The COVID-19 pandemic is concerning for everyone, but particularly for the immunocompromised whose bodies may not be able to fight off the onslaught of this viral infection. Chiefly among those at risk are cancer patients undergoing treatment, whose medications used cure their diseases leave them vulnerable in the face of this pandemic.
As an oncologist, hematologist and medical director for cancer services at IU Health’s Adult Academic Health Center and Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center, Sara Jo Grethlein, MD, MBA’20, is leading her team through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure immunocompromised patients and all within the organization are safe.
“I’ve had to do some very rapid process changes, moving a large practice with multiple disciplines of physicians to virtual medicine. That means coordinating all teams and communicating these changes and new processes to patients,” says Dr. Grethlein.
It’s a challenge like none they’ve seen before, but Dr. Grethlein says her business training has been crucial as she navigates it all. She’s created a new way to keep cancer patients safe during necessary lab draws.
“We have patients whose immune systems are compromised, and we want to minimize the people they are exposed to while also monitoring their medications. I was able to design, get buy-in for and successfully launch drive-up lab testing, so that patients only contact a single employee. They don’t walk through a waiting room, and they aren’t exposed to other people,” explains Dr. Grethlein.
“The Kelley Physician MBA has been critical. What I’ve learned has truly helped me be a more effective leader going through this crisis. Bringing together the lessons I’ve learned in process improvement and in leadership has allowed me to accomplish more than I think I could have without that understanding.”
Beyond leadership and process improvement training, Dr. Grethlein says she’s gained important insight from Physician MBA professors during the pandemic.
“Professor Nir Menachemi is a critical participant in the development of models for the coronavirus’ incidence, and severity and impact on healthcare resources. As students in the Kelley Physician MBA Program, we have participated in detailed, real-time discussions on the strengths and limitations of the various models being used to develop healthcare policy.”
Dr. Grethlein says she decided to pursue the Kelley Physician MBA two years ago as her leadership responsibilities grew and her career advanced, including the design, construction, opening and operation of that new cancer center.
“The MBA was an opportunity for me to improve my skills, so I could be a better part of the process and a better leader of the process. I was also running an existing cancer center with opportunities for process and business improvements,” says Dr. Grethlein. “Work on the new cancer center spanned the same timeline as my MBA, and it served as a living laboratory for much of my project work.”
A look back at the MBA
Now, nearly at the end of her studies, Dr. Grethlein looks back at the program’s true impact.
“At the beginning of the Physician MBA, leaders told us: Our motto is ‘No physician left behind.’ I didn’t truly understand then what that meant. Medical school is cutthroat, so that is what I knew. But at Kelley, the faculty and the support team not only make sure you get the most out of it but that you love it,” she explains.
“I had a professor call me at home on a Sunday to go over an assignment. During a complex finance class, another professor made individualized videos to show each us where we made mistakes. There is an absolute commitment from Kelley to ensure we understand the material, and it’s been an entirely different experience from medical school.”
Dr. Grethlein realized added value in the health policy and health information courses, and she gleaned significant insight during global healthcare trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“The international trips allowed us to see and learn about care alternatives from healthcare systems across the globe that we could potentially bring home,” she says. “I don’t ever want to be complacent in what I know or satisfied in my skill set. I want to be growing. My world was broadened by being there.”
The Kelley Physician MBA has helped Dr. Grethlein participate more effectively in finance conversations at her hospital, and she has received critical benefit from the MBA’s change management education, which taught her to lead and manage through crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the most eye-opening lessons for me is the need to engage people emotionally in addition to factually. I’ve seen this through multiple lenses in marketing, leadership and change management courses. It’s a very important lesson I work hard to operationalize,” she says.
Learning from and with physician peers
“Right now during the pandemic, we are taking classes virtually,” says Dr. Grethlein. “While I am sad we’re not together physically, we’re making the most of it on Zoom. I love the physicians in my cohort. I’ve formed lasting friendships from this program.”
“Now when I have a leadership challenge, I have like-minded physicians I can ask, professors I can turn to and coaches I can trust, and that’s reduced the anxiety of leading. It’s helping me be more effective. If you are committed to being a healthcare leader, you will grow through this program, and it will absolutely make you a more effective leader. I can’t thank Kelley enough.”
Posted By: Teresa Mackin, firstname.lastname@example.org