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Kelley School has decade of leadership training physicians in the business of medicine

Apr 23, 2024

For more than a decade, the Indiana University Kelley School of Business’ Physician MBA Program has been addressing the evolving leadership needs of a health care system that is reinventing itself and what it means to be a physician. As the only MBA program from a top-ranked business school designed exclusively for physicians, the Physician MBA has educated and prepared nearly 400 experienced physicians from across the country to understand the business of medicine and direct the future of health care.

Launched to counter the increasing rates of physician burnout, the Physician MBA Program offers traditional business lessons through the lens of health care, giving students the tools to immediately apply what they’re learning within their own health care organizations in real time.

A physician speaks with a professor Dr. Ann Marie Nelson, associate vice president at Eli Lilly and Co., and Dr. David Hormuth, a heart and lung procurement surgeon, were part of the first Physician MBA cohort. Photo by Josh Anderson, Kelley School of Business

“Physicians reach out to us because they’re frustrated they do not have a seat at the table when it comes to making system-level health care decisions at their organizations,” said Julie Manning Magid, vice dean at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis and a professor of business law who has taught in the program since its inception. “They have the clinical expertise to recognize barriers to effective and efficient medicine, but they lack the business acumen to make a financial case for the changes they know we need in health care. Kelley is here to help them do both.”

The Kelley School draws upon more than a century of instruction to offer the Physician MBA on its Indianapolis campus, which is shared by the IU School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the country. Kelley faculty who teach in the program are sought-after consultants and publishers of innovative research in the business of health care, and Indianapolis is a center for health and life science innovation and headquarters to several medical companies, such as Eli Lilly and Co.

Improving health care, one physician MBA at a time

Each year, graduates of the Physician MBA Program step into leadership roles within the C-suite; improve processes in health care clinics; or move into new health care roles in the insurance, pharmaceutical and life science industries. The countless improvements to health care these alumni have achieved using their newfound business skills include:

  • Launching new service lines for their health care systems, such as urgent care centers.
  • Improving processes in pain clinics to significantly improve throughput time, patient satisfaction and return on investment.
  • Reducing emergency room visits by proactively addressing social determinants of health in high-use populations.
  • Saving tens of millions of dollars through process improvement projects.
  • Creating crisis-mode protocols to allow two patients to use one ventilator during the height of the COVID-19 surge and supply shortage.
  • Improving turnaround times for cardiovascular diagnostic testing by using evaluation and process improvement techniques.
  • Launching a venture capital project for new sensor technology to prevent falls in nursing homes.

Dr. C.J. Berg was wrapping up nine years as an Air Force neurosurgeon and preparing to move into private practice in Dayton, Ohio, when he enrolled in the Physician MBA Program. Like many physicians, Berg knew he needed to learn more about the business of medicine before he could successfully launch his own neurosurgery practice, which he did immediately after graduating from the Kelley School in 2021.

“The Physician MBA Program provides a detailed and intimate knowledge of the way the health care system works behind the scenes,” Berg said. “As a physician, it’s easy to bury your head in the sand and just see patients, offer treatment plans, submit the bill and somehow — magically — get a paycheck. There isn’t real knowledge of how this machine’s working behind the scenes.

“Kelley offers that peek behind the curtain and opened my eyes to why insurance companies behave the way they do. Some of the rules they put in place may be nonsensical to the physician, but when you look at it from a business perspective, it makes sense.”

Innovators in online and in-person learning

In the years since the Affordable Care Act launched, several health care and executive leadership education degrees have entered the market. What’s unique about the Kelley Physician MBA Program is its focus specifically on physicians.

To accommodate their busy schedules, the Kelley School uses a combination of online and in-person learning; physicians meet in Indianapolis every quarter and learn the rest of the time through scheduled and live online sessions to accommodate their clinical schedules. Plus, Kelley has been a pioneer in online learning since the 1990s.

In fact, the Kelley Evening MBA Program on the Indianapolis campus — which also deploys online and in-person learning — is the No. 1 part-time MBA in Indiana, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Building a physician network in the modern health care evolution

The unique peer learning element of the program connects physicians from all over the country with other doctors from a variety of specialties and backgrounds. With 130,000 alumni around the globe, the Kelley School has the largest business school alumni network, allowing physicians from across the country to problem-solve together in close-knit cohorts during the program and for many years afterward.

Regina Adair Dr. Regina Adair is regional medical director at TeamHealth, which provides hospitalist coverage across the country, and completed the Physician MBA program in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Kelley School of Business

“Here’s a chance to bounce ideas off people outside your organization, who provide a confidential sounding board,” said Dr. Christopher McDowell, executive associate dean at Southern Illinois School of Medicine who earned his Kelley MBA in 2019. “As you move through the program, you develop strong relationships with physicians in small teams and across courses. You discover your colleague is the CMO at an academic health center, and you can ask this person about service-line challenges you’re facing. How did they solve it?”

For the many physicians who haven’t been a student learner for 20 to 30 years, the Physician MBA Program also serves as a reintroduction to the job market. Physicians in the Kelley program take career development courses that help them anticipate recruiting opportunities, build a competitive LinkedIn profile, practice modern interview skills and prepare for their next step with a career coach.

“The Kelley School helped me decipher what path I wanted to take,” said 2021 graduate Dr. Regina Adair, regional medical director at TeamHealth, which provides hospitalist coverage across the country. “My executive coaches were sounding boards to discuss where I saw myself, their impressions of me and what paths might be best for my strengths. The Kelley School’s executive coaches and leadership courses are excellent. With my new LinkedIn profile, I attracted hits from recruiters, which ultimately led to my current job.”

The litany of successes and health care improvements produced by alumni of the Physician MBA Program is a testament to the program’s effectiveness. As a result, the American Association for Physician Leadership chose the Kelley School as a partner of choice for physician leadership education in 2020.

“The future of health care will rely heavily on an engaged, experienced and skillful physician leader,” Magid said. “Our goal is to prepare them to lead the changes necessary to improve health care for every patient and every community.”

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