unique strengths, knowledge and diversity within the HMS community.

“We provide an up-front view of the art and science of how medicine is practiced day to day—an opportunity to witness those hidden aspects of health care that are hard to understand or even know about unless you’re on the inside,” said Stanley Shaw, associate dean for executive education and assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.