When she earned her MBA, Mary Pell Abernathy, MD, MBA’18, gained more than simply a business education. She became an advocate.
“It became very apparent to me that women’s health in Indiana really wasn’t on the forefront of everyone’s mind, but we have a significant problem with maternal and infant mortality in Indiana,” she said.
Indiana has the seventh-highest infant mortality rate in the nation and ranks 46th for maternal mortality. Through a healthcare policy course in the Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Dr. Abernathy traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn the process of healthcare lawmaking. She felt empowered to take action.
“I met people and gained a better understanding of advocacy, and by learning to speak their language, I learned how state and national legislators create laws,” she said. “Many states have formed maternal mortality review committees, so we talked to policy advocates in Washington, D.C. during the class and afterward, I connected with advocates at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to learn how to develop legislation for a committee in Indiana. Ultimately, we were able to meet with our legislators and get that passed in Indiana, all in one session.”
Having been instrumental in forming the committee, Dr. Abernathy worked with her colleagues at the Indiana State Department of Health to lobby for additional changes that would improve survival of women and infants. Throughout her growing advocacy work, she has drawn upon the lessons she gained during her MBA.
“We had an excellent negotiations class in the Kelley Physician MBA. It taught me that before you even sit down to negotiate, you must study the person across the table from you and understand what they want,” she said. “I’ve used what I’ve learned from our negotiations class to speak lawmakers’ language and provide different perspective on our legislation for our opponents while understanding the goals they bring to the table.”
A maternal-fetal medicine specialist and chair of Indiana ACOG, Dr. Abernathy was a practicing physician and leader in graduate medical education at IU School of Medicine when she decided to enroll in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business.
“I knew I didn’t have a good grasp of the business side of medicine, and I wanted to become more acquainted with that,” she said. “I wanted to figure out how to have a bigger impact than the exam room, and I knew I’d need help with understanding the financial impact of healthcare decisions.”
While the classes on finance and accounting were challenging, she says the Kelley School’s curriculum takes into account their experiences and how physicians will be using the information.
“The examples we used in class related to the healthcare field, which was beneficial because it complemented our medical background while helping us understand it from a new perspective,” she said. “The MBA increased the awareness of that intersection between medicine and the rest of the world.”
Dr. Abernathy says through the Kelley MBA experience, she gained a new lens to view healthcare leadership. She developed greater understanding about how patients fall through the cracks. (“Did a patient fail to pick up her prescription because she didn’t have the money? Will it cause my patient more stress if I tell her she needs to be off work because she’s the primary breadwinner and insurance carrier?”) And the experience opened her eyes to the innovative ways in which healthcare is changing.
“The way we have done medicine for the past 30 years is changing. Companies like Google and Amazon are using technology to change medicine and lower cost. Walmart and CVS are getting into direct-to-consumer healthcare by seeing patients in their stores,” she said.
“The takeaway from my MBA is understanding medicine more from the business perspective because that’s the future. How we provide healthcare now is not how we’ll do it in 20 years, and I think the people capable of having the greatest impact will be on the forefront of those changes.”
As Dr. Abernathy continues to advocate for women and infants in Indiana, she feels the connections and capabilities she earned through her Kelley MBA put her on the path to elevating advocacy as her personal brand.
“I knew I needed to have a better understanding of the financial aspect of healthcare, and now. I have that. I think the greatest ROI, however, is getting out of my little sphere and meeting people who can help with my goals — either externally or internally.
“If you’ve reached that point in your career where you’re looking for something different, the Kelley Physician MBA allows you to achieve more — be that advocacy work or through an executive position. It allows you that opportunity to reengage and reinvigorate your career.”