Tom Schleeter, MD, MBA’21, discovered firsthand how difficult it can be to be a patient.
His older daughter, Sarah, was born with Rett Syndrome, a rare genetic neurological condition that made it difficult for her to walk or talk and gave her daily seizures and breathing problems.
“Sarah received great care from her physicians and nurses, but my wife and I saw how difficult it is to navigate the system—including insurance, getting appointments, navigating a clinic and finding parking,” Dr. Schleeter explained.
“Sarah passed away at age 17. My wife and I agree Sarah wouldn’t have lived as long if she didn’t have a family who could navigate the system and provide her with what she needed. I started thinking, with all the blessings I’ve been given: What can I do to help other people like Sarah—to provide better healthcare delivery?”
It has become his mission and his passion to work in Sarah’s honor and to better healthcare for those who can’t.
“I devoted my career to that. I started working on numerous projects and initiatives to improve delivery, but initially, they were failing. I kept running into roadblocks. I felt effective as a physician, but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t effective in getting things done,” he said. “It wasn’t a question of desire or how hard I wanted to work, but I wasn’t reaching the right audience or getting my message across. I talked with somebody with an MBA who said, ‘You need better leadership skills. They call that an MBA.’”
So Dr. Schleeter found the Physician MBA at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
“I can’t express how much of a difference it’s made,” said Dr. Schleeter, a cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis. “If you met me before I started the MBA, I was a bitter, burned-out physician. I wanted to move healthcare forward in honor of my daughter, Sarah. After the Physician MBA, I can genuinely say I’m energized. Even during the pandemic, especially during the pandemic, I’m a better doctor. I’m a better father, and I’m a better husband because I came to Kelley. I never expected to say those things, but it’s the best investment I’ve made in myself—bar none.”
“I have an idea of the initiatives I want to tackle, the differences I want to make and the team I can build around me to complement my strengths and weaknesses, both at Ascension St. Vincent and through the Kelley MBA Physician network,” he said. “I am tackling the things I failed at before. Will I be successful at everything? No, but I will learn where I’m not successful right away and move on. Having a team that complements my weaknesses and maximizes my strengths makes the future optimistic and bright.”
Support during the pandemic
Dr. Schleeter was part-way through the program when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. He says it was the Physician MBA Program that kept him grounded, inspired and motivated to continue.
“All of us had our lives turned upside-down by COVID. But when it all started, we were able to shift on a dime; Ascension was very nimble about this. The lessons I learned through Kelley helped us move forward with things like telehealth. Within a matter of weeks, we went from a practice that had no telehealth options to using telehealth as a viable option.”
“Being in the program at the time made the seemingly impossible pandemic possible to deal with. We were able to take what we learned in the classroom and apply it to problems at work the next day. This wasn’t an academic exercise; this was real-time, hands-on learning from professors and fellow students. It made an immense difference and still is to this day.”
Dr. Schleeter says the leadership lessons he’s gained from Kelley are vitally important to his daily work and improving patient care and experiences.
“The program has made a remarkable difference in how I approve projects; I’m a far more effective leader. It taught me how to build a diverse team, how to maximize your strengths but also care for your weaknesses and how to influence in the right way. Those are the leadership lessons that will carry me, and they are the lessons that have helped me get initiatives through and affect patient care in a very positive way.”
Dr. Schleeter says the Kelley Physician MBA taught him how to frame a conversation appropriately and change a message to lead better. It also taught him to listen to his team, to hear what they’re saying and to develop new ideas together. And that’s only the leadership lessons. He also took away important lessons from the courses in finance, accounting, marketing and process improvement.
“In addition to staying nimble and adapting to change as the pandemic goes on, we’ve been able to streamline a number of processes using process improvement techniques I learned during the Physician MBA,” said Dr. Schleeter. “At Ascension St. Vincent, we talk about the reduction of re-admissions in pain. Kelley taught me to focus on the problem and spend 95% of my time tackling it—the solution will be obvious once you do that.”
In addition to the lessons learned from Kelley professors, he learned from his peers, who were especially helpful during the in-person residencies hosted each month in Indianapolis.
“You learn as much outside of class as in class because there are physicians from across the country going through the program with you. You’re learning with peers who are all working on different initiatives. I’m a cardiologist, and I had other specialists and primary care doctors who I could talk to about their struggles and success stories. They are solving problems very similar to mine. Kelley teaches you, as a way forward for the rest of your life, to have a team around you. This Kelley team: I’m never going to fail if I reach out to them.”
Time commitment, return on investment
“The Kelley Physician MBA is the best investment I have ever made. There is no question about that in my mind to this day. I am a far better administrator, steward of the healthcare system, steward of my patients and steward of our financial resources. Without any question, I am far superior than I was when I started the program,” said Dr. Schleeter.
“The time commitment—which is not insignificant—was completely doable. I’m a busy person; I have a family with young children. I have a busy practice, and I have a very busy administrative role. I was never stressed out to the point where I could not satisfy my classwork needs and my administrative work and my clinical needs. The program teaches you time management; it teaches you how to be efficient with your time. It’s also a different way of learning than we did in medical school. Instead of rote memorization, you learn concepts that illustrate what’s happening and how to handle problems, and it’s very useful in practice the next day at work.”
“The in-person residencies are so important,” he said. “The mode of networking, which is so key to this, is taught. You’re immersed in it the whole time during residency. It’s so instructive to be immersed in residency; it’s worth flying in or driving in, rather than doing it all online.”
Message to other physicians
Dr. Schleeter says he’s grateful he chose a program exclusively for physicians because each lesson is taught with healthcare in mind.
“There are a lot of good MBA programs out there, but you really want to be in a program that’s geared for physicians changing healthcare. That’s what this program’s all about. I think that sets the Kelley Physician MBA Program far, far above others. I have a team of people from Kelley that I never had before. I think that really sets it aside in comparison to other programs,” said Dr. Schleeter.
In fact, he says he wishes he would’ve done it sooner.
“I would go back to myself 10 years ago and say: Do this right now—because of the frustrations, the burnout, the sheer agony you feel sometimes when you can’t deliver the healthcare you want to. We all feel that. Every doctor, nurse and professional I know feels that. I would go back, and tell myself: Get in this program. Is it going to fix everything? Of course not. But you’re going to feel more empowered; you’re going to be more successful. That’s why I invested time, money and resources to help me be a better doctor, better innovator and better administrator. Whatever it is that you want to do, Kelley is going to help you get there,” said Dr. Schleeter.
Above all, Dr. Schleeter says his mission to help other patients in Sarah’s memory remains the same—renewed by a newfound passion and optimism for a career like none other.
“What we’re doing to honor Sarah is, hopefully, going to translate to better care for other patients. If I walk into a room knowing that I’m equipped with the tools and knowledge to make patient care better, it’ll all be worth it.”