Sometimes looking at the big picture can help you discover the problem in the details.
As a medical director at CareAllies in Houston, Funke Agbasi, MD, MBA’18, impacted more patients than the one sitting in front of her in an exam room. Part of her role was to review case management programs for members in the health plan. She recalled a time when she noticed a concerning pattern in a patient’s behavior. [Editor’s Note: Since this story’s publication, Dr. Agbasi has taken a new position as senior medical director at Teladoc Health.]
“We had this patient who was admitted to the hospital 29 times within 12 months. I was reviewing the case for a colleague, and I knew we were missing something. How can someone spend so much time in the hospital?” she says.
As a family medicine physician who is passionate about social determinants of health, Dr. Agbasi knew there was more to the story. And as an alumna of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Physician MBA Program, she was trained to look at a problem from every angle. Dr. Agbasi reached out to the CareAllies’ social determinants of health (SDOH) team. She asked them to take a closer look and ask questions that aren’t always covered during an examination: Does the patient have adequate transportation? Is there enough money for food and medications? The social workers are often able to get into the weeds and explore conditions that some patients may be too embarrassed to share with their physician.
“We learned that the patient had lost her husband the year prior. Any time she showed a concerning symptom, her children panicked and sent her straight to the emergency room,” explains Dr. Agbasi. “Amazingly, after that one intervention with patient education, we were able to reduce her admission rates by 87% in a comparable time frame from the prior year. This was the result of one encounter with the SDOH team.”
When Dr. Agbasi enrolled in the Kelley Physician MBA Program, she knew she wanted to improve her soft skills such as leadership and negotiations. Ultimately, she says the experience changed her entire outlook.
“Going to Kelley was one of the best decisions I could’ve made for my career because it made me not only a better physician, but a better person. You learn to see things differently,” she says. “You learn always to lean in and look for perspectives you might be overlooking: Whose shoes should I be in to better empathize and achieve my goals? I can communicate well with business operations colleagues because I have the added advantage of a business perspective.”
And when it’s difficult to reach an agreement, Dr. Agbasi says the physician-only MBA courses she took on negotiations helped her communicate with colleagues who don’t share her point of view.
“I use negotiations techniques almost daily. Sometimes physicians are burned out or disengaged with healthcare – they’re tired, and they don’t want to take on additional responsibilities,” she says. “That’s when I must find a less invasive way to get them engaged, get their buy-in. The Physician MBA has been so crucial. We don’t learn how to run a business in medical school, so I use what I learned at Kelley every single day.”
Dr. Agbasi’s motto is to do what she can with the resources she has to make her life count. In fact, it was the tragic personal loss of her husband and the love for her son, Daniel, that inspired her to not wait a second longer to pursue an MBA. Now that she has gained the business perspective, she feels she can amplify her voice and her impact.
Now that she has gained the business perspective, she feels she can amplify her voice and her impact.
“I realized I can only do so much alone, but when I’m in a position to support others with those same tools, I can really leverage my skills and amplify my work,” she says. “My outcome becomes so much greater because it’s achieved through other people. As I transitioned into this role, what I learned at Kelley is helping me get buy-in for my ideas.”
Among the soft skills Dr. Agbasi hoped to gain through the MBA is how to use positional power, while being forceful and gentle at the same time. She says a book she read at the recommendation of her Kelley executive coach continues to inspire her to do both.
“I was really uncomfortable learning how to be firm. I don’t like that approach; I want people to like me so we can rally together,” she says. “But sometimes you must acknowledge the disagreement and determine what we can achieve together. That’s one skill I’m improving every day, and I’m growing in it.”
Dr. Agbasi says earning the Kelley MBA continues to set her apart as a physician who is qualified and passionate about leading change. During the program, she was promoted to associate director of medical operations for an urgent care department, and she says the MBA played a role in earning her current medical director position at CareAllies.
“There aren’t that many doctors with an MBA; it gives you an advantage,” she says. “Your administrators and your colleagues in operations know you understand a bit more compared to someone who didn’t take the time and energy to learn the various aspects of business,” she says. “It opens a lot of doors and makes people listen to you because you have something else to offer.”
Dr. Agbasi says earning an MBA has also rejuvenated her passion for medicine. Physicians enter the field of medicine to make a difference and do something meaningful, but she says the profession has changed so much that many have become burnt out.
“A lot of us become frustrated because we’re going to work with a tool belt with no tools in it. It creates a lot of frustration and a lot of disengaged doctors. If the role of medicine is changing, then we need to change with it and figure out a way to get things to work the way we want them to work,” she says.
“I came into medicine to make a difference, and to do this, you have to play a role in creating the change. When you position yourself to be at the table, the real reason you entered medicine gets fulfilled again. It keeps that fire burning and that desire ignited because you are no longer leaving destiny in the hands of other people. This MBA wasn’t just for my career, but my whole life. It changed my outlook on the world and how things work.”