AMOpportunities Launched to Help International Medical Students Secure U.S. Clinical Training Slots. Now it is Focused on Creating More Slots to Tackle a Global Physician Shortage.
Dr. Romeen Lavani, chief medical officer at St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago, was skeptical when AMOpportunities first approached him about bringing international medical students to the hospital for clinical training.
Lavani had heard similar pitches from other companies, only to be disappointed by shoddy communication, unreliable service, and students from poor-quality schools. But he was impressed by the professionalism and determination displayed by AMOpportunities cofounders Kyle Swinsky, MBA ’19, and Ben Bradley, a 2018 JD-MBA from Northwestern University, and persuaded reluctant colleagues to give them a shot.
In the nearly four years since, St. Anthony has hosted 90 international students through AMOpportunities, with more reserved for future months, and has benefitted greatly from the diverse perspectives they’ve brought.
“It wasn’t so much that this is a great new idea, but they took an idea that existed and made it better,” said Lavani, chair of pediatrics and of medical education at St. Anthony, a 151-bed hospital located in the Little Village neighborhood. “They are very professional, they are innovative, they approach problems in a systematic way, they are highly communicative, and the students we have gotten so far have been of the highest quality.”
Chicago-based AMOpportunities, winner of Chicago Booth’s 2017 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, has been growing its roster of satisfied clients as it expands on the idea that sparked its founding in a University of Wisconsin-Madison dorm room in 2013.
It was initially conceived by Swinsky and Bradley, then Wisconsin undergraduates, as a service to help international medical students secure clinical training opportunities in the U.S. by assisting with visas, housing and other logistics. Now, AMOpportunities is also helping schools and hospitals increase training capacity so that they can host more students. And it has extended its services to nursing and dentistry students.
In addition to encouraging diverse perspectives that improve patient outcomes, the startup aims to bring talented healthcare practitioners to communities that lack them, such as rural areas. Ultimately, it hopes to tackle the looming global physician shortage by relieving the clinical training bottleneck that makes it difficult for both U.S. and international medical students to satisfy degree requirements.
“That’s the future,” said Swinsky, AMOpportunites’ CEO.
“What we’re seeing now is that while many schools continue to be built, they can’t control or find hospital capacity, which would allow them to increase their training opportunities and enrollment availability,” he said. “AMO builds that capacity through direct partnerships with hospitals that guarantee their students have clinical training options that will count towards their graduation requirements.”
The world is predicted to be short 18 million healthcare workers by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. COVID-19 offered an early glimpse of what a scramble for medical personnel could look like, and AMOpportunities has seen a surge of interest in its services as a result. Its April 2021 revenues were nearly 8 times higher than they were a year earlier, Swinsky said.
“Hospitals left and right are asking us to help because they need more workers,” he said. Its hospital clients include OSF Healthcare, UI Health, University of Miami, Georgetown University, University of Chicago Medicine, and Jackson Park Hospital.
AMOpportunities in April announced it closed a $5.4 million Series A funding round, co-led by Chicago-based OCA Ventures and Madison, Wis.-based HealthX Ventures. The round included participation by the University of Chicago, which through its UChicago Startup Investment Program has invested $500,000 in the startup.
The new funding, which brings the company’s total raise to $6.5 million, will be used to grow the arm of the business focused on increasing clinical training capacity and to address adjacent markets such as nursing students.
AMOpportunites’ business model has evolved to address the “triangle of problems” facing medical education, Swinsky said. It works with healthcare schools to craft and manage a clinical training curriculum, administers the training program at hospitals and other clinical sites that host students, and helps connect students with rotations.
While fees paid by students currently comprise most of the company’s revenues – individual, four-week rotations cost students $1,499 to $4,299 –AMOpportunities expects 60% of its revenues to come from fees paid by schools by 2022. The startup currently has contracts with more than 30 schools.
Meanwhile, AMOpportunities pays each hospital and clinical site an average of $36,000 per student annual rotation.
For Lavani at St. Anthony, the compensation to the hospital is just one benefit of the partnership – though it is an important one. The 125-year-old community hospital, located in a neighborhood of mostly Mexican immigrants, serves a population that is overwhelmingly on Medicaid or Medicare, or self pay, with less than 1 % on commercial insurance. More than 60% of patients are Hispanic and nearly 35% are African American.
But the partnership has also been good for the educational environment at the teaching hospital, as diverse trainees share best practices, resources, and knowledge from their distinct corners of the globe.
“It’s great to have people from different types of backgrounds,” Lavani said. “They stimulate everyone to stay in touch with the latest, they keep you on your toes. You have to practice evidence-based medicine if you have learners around.”
Through the program, St. Anthony receives a regular pipeline of trainees from the University of Guadalajara, in Mexico, a boon to a hospital with a large Spanish-speaking patient population. A few months back, Lavani recalled, there were some very sick children in the pediatrics unit, and two young trainees became heavily involved in supporting the families.
“They made that connection,” Lavani said.
St. Anthony has also hosted students from Africa, Saudi Arabia and across Asia, and Lavani has been struck by the individualized attention they receive from AMOpportunities. When one student, from Singapore, expressed apprehension about joining the program, the founders had Lavani get on the phone with the student and her father to talk through their concerns.
“They don’t treat students just like a number or a stat,” Lavani said. “They truly care about them.”