Two years ago, Saura Fortin Erazo, MD, MBA’18, knew she was making a difference as a family medicine physician. She worked hard, maintaining a busy practice and working full time to support her family. She created value for her patients on an individual level, but she recognized the lost opportunities for better care that result from inefficiencies in our healthcare system. She knew she could do more.
“If I were in a leadership position, I could provide change on a larger scale and affect more lives,” said Dr. Fortin Erazo. “As a practicing physician, even a highly productive one, I lack the power to be an effective change agent. It’s difficult to make the overall requisite changes to improve the healthcare system.”
Dr. Fortin Erazo wondered: How do you move from being a regular, working physician to a leader who drives change? She recognized she needed leadership skills and a better understanding of the business of medicine. She felt an MBA would provide her with the tools to acquire both, and she began to research programs.
“The curriculum in the Kelley Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program is unique because it’s defined by a clear understanding of the physician’s base knowledge. A typical MBA student already has a basic understanding of finance or accounting,” she said. “As physicians, we are smart and hard-working people, but we don’t have that basic business training. Initially, I was intimidated to enter an MBA because I didn’t know how I’d catch up. But Kelley helped me get there. All physicians in the program start on the same level. That was key for me.”
It was important to Dr. Fortin Erazo that the Kelley program is for physicians only. It caters to the needs and schedules of busy physicians; something that would have otherwise made earning an MBA impossible because she needed to keep working full time.
“When you look at the Kelley Physician MBA and the way it is designed, you realize it’s perfectly created for a physician who works full time,” she said.
Not only was the curriculum created for her profession, Dr. Fortin Erazo says the program began with a critical lesson: What is U.S. healthcare? It may seem obvious to a group of physicians, but Dr. Fortin Erazo says that both she—a physician immigrant from Honduras—and her American classmates found that they understood healthcare, but not the business of healthcare.
“Once you understand where we come from, where we are and where we might go, you are empowered. It’s not something that you’re taught in medical school. You’re taught medicine. Understanding of the origins of U.S. healthcare and how it has evolved to where we are today is mind-blowing,” she said. “Once you understand where we come from, where we are and where we might go, you are empowered.
“The Anatomy and Physiology of the U.S. Healthcare System with Professor Nir Menachemi is one of the first classes in the program. What I learned in those first six weeks about the healthcare system was more than I did in seven years in medical training.”
As she moved through the coursework, Dr. Fortin Erazo found the lessons that had the greatest impact on her were those that required self-reflection. A class on leadership requires deep reflection into who physicians are and how they relate to others.
“It was eye-opening to realize that at nearly 40 years old I still didn’t know myself all that well. I thought I did, but I hadn’t gone that deep,” she said. “As a leader, you can have all the business knowledge available, but if you’re not self-aware, you won’t create sustainable, substantial change. Understanding yourself—your weaknesses and strengths —is the basis of becoming a successful leader.”
Part of the leadership self-discovery is executive coaching, which begins in the second year of the Physician MBA Program. Dr. Fortin was partnered with an executive coach to work on identifying leadership and interpersonal strengths she could leverage in meeting her professional goals. As physicians start thinking like an executive, they form a customized plan to overcome any barriers between them and their goals.
“Understanding yourself– your weaknesses and strengths — is the basis of becoming a successful leader. The executive coaching class completes that path toward leadership. When I started the MBA, I was a primary care provider without any committee positions or leadership roles,” said Fortin Erazo. “After realizing who I am as a leader, empowered by the executive coaching, I joined committees at work. One year into the program, I applied to be a member of the board of directors for the Eskenazi Medical Group. To my surprise, I got the position.”
In fact, Dr. Fortin Erazo is now vice chair of the Eskenazi Medical Group Board of Directors. She says the process was certainly a step out of her comfort zone, but she felt supported.
“At the beginning, it was a little scary because I am a young provider with one year of MBA training under my belt,” she said. “Having the executive coach next to me was extremely helpful because I could ask the questions that I couldn’t ask anyone else. It gave me the confidence to speak up and share my opinions and ideas.”
True to her initial goal, Dr. Fortin Erazo was expanding her reach of influence to improve healthcare beyond her clinic walls. But she knew she could do more. A year into her board appointment, she felt ready for a leadership position. Working with her executive coach, she researched the opportunities available that met her interests and skills.
“I knew I wanted a leadership role, and when the opportunity became available, I worked with my executive coach and applied for the position,” she said. “I trained with her on potential interview questions and responses, and she encouraged me to network toward the position. It was through the Kelley Physician MBA and executive coaching that I was able to earn the role of chief physician executive for the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at Eskenazi Health.”
In October 2019, Fortin Erazo was promoted again — This time, to chief medical officer for Eskenazi Health Center and vice president of Eskenazi Medical Group.
Earning a leadership position was only half of her goal. She still wanted to make an impact on healthcare beyond the patients she treated personally. In her new role, she began applying lessons from her MBA every day. Whether it’s reaching conflict resolution among employees, evaluating projects, budgeting for the following year, maintaining an ongoing plan of improvement or simply communicating effectively with her staff each day, Dr. Fortin Erazo says the Kelley Physician MBA has been invaluable. And the results are measurable.
“The clinic I manage saw 34 percent more patients than were budgeted for the year, using the same amount of resources and staff—that’s how much we’ve improved our efficiency,” she said. “It feels great to achieve these results because this was the first reason why I pursued my MBA. To be able to create such positive impact throughout the whole healthcare system means it’s great for everyone: for my patients’ access to care, for providers to have more patient visits, for our healthcare system to generate more revenue with lowered costs—that’s why you earn an MBA.”
Dr. Fortin Erazo learned a great deal about her own capabilities and leadership qualities. But to be an effective leader, the program also stresses the value of teamwork, peer learning and networking. Physicians from various specialties, backgrounds and regions of the country work together in the program to solve problems. The close-knit cohorts create excellent networking opportunities and lifelong learning partners.
“Before this experience, I thought I was a great physician and that I was going to accomplish things just because I am a great physician. But then, you realize that’s only one part of being a great leader,” she said. “You need a team; you need a network, and you need mentors.
“The Kelley Physician MBA Program made me grow as a person, as a leader and as a healthcare provider.”
This story was updated in November, 2019, to reflect a change in Fortin Erazo’s title.