Like many physicians, Aditya Ahlawat, MD, MBA’20, considered earning his MBA, but it wasn’t something he initially felt compelled to do. But as time went by — and the ER physician/hospitalist took on more leadership roles — he recognized the value in business training.
“As I took on greater responsibility for team members and more top-down decision-making, I began to realize that leading in healthcare today requires a lot more than just a medical degree,” he says.
Dr. Ahlawat researched several MBAs and executive programs before choosing the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business. “I was really impressed with Kelley’s curriculum and saw a very obvious, tangible benefit to pursuing this degree. It also seemed like a more personal program, very invested in the students – as though we’d be a name, not a number,” he says.
Among the greatest program takeaways for Dr. Ahlawat were those in leadership and collaboration, including the opportunity to work closely with other physicians in teams.
“Physicians are trained individually: You hit the books, learn the material on your own, take an exam and demonstrate aptitude,” he says. “The team-based approach at Kelley is much more reflective of life outside of medical school. In the real world, you’re collaborating and functioning as a unit – leveraging strengths and coming together toward a collective goal. That’s really the nuts and bolts of why this experience was so beneficial.”
As the chief of medicine at Putnam County Hospital in Greencastle, Indiana, Dr. Ahlawat applied his coursework by launching an informal communications project. Drawing on his learnings from the Kelley Physician MBA, Dr. Ahlawat says he’s approaching the work using a whole new lens.
“I use various classes I took at Kelley – most specifically Professor Christopher Porter’s course on Leading and Managing Human Capital – to foster better leadership amongst my peers and to improve communications from the CEO to janitorial staff,” he says. “My goal is to cultivate an improved team mentality and to break down the silos that traditionally isolate hospital departments from one another. By integrating everyone’s communications, we can advance a team-based ethos and philosophy to help the ER and hospital work together cohesively.”
I use various classes I took at Kelley to foster better leadership amongst my peers and to improve communications from the CEO to janitorial staff.”
While he gained several new business tools in finance, process improvement and economics, Dr. Ahlawat says some of the greatest skill sets from the program have come from networking with his professors and fellow physicians.
“The real bang for your buck comes from relationships you develop with your instructors, mentors and classmates and from your collective experiences together in the Physician MBA Program,” says Dr. Ahlawat. “I text with the physicians from my first-year study team almost daily. We are very close. One of my good friends from the program took a new position as a CMO and VP, so I appreciate talking to him about his change in roles. It’s great to get his perspective.”
Connections were important when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Indiana. Dr. Ahlawat’s 25-bed critical access hospital often depended on backup from larger institutions, which were experiencing their own issues as they attempted to meet sudden demands from the global pandemic. Dr. Ahlawat’s hospital was forced to develop its own policies and a COVID unit while working on limited resources and constantly evolving information. Without any coronavirus testing kits available, Dr. Ahlawat drew upon lessons in opportunity cost and reached out to a colleague at a lab in a nearby town, who ultimately donated testing kits to the hospital.
“This donation enabled us to establish a protocol early on and get over those initial challenges in order to buy time, gather more supplies like PPE and lock down so we could safely treat patients within our hospital,” he says. “It was one of those emergency situations where you must look past financial cost and, instead, focus on opportunity cost: What are we going to lose by not making a decision? The concept of opportunity cost was really what drove my decision-making. If we did not have those testing kits, the subsequent downflow of decision-making could be disastrous, potentially putting people’s lives at risk.”
Dr. Ahlawat also gained a global perspective on how to deliver medicine effectively. He participated in Global Healthcare Experience study abroad trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland and the Netherlands during his two years in the program.
“You learn so much about how global healthcare affects you in ways that you never imagined. And you get to do it alongside classmates who are there for the same reasons you are: to improve healthcare in the United States, starting at the local level,” he says. “It was particularly eye opening to see how Singapore efficiently streamlines its care compared to the tons and tons of waste we produce and the money we spend to achieve only a third of Singapore’s efficiency. The global experience broadens your perspective about what is possible in the U.S.”
Dr. Ahlawat says he’s a different problem solver now than he was before earning his MBA. Rather than coming from one angle, he says he now approaches challenges from 360 degrees.
“I have a greater microscope on decision-making than I did before,” he says. “If somebody comes to me with a problem, it’s important to see it from all angles before making a decision. The type of leader that I am now is less reactionary, more methodical and more calculated.”
Rather than seeing himself as an MBA who happens to understand medicine, Dr. Ahlawat feels he’s a clinician capable of understanding and leading the business of medicine.
“The takeaway from the Physician MBA Program is that you can be a clinician first, but now, your decision-making takes medicine into account from an institutional standpoint or a public health standpoint,” he says. “There’s a huge ripple effect from every decision you make as a physician, whether you realize it or not. The Kelley School of Business helps you recognize that.”
There’s a huge ripple effect from every decision you make as a physician, whether you realize it or not. The Kelley School of Business helps you recognize that.”
Dr. Ahlawat encourages other physicians considering an MBA to do their research and reflect on their core values as well as what difference they want to make.
“If there is any ambition to improve where you are in your life, your job or your career – this program is practically a no-brainer,” he says. “It is the only investment that I consider to be risk free because your ROI begins paying out the day you begin internalizing these lessons.”