There’s the knowledge a physician learns in medical school, and there’s what a physician learns in clinical practice. These two experiences don’t always add up to a full understanding of the business of medicine.
Peter Nalin, MD, MBA’19, was a physician executive who had been serving in physician leadership roles and practicing family medicine for more than 20 years when he decided to continue his formal education in the Physician MBA Program at the top-ranked Indiana University Kelley School of Business. At the time, he was as senior associate dean for education at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis. He was acquainted with alumni of the program who’d made career advancements after earning the degree at the Kelley School. Dr. Nalin says the Physician MBA filled in the gaps between what he knew about medicine and what he learned about the business of healthcare.
“The Physician MBA teaches you what you don’t learn during medical school. Many of our decision-making methods as physicians are heavily influenced by the way we analyze things clinically. This MBA really expands your capability to arrive at better decisions about institutions, programs, leadership and colleagues,” Dr. Nalin said. “It adds dimension to your decision-making by expanding your understanding of what needs to be considered to arrive at a good decision.”
The Physician MBA teaches you what you don’t learn during medical school. It adds dimension to your decision-making by expanding your understanding of what needs to be considered to arrive at a good decision.”
While physicians are inherently decision-makers within their clinics and healthcare organizations, Dr. Nalin says the Physician MBA Program helped him fine-tune his approach to the various decisions he makes. He says he grew professionally and in his versatility as a decision-maker.
“The doctor-patient relationship appropriately perpetuates the physician as the sole decision-maker. Business school takes that a step further and trains you to influence others, encourage consensus and expand your sense of context in which those decisions are going to be tested and proven,” Dr. Nalin said. “You learn to navigate your decisions as a physician leader and physician executive because business education emphasizes your ability to constantly adapt and adjust your initial business plan to the realities that are unfolding around you.”
As a busy physician, Dr. Nalin found the courses in the Physician MBA to be contextually relevant to healthcare and directly applicable to his work as a physician leader. In particular, he found the courses to be balanced; one course in a quarter may be more detailed whereas another course is more thematic.
“One class might be more concrete and the other more provocative to your prior ways of thinking. That happened each quarter. It’s another example of adding dimension to your education,” Dr. Nalin said. “At the beginning of medical school, you can feel like all the courses are similarly demanding, yet the Physician MBA allows you to work at both a micro and macro level. Those combinations are thoughtfully woven into the curriculum sequencing.”
The Physician MBA allows you to work at both a micro and macro level. Those combinations are thoughtfully woven into the curriculum sequencing.”
Dr. Nalin took advantage of experiential learning opportunities at the Kelley School. He attended two Global Healthcare Experience courses that studied the medical systems of various international destinations before traveling to experience them firsthand. Dr. Nalin traveled to Italy, Singapore and Malaysia during the program. He enjoyed the perspectives gained from this course so much that he completed two additional alumni courses with destinations in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
“This course shows you time and again how much the delivery of healthcare is reflected by the culture in which it’s being delivered, either in the country’s traditions, its politics or its existing healthcare system,” Dr. Nalin said. “It reinforced to me that the improvements of our healthcare system will be uniquely American. The solutions to the challenges of healthcare in America will not simply replicate another country’s; ours will be a mosaic of solutions evolved from what is American healthcare today.”
Through executive coaching at Kelley, Dr. Nalin says he has grown substantially. Career development resources are available to physicians during the program and, later, as alumni. Regardless of a physician’s self-awareness upon enrolling in the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Nalin says the leadership coaching is an incredibly “priceless” experience. Dr. Nalin found his coach, Ray Luther, to be a perfect match for how he needed to grow as an experienced physician.
“Ray simultaneously acknowledged the years of experience that I had while also permitting me to be a novice in the coaching experience. You must exercise your humility and your flexibly to benefit from coaching, and because of this experience, I see benefit in revisiting this relationship as future challenges arise,” Dr. Nalin said. “For example, a physician encountering a merger or acquisition needs to consider several change management principles. This would be a great time to re-engage a coach to examine the resulting leadership challenges. Executive coaching could directly and indirectly contribute to the success of a merger, a relocation or an unanticipated event like a pandemic.”
Since earning the Kelley MBA in 2019, Dr. Nalin has moved on to a new role as a department chair and professor of family medicine and biobehavioral health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He continues his work co-leading a regional campus. Dr. Nalin connected with a new executive coach to continue the groundwork he built at Kelley while taking on new challenges and whatever lies ahead.
“As physicians, we arrive at a situation with our own patterns and strategic assessment of what the situation needs from the leader. This cannot just be only a self-assessment; it must be broader so the leader can respond as the entire situation demands. Coaching strengthens that process,” Dr. Nalin said. “There are aspects of leadership that can be lonely or isolating, and coaching specifically addresses those periods with an action plan that helps the leader grow. It’s like you’re stirring up the soil for the next planting season. Without it, you’re just taking your chances.”