To learn the business side of healthcare, physicians often find themselves stepping away from their traditional pedagogy.
“When a patient’s life is in your hands, you will do everything you possibly can for that one patient,” says Sunny Kaul, MD, MBA’18. “But in business, there are a million unknowns and thousands of patients, and as a leader, you must deal with the unknowns and prioritize the most important actions.”
This “broadening of perspective” occurs for many students in the Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Dr. Kaul enrolled in the program to better influence system-wide healthcare change beyond one-on-one patient interactions. He says the Kelley Physician MBA provides a wide range of healthcare-specific business knowledge that allows students to dig deeper into their own personal interests in leading healthcare delivery.
“You will learn about many aspects of business. I recommend physicians determine what they plan to use the most and focus on those domains, while acquiring general proficiency in all basic domains,” he says. “If you want to stay in private practice, you may dive deeper into finance. If you are interested in public health or advocacy, you will love the Healthcare Policy Experience course.”
Shortly after completing the program, Dr. Kaul was promoted to chief of staff-elect at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. He says the degree signaled to others that he had a broader vision for his organization.
“Earning an MBA shows stakeholders you have a high level of commitment to structured organizational work. You’re not just someone who shows up at meeting, says a few buzz words and leaves— and importantly, you earned the degree while maintaining a viable clinical practice,” he says. “Being a physician doesn’t automatically give you credibility as a leader, but if you demonstrate the skills you learned at school, you will elevate yourself in the eyes of others.”
During the 21-month, physician-only MBA program, Dr. Kaul worked on a team project to resolve a capacity issue at a classmate’s hospital. He used evaluation and process improvement techniques to improve turnaround times for diagnostic testing at his own facility.
“We looked at how long it takes for a patient to get a test, how long it takes to receive test results and what it costs in manpower. Then, we determined if we could automate any steps in the process,” he says. “We made a good business case for investing money to digitize more of the work. The data we collected was clear on how much human work and time is wasted in processing some tasks manually.”
Throughout the program, physicians evaluate and reshape their leadership capabilities. Dr. Kaul says he gained many soft skills through the Kelley degree that physicians don’t often learn naturally in the hierarchical structure of medical education.
“Working in teams is something you don’t realize you’ve improved until you finish the Kelley Physician MBA,” says Dr. Kaul. “You recognize that your point of view isn’t the only one and, certainly, not the most important or the best. You truly learn to listen to other stakeholders, which isn’t necessarily the case with all patient-physician interactions.”
Dr. Kaul says he’s a different physician than the one who first enrolled in the MBA program, and listening is key to that evolution.
“Listening has given me greater customer focus in my patient interactions,” he says. “I consider things more from their perspective, and my focus has shifted from just making sure I did a good job from a clinical perspective to making sure the patient derived value from the interaction. They are very similar but not always identical. Was it a good use of their time and money to come see me today?”
Dr. Kaul took advantage of the Global Healthcare Experience elective to study and visit the healthcare system in Italy, where he could compare and contrast it with the U.S. healthcare structure. This experience was particularly valid as he compared the American and Italian responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Kaul also traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Health Policy Experience course that provided an immersive learning experience for physicians in the nation’s capital. It’s an exclusive course not offered by any other physician-only MBA program.
“That one week in Washington, D.C. was full of knowledge, understanding and excitement because you see things with your own eyes that you’d otherwise only see on CNN.”
Listening has given me greater customer focus in my patient interactions. I consider things more from their perspective, and my focus has shifted from just making sure I did a good job from a clinical perspective to making sure the patient derived value from the interaction.”
Dr. Kaul says his greatest return on investment was the opportunity to learn solid business knowledge in a setting designed to empower physicians.
“I can’t think of any other way to learn as much about the business side of medicine from best-in-class faculty who are adept at teaching physicians. Plus, we get to do so with a bunch of other physicians,” he says. “Together, we learned to see medicine from the perspective of patients, payors, regulators and business leaders.
“Learning with a cohort of like-minded physicians, with expert business faculty focused on healthcare, was incredibly illuminating. Everyone shared life experiences, and we learned from one other, which enriched the whole experience.”