When Shelly Ford enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Medical Management at the Kelley School of Business, she couldn’t have predicted a pandemic would change the world a few months later.
As the occupational therapy manager for IU Health Methodist, University and Saxony hospitals, Shelly enrolled in the program to gain the business skills to “do her job better,” but she had no idea how it would prepare her for what was to come.
“COVID-19 has greatly impacted our work. Our therapists are helping these patients recover. We’re involved in several studies on proning interventions with these patients — it’s been a lot of learning,” she says. “I knew our team is amazing, but the level of initiative, flexibility and learning they achieved to volunteer their time and constantly adapt to evolving guidelines is incredible.”
As their leader through this crisis, Shelly applied lessons from the Kelley School course on leading through healthcare changes. She says it was an exceptional start to the program, which set her up for the seismic shift in healthcare that arrived on her doorstep in early 2020.
“It was probably my favorite class because the soft skills of leadership are ones that every leader can improve. One of the most important aspects of leadership is knowing how to adjust your style based on the team you have or challenges you’re facing — it was excellent timing,” says Shelly. “I loved this class because I find the technical part of leadership to be the easiest to grasp, whereas the softer aspects are the hardest but the most effective.”
After a planned restructure of her department, Shelly assumed greater financial duties, and she found the course on Value Creation and Financial Performance in Healthcare Systems to be a timely addition to her business toolbox.
“I’ve been a manager for a while, but my duties evolved. I’ve become much more involved in variance reports and other financial statements,” she says. “In the past, I received the information and couldn’t influence it or process it on a spreadsheet. After this class, my new skills went hand in hand with expectations from my leadership. It was really good timing, and something I certainly couldn’t have predicted.”
With new leadership in place, Shelly was positioned to have greater influence indecision-making. She says occupational therapy in the acute-care world is traditionally understaffed, but her new leadership asked her for data-driven evidence to help her staff appropriately. Equipped with new business language and knowledge from the Kelley graduate certificate, Ford was able to work with business-trained colleagues to influence the direction of her department.
“We demonstrated successfully to leadership why we needed to hire 12 additional therapists. I planned how to phase in these positions, and while the pandemic has slowed our progress, we’re 25% there,” she says. “I received a great deal of support from my managers and upper leadership and managed my budget throughout. Knowing the big picture and how to handle that has been very rewarding.”
Like many clinicians, Shelly entered the healthcare field to help people. She says gaining a business education to complement her medical skills has helped her see both sides of the same coin. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, she feels empowered.
“It’s easy to focus on helping people and not care how much money it costs or how it affects the budget. But there is a cost to doing business, to keeping your doors open, paying team members and using new technology,” says Shelly. “That money doesn’t just fall from the sky. Understanding the business aspect of healthcare and how it affects your direct patient care is critical.”
As she wraps up the yearlong Graduate Certificate in Medical Management, Shelly reflects on the timing of her business education. Her department, her personal life and the world at large were all shifting in new directions, and she feels the new business acumen helped her gain the leadership and financial skills to weather the storm.
“I like the saying, ‘Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path,’” she says. “This program arrived at the perfect time in my life to help me transition and have greater focus, which prepared me for the pandemic. I’m thankful for the timing, for what I’ve learned and for the potential in my career as a leader.”
This program arrived at the perfect time in my life to help me transition and have greater focus, which prepared me for the pandemic. I’m thankful for the timing, for what I’ve learned and for the potential in my career as a leader.”
Shelly says clinicians can expect to gain a wider perspective on healthcare by adding a business certificate to their medical expertise.
“For me, it’s not just about occupational therapy — we’re just one component of the bigger picture that needs to work together to help a patient progress, improve and return home healthy,” she says. “This program can help you broaden your focus to make your corner of healthcare even more successful.”
(Below video shot and edited prior to COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing and mask guidelines).