There’s often a calm before the storm.
In emergency medicine, it’s just a calm before the latest storm.
That’s where the first wave of COVID-19 has left emergency medicine physicians like Tyler Stepsis, MD, MBA’20, service chief of emergency medicine at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis. After an intense several weeks between March and April 2020, Dr. Stepsis says the intensity at his hospital is beginning to level off as new cases slow. Public health messages encouraging people to stay home and away from ERs unless they are critically ill have been effective in reducing the surge, but the patients that do arrive are much sicker. And the global pandemic is far from over.
“It’s not if we’ll get another wave, but when. We just don’t know when the next peak will be, how big it’s going to be or if people are prepared to re-shelter in place – there is a lot of uncertainty,” says Dr. Stepsis. “We will be treating more unemployed people without a primary care physician, but also potentially fewer patients as they avoid the ER due to fear of contracting COVID-19. As leaders, we must consider how to manage all that. How do we keep the same amount of staff? How do we teach learners to be good physicians when we don’t know what’s around the corner?”
Dr. Stepsis wanted to learn how to answer the business questions about healthcare when he enrolled in the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Physician MBA Program in 2018. As he wraps up the last couple months of his degree (achieved through videoconference), he says MBA courses in leadership and conflict management have been the most useful in his daily work managing an ER during a global pandemic.
“There’s always something new and changing with the recommendations,” he says. “We’re having to adapt to supply challenges, navigate those transitions and keep everyone moving toward the same goals. My MBA lessons in conflict management and leadership have had the most immediate impact.”
Part of those leadership skills involve supporting and managing the concerns of team members who put their lives at risk every day during the pandemic.
“In most novel situations, fear tends to trump logic initially. Even in medicine. No matter how scientific the approach, there’s an undercurrent of fear,” he says. “I’ve learned that part of leadership and conflict management is determining how to cut through that fear and appeal to the greater senses of logic, reason and accountability we have as medical practitioners.”
We’re having to adapt to supply challenges, navigate those transitions and keep everyone moving toward the same goals. My MBA lessons in conflict management and leadership have had the most immediate impact.”
With changing PPE guidelines and the anticipation of a second surge, Dr. Stepsis says the tools he gained during the Physician MBA Program are helping him clarify next steps while keeping his teams moving as one, collective unit working toward a shared goal.
“It’s an approach that I probably wouldn’t have considered before taking these classes. Most—if not all—of physicians in leadership positions in medicine weren’t trained for this, so we’re all learning on the job,” he says. “Probably the biggest thing I learned through the leadership class: Every decision I make creates a ripple, like throwing a stone into a lake. It’s important to take the time to get those decisions right the first time. Because in a crisis like this, those ripples can have serious consequences.”
As physicians enter the ranks of leadership and administration, the list of non-medical responsibilities and decisions for which they are responsible grows. Dr. Stepsis says the macroeconomics course provided excellent building blocks to allow him to think more globally about his hospital.
“The supply chain management lessons from the MBA program have been helpful in light of our limited resources, and finance courses help me understand the need to be flexible with budgetary concerns as we deal with decreased revenues from elective surgery cancellations,” he says. “Our post-COVID world will be much different than our pre-COVID world for emergency medicine, and we have to forecast how to build the most utility out of our current employee base so we don’t lose anyone — because we’ll need them again.”
Perhaps the greatest value from the Physician MBA Program comes from the breadth of knowledge you gain. You won’t be an expert in any one area of business, but you’ll understand what’s directionally correct and what’s not.”
Finally able to take a breath as emergency cases reach a steady state, Dr. Stepsis, who is also an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at IU School of Medicine, is thinking ahead—not only to the next wave of COVID-19 patients but also what the next several months hold for his organization. The business forecasting skills he gained during the Kelley Physician MBA are helping him see even further than before and have a plan for whatever that looks like.
“Perhaps the greatest value from the Physician MBA Program comes from the breadth of knowledge you gain. I’d never learned once about economics in school, but now, I have an understanding on both micro and macro levels. You won’t be an expert in any one area of business, but you’ll understand what’s directionally correct and what’s not,” he says.
“Having that knowledge base will help us predict what will happen if the country elects to move to Medicare for all or if unemployment leads us back to 20% uninsured. How that’s going to look from a financial standpoint and what we’ll do to keep everyone employed are all things I’ve learned something about,” he says. “I am able to be proactive and create a plan that allows us to be successful in the long run, despite the uncertainty.”