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Stern Faculty Spotlight Presents: Professor Michael Dickstein

This month’s Stern Faculty Spotlight features Dr. Michael Dickstein, Assistant Professor of Economics. He teaches Healthcare Markets to MBAs, specializes in healthcare economics, and more recently has focused his research on the design of health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. During this pandemic, society has recognized the importance of healthcare access, supply, and demand. It is an intricate system to understand, and this makes what Professor Dickstein studies and teaches so pertinent. His impactful research and nuanced knowledge of the healthcare system led him to be listed in Poets & Quants as Best 40-Under-40 Professors this year.

I am in Professor Dickstein’s Healthcare Markets class this semester (as well as what feels like the entire Stern Healthcare Association board). The course applies tools of economic analysis to study how medical care is produced and financed in both the private and public sectors. It emphasizes the U.S.’s healthcare system but also covers the systems of other developed and less developed countries. Not only is the course incredibly relevant during these times but it promotes understanding of how our healthcare system functions and is priced. Our healthcare system is known for an intentional lack of transparency. However, Dr. Dickstein is an exceptional professor. He is able to take complex economic theories, apply them to current healthcare problems, and convey them to a class of over fifty students in an understandable fashion. I have worked in healthcare for nine years and have become a clinician through multiple years of schooling, but I have never even slightly understood the convolutions of our system until this course. If you are interested in pursuing a healthcare or economics specialization, or just want to learn more about a system that is so relevant in all our lives, I would highly recommend Healthcare Markets.

Dr. Michael Dickstein joined Stern’s economics department in 2015. His research focuses on the industrial organization of healthcare markets. In recent work, he has investigated Medicare’s price-setting for physician services, the design of individual health insurance marketplaces, and the mechanisms through which physicians learn about new drug treatments. Prior to joining Stern, Dr. Dickstein was an assistant professor of economics at Stanford University. He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from Harvard University and a B.S. in applied economics from Cornell University.

It was my pleasure to interview Professor Dickstein after he had been named P&Q’s Top 40-Under-40 last week.

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Hello Professor! First of all, thank you for agreeing to talk to The Oppy! I know we are in the midst of finals, and it is a busy time for students and professors alike.

My pleasure. Congratulations to those graduating in a few weeks.

And a massive congratulations to you on being named a Top 40-Under-40 MBA Professor! Did you know you were going to win?

Thank you! I didn’t know I was in the running for the recognition until shortly before the posting. I learned by email, which coincidentally arrived as I was teaching a Healthcare Markets lecture.

Tell us a little more about your journey. It’s very unique. Did you always know you wanted to study economics? How did you start specializing in healthcare?

I started college with almost too many academic interests. I really enjoyed biology, chemistry, and history. But in my first semester, I enrolled in an introductory microeconomics course, similar to the one I now teach to undergrads at Stern. I learned to think like an economist and became fascinated by how the tools could be applied to study the functioning of markets and human behavior more broadly.

Within economics, healthcare was not my first specialty. I interned in the macroeconomics group at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and I studied airline competition as a senior thesis project. But in my first job after college as a consultant, my two biggest projects focused on pricing in the pharmaceutical drug market. I got really interested in the determinants of drug prescribing and continued studying healthcare in graduate school.

What made you want to be a professor? Healthcare Markets is such an applicable course for so many different types of students, especially those studying medicine. How did you end up teaching business school students?

I really enjoy research. I pursued an academic career to give me the freedom to study topics that most interest me. A big part of the research process is conveying your ideas and findings to a larger audience. It’s been fun to share health economics and the insights I’ve learned from research with a group of students who will get to apply them in business settings. My research is very applied, and it’s natural to work with students who value the applications.

Where have you been teaching remotely from this past year?

Mostly from home in Washington Square. I’m excited to be back teaching in person soon, without a virtual background.

What has been your favorite paper you’ve published?

I really enjoyed studying the RUC, which is a committee of the American Medical Association that advises the government on relative prices for physician services. Economic research can feel very cloistered, involving hours in front of a computer screen. For this project, in addition to those hours, I also had the opportunity to attend an RUC meeting and hear the discussion among the committee members. The in-person experience really brought to life the importance of the committee’s work.

You’ve accomplished so much at a young age! What do you think you want to do next?

I hope to keep researching and teaching for a while. At some point, I’d like to take on a role in government advising on some of the health policy questions I’ve studied in my research.

I remember you once talking in class about a lively family dinner discussion and a classmate saying to me, “I don’t know what thanksgiving dinners he’s attending, but mine don’t include debating the ACA.” However, it seems that your family is different from the norm in that healthcare is a common passion and career path in different sectors.

My three siblings, including my identical twin brother, are all health professionals. It’s hard to get away from medicine in my family. But I think the pandemic has shown us how often healthcare issues intersect with everyday life, no matter what career you choose. It’s partly why most of us are now familiar with the vaccine approval process, the stages of drug trials, etc.

This question is a doozy and may be unanswerable – but what do you think is the number one problem we should be trying to fix in our healthcare system today?

Depending on how you measure the rate, somewhere between 9% and 15% of people in the U.S. are uninsured today. Recent research in health economics, however, measures important benefits of access to coverage, including improvements in mental health, chronic conditions, and even household financial stability. The important (but politically sensitive) question for policymakers is how best to bring these benefits to the currently uninsured.

What’s a fun and unknown fact about you?

In the pandemic, I’ve gotten back into drawing. Lately, the output is mostly New Yorker-like cartoons.

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to The Oppy!  

Thanks for the questions. I hope to be able to see everyone back in the Stern buildings soon.

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