Reuben Rutland, MD, MBA’16, is a trauma surgeon who thought his career path would eventually lead him to administration.
“I thought I’d earn an MBA and work in hospital administration,” he said. “Now, I have a new dream and a new focus. I’ve earned the Business of Medicine Physician MBA through the Kelley School of Business, and I’m leading my own company.”
Dr. Rutland and his two physician partners recently opened Premier Urgent Care & OCC-Health Center, the only urgent care facility in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago and, possibly, the only black-owned urgent care facility in the city. The physician owners recognized a need for urgent care in the area, where the nearest emergency room is 20 minutes away and there’s a three-week wait for primary care office visits.
“We selected that location because there’s a need for a complement to a doctor’s office,” said Dr. Rutland. “If you can’t get in for three weeks with a minor medical concern, it’s almost as if you don’t have a doctor.”
Dr. Rutland graduated from the Kelley Physician MBA Program a couple years prior and says the degree was instrumental in his decision to partner in the new urgent care facility. Enhancing his medical experience with business acumen gained in the program, Dr. Rutland felt well equipped to succeed in the role of chief operating officer at Premier.
“My MBA experience has been invaluable. Not only did it give me the confidence to do this, but it also gave me the skill set to know what I should be responsible for, what I can delegate and when to speak up when I see room for improvement,” he said. “The MBA also taught me how to talk to hospital administrators. Physicians often talk from their hearts when administrators want to know the figures. The Kelley Physician MBA taught me how to communicate in both worlds.”
Dr. Rutland is an experienced trauma surgeon and serves as health commissioner for the City of Gary, Indiana. When he enrolled in the Kelley Physician MBA Program, he’d joined Methodist Hospitals as the medical director of trauma services. “I was hired to transform the hospital to a trauma center. I felt comfortable on the clinical side, but the business arena was very different from what I was used to,” he said. “There was so much on the administrative side that I didn’t know.”
Dr. Rutland heard about the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program at the top-ranked Kelley School. The physician-only program provides flexible curriculum delivery designed for busy schedules, which appealed to him.
“The thing I loved about the program is you receive your assignments for the whole session from the beginning, so you can complete them today, tomorrow or a little at a time. Plus, you’re learning alongside other physicians,” he said.
Dr. Rutland applied lessons from his MBA directly to the hospital. The operations courses were particularly illuminating to Dr. Rutland, who gained a better understanding of how health systems work as a whole. After studying a paper on the science of waiting in line, Dr. Rutland felt prepared and confident to make his own changes.
“I’m a trauma surgeon, so if I get called away from the office for an emergency, my patients are waiting. I learned in that class that patients are much more apt to wait if they receive an explanation,” he said. “As a result, when I have a trauma coming in, we tell my patients I’m two hours behind and give them the option to either wait or return in two hours.”
“We started implementing policies like that in the urgent care center, too. We talk to people when there’s a delay or if labs or x-ray are taking extra time. Simply communicating with patients helped pass the time and improved patient satisfaction.”
Dr. Rutland also completed two process-improvement projects for the Emergency Department (ED) as part of his course work. One improved patient wait times and efficiency in the ED for patients needing CAT scans by reducing wasted trips back and forth between rooms. Another project freed up beds in the ED by implementing a new process to better communicate discharge plans with patients.
“Using the operations lessons I learned at Kelley, we identified the bottleneck and eliminated it. I learned to pinpoint the steps right before or after the bottleneck and fix it, rather than create workarounds,” he said. “I used what I learned at Kelley as we launched the urgent care center, ensuring we were as lean as possible from the start. We continue to examine our operations to see if we can do even better.”
These new ways of thinking and approaching healthcare are often paradigm shifts for many physicians in the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program. While they might have heard of process improvement or might have seen financial statements prior to enrolling, the Kelley MBA curriculum makes these concepts real and – more importantly – applicable to their work. Dr. Rutland says the leadership course was also helpful in sharpening his soft skills in team settings.
“As a trauma surgeon, you’re trained to be the captain of the ship: Everything becomes your responsibility. We’re not accustomed to people second-guessing our decisions, and because we’re typically leaders, we’re not used to asking for help,” Dr. Rutland explained. “The Physician MBA Program gave me the confidence to speak up when I don’t understand something. If there’s an income statement that doesn’t make sense, I speak up. Asking questions doesn’t make you inferior; it’s the only way I’m going to learn.”
Dr. Rutland has wanted to be a doctor since he was six years old. What he didn’t expect was to decide 40 years later that he wanted to do something else, too. He says earning the Physician MBA at the Kelley School of Business and opening his business were challenges, but worth it to truly effect change as a physician leader.
“My entire life, my education has always been toward one goal: medicine. I was nervous about business school and wondered if I could do anything else,” he said. “I’m still that same surgeon who wants to sell my idea to administration, but now, I know how to say, ‘Let me show you how we can pay for it, how we can market it and how it will benefit the hospital and community as a whole.’ Physicians learn to follow our gut, and now, I have confidence to take control.