A common challenge among physicians — especially those in leadership roles — is bridging the gap between hospital administration and the physicians who deliver patient care. Len Henry, MD, MBA’15, was a division director of oncology for his health system when he decided to help close this gap.
“In healthcare, there’s such an obvious need for physicians who can serve as a bridge between administrative leadership and physicians,” he said. “In my experience, those two groups are not always on the same page nor do they share aligned goals. I sensed a real need for people who could be intermediaries.”
An experienced surgical oncologist, Dr. Henry also recognized the impact physician burnout was having on inspiring change in healthcare. Ultimately, he enrolled in the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business to begin nurturing this shift.
“If you’ve been practicing for a while and experience some things that taste sour, you eventually don’t know if it’s actually sour or if you’re just prone to feeling sour,” he said. “For physicians who feel like something’s not quite right, this MBA is a great way to begin creating change.”
Dr. Henry travelled from Goshen, Indiana, to Indianapolis for the monthly in-residency sessions, and he took courses online in Kelley’s hybrid learning model. He says the degree equipped him with the perspective and instinct to know when something’s not right in healthcare and when to ask the right questions.
“One big takeaway is the confidence to trust yourself in those assessments. Before gaining a formal business construct through the MBA program, I’d have ideas, but there’d always be doubts about whether I’m right or not,” he said. “One of the enduring benefits of the Kelley Physician MBA Program is that I’m no longer dismissive of my instincts. Sure, I still use some of the bread and butter tools of the program daily — management, conflict resolution and marketing — but the more important change is the development of your instinct and perspective.”
Dr. Henry noticed his conversations with healthcare administrators began to evolve. He felt his ideas were more thoroughly considered; his requests not as easily dismissed.
“There’s a depth of conversation that occurs immediately upon gaining this business acumen — either because you’re talking smarter to administration or because you’ve gained their respect. Either one is effective,” he said. “The administrators control funding. You start meeting with them and working together, and next thing you know, you have their attention. This relationship is a path toward advancement: building better relationships with the decision-makers while contributing more effectively to the organization.”
As a result of this work, Dr. Henry earned the role of medical director at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care. He says he wouldn’t have achieved the role without his Physician MBA from Kelley. He says he spent the time between finishing the program and earning this position looking for business-related ways to benefit his organization, including process improvement, defining value and developing strategy for the cancer care program.
“A couple achievements came from this work: credibility with the business leaders in that they know you’re not just a self-serving physician- you are committed to the welfare of your organization, and experience on the business side of medicine,” said Dr. Henry. “You don’t just earn an MBA and get handed a promotion. You must demonstrate how to use these new tools to earn your business credibility.”
Dr. Henry says he reaches out frequently to Kelley professors and other alumni from the Physician MBA Program. While networking isn’t a habit physicians are hardwired to pursue, Dr. Henry has remained connected to other physician leaders throughout the country and asks their advice about challenges he’s facing. He says Kelley faculty members have also been instrumental in helping him navigate physician leadership challenges. It’s a unique relationship he hadn’t encountered in his previous schooling or military experience.
“I have a feeling these relationships are durable, and it’s not something I’ve encountered before. Kelley faculty and the program staff are so invested in what they’re doing. The Kelley Physician MBA Program has a real family feel to it, which I really liked,” he said. “If I had a dilemma on my hands, I wouldn’t hesitate to call one of my former professors, and I have no doubt they’d pick up the phone and talk to me about it.”
Dr. Henry says he didn’t simply gain new skills; he also evolved as a leader on a personal level. Kelley’s physician-only MBA offers a number of courses on leadership, understanding leadership styles, assessing physicians’ own abilities and best practices for leading. A former Navy surgeon, Dr. Henry was accustomed to a hierarchical leadership structure that contrasted starkly with the cancer center where he worked. It was at times a frustrating environment for him, but with the deeper understanding of the organizational structure he gained from his MBA training, it became easier.
“Now I understand that organizations are structured in certain ways to achieve certain benefits. Not all organizations are the same. Our system has a matrix structure, and the leaders all have open doors. That autocratic leadership style I was more accustomed to does not go over well here,” he said. “Now I try to use influence much more than I ever would have in the military, and I remind myself to use a softer approach. It’s not natural for me, but I found the other approach was getting in the way of being a more effective leader.”
“The days of the old, master physician calling all the shots are over because healthcare is definitely a team effort. I don’t know how I would navigate today’s environment well without the kind of foundation I gained from the Kelley Physician MBA. For me, it’s been essential. I wouldn’t be effective without it.”
Through the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Henry feels he was able to achieve his initial goal of bridging administrators and the physicians providing clinical care, and along the way, he’s become a better problem solver and benefit to his organization and his patients.
“Once you earn your MBA, you start to realize there are viable solutions. Before I enrolled, I felt very overwhelmed — you just want to throw your hands up in the air in hopelessness,” he said, “After the MBA at Kelley, you start to see how to do things differently, and you realize how you can make a difference. It will recharge and reignite you.”