Pediatrician Autumn Orser, MD, MBA’19, was participating in a CMS initiative in Colorado when she realized she wanted to pursue an MBA. Her state’s State Innovation Model helps primary care physicians promote practice transformation and payment reform, and it was a revelation for Dr. Orser.
“I quickly realized that if I was going to be a change agent in healthcare – and really participate in its transformation – I needed a better understanding of the business of medicine,” she said.
Dr. Orser enrolled in the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Although based in Indianapolis, nearly 1100 miles away from Colorado Springs where she was director of medical services for Peak Vista Community Health Centers, Dr. Orser decided the online and in-residency hybrid format of the rigorous program met her needs.
“I chose Kelley because of its hybrid learning model that gave me the ability to learn content online and asynchronously in the midst of a very demanding schedule,” she said. “Plus, the monthly residency sessions brought together a fantastic group of students from across the country with outstanding Kelley faculty to solidify the material.”
Dr. Orser has already made an impact, less than a year after graduating from the program. She has been featured in the 2019 Poets & Quants Executive MBA Best and Brightest list and she earned the role of Peak Vista’s vice president of medical services, a position, she says, the Kelley Physician MBA helped her achieve.
“With the business acumen and skills gained during my MBA, I was able to successfully run the largest health center in our system, which primed me for the opportunity to take on the new role of vice president,” she said. “My Kelley MBA set me apart from the other candidates. The selection committee recognized that my MBA allows me to bring substantial value to the table beyond my innate skills and abilities.”
Dr. Orser oversees health centers in four counties in Colorado. She says she regularly employs what she has learned in her MBA to her job. From leadership interactions with large groups to negotiating resources among competing priorities, she can draw a line from the Kelley Physician MBA curriculum to daily applications.
“I ask for cost-benefit analyses when projects are being suggested. I’ve had to run ROIs on more than one occasion, and I’m constantly looking at ways to improve efficiency and use data to drive change,” she said. “When looking at staffing models, I look at the unemployment rate, which helps me determine how difficult it will be to fill certain positions. What I’ve learned through the Kelley Physician MBA Program permeates all that I do.”
Dr. Orser didn’t have to wait until after graduation to begin using her new business skills. During one project, Dr. Orser employed Lean Six Sigma process-improvement principles to overhaul her system’s immunization documentation process, leading to fewer errors, increased team-member satisfaction and potential cost-savings of more than $100,000.
“I incorporated principles from multiple MBA courses while working on this process-improvement project, including leadership, conflict resolution and negotiation, operations management and finance,” she said. “I even had to do my own return-on-investment estimates because a resource wasn’t readily available.”
The 21-month, physician-only Kelley Physician MBA is an intense experience at the intersection of medicine and business. For Dr. Orser, that intensity was compounded by the birth of her daughter, Andorra. She says balancing a busy physician work schedule with a rigorous MBA program, pregnancy and a personal life was challenging—but manageable.
“Having a baby while obtaining my MBA was not easy, and multi-tasking was key. I would watch video lectures or read articles while breastfeeding and listen to books while driving around town running errands,” she said. “The baby might as well have gotten the degree with me because she was exposed to all the content!”
Despite the demanding workload and having to open her mind to new concepts like finance, operations and marketing, Dr. Orser says she enjoyed the program. A standout experience for her was learning alongside other physicians in the program – who come from a variety of specialties, systems and locations – and learning from Kelley faculty, who were supportive of physician students learning an entirely new field of study.
Ken Carow, executive associate dean of faculty and research and professor of finance, had a fantastic way of taking complex materials and making them understandable, without ‘dumbing down’ the content for us,” she said.
Ultimately, Dr. Orser’s goal is to become CEO of a Federally Qualified Community Health Center. In doing so, she can combine her medical knowledge and new business skills, while helping people face barriers in accessing high-quality and appropriately priced healthcare. She encourages other physicians with leadership goals to consider earning the Physician MBA from Kelley.
“I initially thought business school would be about accounting and finance, balance sheets and ROIs. But it has been so much more,” she said. “The courses on operations management, organizational change and healthcare revenue and delivery models have been invaluable and have provided the most rewarding learning for me.”
Some of that growth, she says, has been learning how to delegate as a leader. When leaders share responsibility with their teams, they are able to tackle bigger issues like vision, strategic growth and partnerships, team-building and corporate culture. Dr. Orser says the lessons in leadership from the Kelley Physician MBA have changed her as a leader and as a person.
“The insights I gained in leadership and ethics have been transformative in my ability to lead and influence others in the field of healthcare,” she said.
“Successful business hinges on relationships—notably, our ability to nurture and leverage those relationships. I now approach every encounter from that vantage point, and the results have been astonishing.”