There are few lessons from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Physician MBA Program that Wael Azer, MD, DO, RN, MBA’18, isn’t using each day.
As the medical director of the emergency department at Memorial Satilla Health in Waycross, Georgia, Dr. Azer uses leadership training from his MBA to manage his team through the COVID-19 crisis.
As a business owner, he’s using a full spectrum of business expertise to lead his IV infusion home service toward its first brick-and-mortar location. He also co-owns a medical scribe company with his sister and fellow Kelley alum, Rania Aziz, MD, MBA’17. They have expanded through networking with other Kelley alumni.
“Kelley offers a great program to give you the skills and network to build your future,” says Dr. Azer. “When you begin the degree, you may get caught up in the course work and group projects, but once you start putting these lessons into practice through leadership, entrepreneurship or negotiations with administrators, the MBA really comes to fruition.”
In April 2020, southern Georgia became a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, claiming some of the highest infections and deaths per capita in the country. As the situation evolved and patient volumes spiked and then later dropped, Dr. Azer held daily meetings with his front-line team to ensure they were managing the swings effectively. He says the leadership and negotiations lessons from the Kelley Physician MBA were critical.
“With all the changes, you have to be flexible and be able to motivate your team so that you have a cohesive group able to pull this off,” he says. “You must negotiate how to meet the changing needs of your department, boost team morale and provide strong leadership and communication so your team truly understands the crisis we are experiencing. All this is achieved while also protecting them during the pandemic. It took a lot of interpersonal skills to keep the team cohesive.”
Dr. Azer says the expertise he gained during the physician-only MBA prepared him to pivot and manage any changes that come his way.
“Having the tools in your toolbox makes these skills reflexive,” he says. “You don’t know you have them until a situation like COVID-19 happens.”
Having the tools in your toolbox makes these skills reflexive. You don’t know you have them until a situation like COVID-19 happens.”
As the global pandemic changed the ways healthcare providers worked and interacted with patients, Dr. Azer says he and fellow alumni of the Physician MBA Program had an advantage. Because the program is typically offered in a hybrid model of online and in-person classes, the physicians who traveled from all over the country for the 21-month program were adept at connecting remotely.
“We did a lot of Zoom and conference calls each week during the MBA to complete team projects,” he says. “Teleconferencing and time management became second nature to us, which was helpful when quarantine and social distancing became necessary. Our problem solving and technology savvy gave us a jump start in the era of COVID-19 because we knew how to work effectively from a distance.”
During his studies, Dr. Azer co-launched the at-home IV infusion company, VitaFuse. The wellness company has attracted so much interest that he’s begun construction on the first commercial location. Dr. Azer says he’s relied heavily on his business acumen to lead the company’s development.
“The concepts of expansion, how to build a customer base and negotiating cost and profit – it was amazing how you use all the skills you gain during the Physician MBA,” he says.
While he was earning his MBA, Dr. Azer worked with his sister to launch a medical scribe company called AC∑SO Scribe. The service began in Albany and was picked up by the largest health system in the area. AC∑SO Scribe is expanding to other locations north of Georgia as Dr. Azer and Dr. Rania network with other Kelley alumni to grow their business and brainstorm solutions.
“We often refer back to the classes we took at Kelley as we make business decisions. We also have a large, collective network of physician peers through her cohort and mine,” he says. “Whenever we have an idea, we think about a classmate from Kelley who might be able to weigh in. Who’s good in policy? Who from academia can help us create a residency program? The network at Kelley is amazing.”
Two years after earning an MBA, Dr. Azer says he’s a different physician. Having gained the acumen to understand the business side of healthcare, he says he’s learned to approach problems in a way that breaks them down into simpler steps.
“As a doctor and as a leader, I’ve learned to approach my goals by studying and dissecting what steps I must take to get there,” he says. “For instance, when we were looking to increase patient satisfaction, we had to break it down to the simplest questions: What is the patient looking for? What questions do we need the patient to answer to score us well?
“The MBA equips you to face any problem in front of you by finding its base, dissecting the issue and then developing actionable solutions. That’s a skill that comes directly from the Physician MBA Program.”