As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States, Pat Purcell, MD, MBA’18, was just a few months into her new role as medical director of the Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs (OCSHCN) in Kentucky, managing care for children with special needs. There was no structure in place to suddenly provide distanced care for 11 clinics throughout the state.
“How am I going to get those children seen and get their medicines? It was hard enough with traditional pediatric practices, but a child with a tracheostomy and a g-tube who needs 30 minutes to get into the car cannot travel during a pandemic,” said Dr. Purcell. “Everything I learned from the Physician MBA kicked in: I used operations management to revise our workflow to avoid having 20 people in the waiting room. Subtle things were helpful when you think about how to handle patients waiting in hot cars for 30 minutes in the summer. The logistics were immense, and my entire ability to navigate it came from what I learned in the MBA program.”
Dr. Purcell had completed the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business two years prior. The methods she applied to care for children with special needs during the pandemic were so effective she ultimately presented them at the annual conference for the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs. While Dr. Purcell was medical director, OCSHCN also received a CARES Act grant for $100,000 to augment services for families with limited capabilities by providing patients with special needs or in rural areas Chromebooks for telehealth visits.
“I don’t know If I could’ve been successful with these endeavors without the MBA. We really upgraded our telehealth to be able to offer those services virtually. We went from maybe 700 quasi-telehealth visits in a year to more than 3,500 true telehealth visits with a nurse and a provider at separate locations,” said Dr. Purcell. “It’s fantastic we pulled that off, and they’re still doing it. That is a legacy I was able to bring to fruition, augmenting OCSHCN’s telehealth to rural areas.”
Dr. Purcell had been a partner in a private pediatric practice for more than 20 years when she decided to enroll in the Physician MBA Program. It was a job she loved, but she realized her work could be improved with greater business skills.
“I absolutely loved being a partner. But being in private practice meant we had bills that needed to be paid, and there was no entity that took care of it. It was up to us. Bookkeeping is a skill set that a lot of physicians don’t have. In residency, we receive little or no business acumen. They’ve got so many other things to teach us, discussing the business of medicine—even how to code a visit—doesn’t happen,” Dr. Purcell said. “I realized then that having additional education in business would be beneficial. Plus, I wanted to see if I could still learn something new.”
I realized then that having additional education in business would be beneficial. Plus, I wanted to see if I could still learn something new.”
Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Purcell discovered the Physician MBA Program was located just two hours north in Indianapolis. “One of the top business schools in the country that close, why would I not want to go there?”
Dr. Purcell says she gained a great deal more from the program than a better understanding of finance. Aside from the basic business skills, she says physicians learn to maneuver within healthcare as a business.
“You understand the art of successfully running a business, including negotiations, conflict management and leadership,” Dr. Purcell said. “Not only do you learn how to lead the people you work with, but you also understand how to be a leader in the community outside your clinic walls, advocating for yourself and your practice. Without hesitation, that’s where I garnered the most benefit, in those wraparound skills.”
Not only do you learn how to lead the people you work with, but you also understand how to be a leader in the community outside your clinic walls, advocating for yourself and your practice.”
While the rigorous curriculum and monthly, in-person weekend residency sessions are a significant commitment on a busy physician’s schedule, Dr. Purcell says clinicians are particularly suited to this type of grind. Somehow, they find the time.
“As physicians, we already have the template to be able to squeeze in more than other people might. We are accustomed to being up all night and working the next day, taking emergency calls from patients or parents. We learned to do that as residents and maybe even in practice,” she said. “Earning my MBA was the same: You add it to your calendar and schedule around it as best you can.”
Like many alumni of the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Purcell was already a leader in healthcare when she enrolled. However, many experienced alumni agree that among their greatest takeaways from the program is confidence in their leadership—both in and out of the clinical setting.
“My skill set has markedly improved as a leader. Whether it’s working with patients, my peer group or even my personal life, I feel much more confident navigating as a leader,” Dr. Purcell said. “You develop greater confidence along the way. When I’m sitting at a table, I’m very comfortable that I belong at the table. There’s less imposter syndrome. I may not have a great deal to contribute at each table, but I can listen, understand and speak up.”
When I’m sitting at a table, I’m very comfortable that I belong at the table. There’s less imposter syndrome.”
One of the greatest takeaways for Dr. Purcell has been personal connections. In addition to implementing what she has learned in her clinical role, she has paid forward those leadership skills by serving as a district vice chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics and president-elect for the Greater Louisville Medical Society.
“There are so many opportunities to take what I’ve learned and bring it to other avenues. You can’t recreate this leadership growth outside of the MBA: How do you lead? How do you decide that this is a good choice and how do you help other people come on board to see your way of doing things or market your good ideas?” Dr. Purcell said. “A lot of us have good ideas, but we don’t know how to bring them forward. The Physician MBA helps you do that.”
A lot of us have good ideas, but we don’t know how to bring them forward. The Physician MBA helps you do that.”
Dr. Purcell took her natural ability to connect with others a step further as she became chair of the Kelley Physician MBA Alumni Board. A physician’s education does not end after earning the MBA. Instead, alumni are invited to attend lectures, courses and international healthcare trips. The Alumni Board selects these events, drives the program’s strategic direction, offers mentorship to other alumni and advises faculty on pressing healthcare issues relevant to coursework.
“It’s really special to join the Alumni Board, go on the trips and really connect with your peer group in a new way,” Dr. Purcell said. “No longer a student, you’re connecting as a physician MBA leader, and the dynamics are different. You get more out of your experience because you are respected and heard with a leader’s voice.”