Doctors who enroll in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business are each managing incredibly busy clinical, administrative, research and personal schedules. Chris Strachan, MD, MBA’22, is no exception.
As the executive vice chair of clinical affairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine at IU Health Physicians, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at the IU School of Medicine and medical team manager for the Indiana Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team, Dr. Strachan knew pursuing an MBA would take careful planning. But he didn’t do it alone.
“When you start the Physician MBA Program, you receive a lot of support and guidance. Program Director Susannah Gillan Gawor encourages you to avoid vacation during the finance course because you won’t be able to catch up. We all circle it on our calendars. Around this time, the COVID-19 surge was happening. Plus, I’m balancing family life, having just moved my daughter to college and helping her adjust,” Dr. Strachan said. “Amid all this, the condominium collapse happens in Surfside, Florida, and our search and rescue team was deployed in what, ultimately, became the longest mission I’ve served on the team.”
Twelve-hour days spent in recovery work on a rubble pile left little time for sleep, let alone finance homework. But Dr. Strachan’s family, employer and the Physician MBA Program all made sure he got through it.
“When I returned, I spent two solid weeks catching up on coursework in addition to my regular work, and it was a monumental task. It was helpful that COVID had moved the MBA residency sessions to a virtual format, so I could watch the lecture videos seamlessly,” he said. “This was probably the most stressful time I experienced during the MBA program, but my family, work colleagues, and the MBA program faculty and staff all came together to support me through it. I think that’s something I took home: The people in the Kelley Physician MBA Program want you to be successful.”
The people in the Kelley Physician MBA Program want you to be successful.”
Dr. Strachan got straight to work applying what he’d learned. The curriculum in this program is designed for physician leaders to immediately apply the coursework in their daily roles. Dr. Strachan was even applying his new skills during the Surfside collapse.
“During the recovery effort, we had a COVID outbreak on our team, which was a new experience and somewhat of an unknown,” Dr. Strachan said. “I negotiated with leadership at the highest levels to institute global testing for the team to make sure we had a process to separate the sick from the healthy and get everyone home if we became ill. It was a stressful time, but I applied lessons from the Physician MBA leadership course and executive coaching. Those are life skills you can draw upon at any time.”
In fact, Dr. Strachan repeatedly relied upon MBA strategies while serving as the commander for the IU Health Emergency Department’s specific Incident Command System in which he manages 150 physicians and 50 advanced practice providers. This amounts to about 400,000 emergency department encounters each year. And that’s during “normal” times.
“The COVID-19 pandemic did not simply go away because I was enrolled in an MBA program. On the contrary, it was an incredibly busy and taxing time to manage both emergency medicine responsibilities and a challenging executive MBA program,” Dr. Strachan said. “COVID-19 appeared in Indiana in March 2020, and my courses began six months later. During this time, I was able to use what I was gaining in professional development toward earning a promotion to associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. I am very proud of both my clinical and academic achievements during this time.”
The amount I’ve learned about myself and about new topics has been incredible.”
As an emergency medicine physician practicing for more than 26 years, Dr. Strachan is accustomed excelling under pressure. He was the first emergency medicine physician to receive the Dan Evans Fellowship in Health Care Leadership from the IU School of Medicine to support his MBA studies and the first physician in his specialty to receive the John Fitzgerald Leadership Award at IU Health Physicians. While certainly an experienced and proven leader, Dr. Strachan said he gained a great deal of personal and professional growth during the Physician MBA Program.
“This opportunity to further develop your muscles as a leader and not let them atrophy is excellent. Whether it’s in my daily job or the search and rescue team, I’m able to deploy these skills often. It’s really learning how to manage people,” Dr. Strachan said. “The amount I’ve learned about myself and about new topics has been incredible. Take macroeconomics – I’d never have dug into that without the MBA. I might’ve picked up a leadership book, but I’d probably put it aside. This program is a nice combination of leadership skills plus business concepts you haven’t been exposed to. It offers you a wide array of tools to draw upon later.”
Among those takeaways from the program is practical knowledge about the American healthcare system and ways physicians can feel empowered and equipped to change it. Dr. Strachan already had some experience in Lean Six Sigma process improvement, but he says the course on “Business Process Improvement for Healthcare Executives” led by Operations Associate Professor Amrou Awaysheh boiled it down in a data-driven way physicians can use.
“If you ask an emergency physician about the top three things all EDs need to improve, it’s throughput: getting people through faster and removing the bottlenecks,” Dr. Strachan said. “This course was a good refresher on operational fixes and inspired the emergency physicians in the class to rework our models in Amrou’s course.”
Ultimately, Dr. Strachan says there is a specific takeaway from each course in the Physician MBA Program, even for someone who’s been in medicine for nearly 30 years.
“Professor Nir Menachemi’s class on the “Anatomy and Physiology of the U.S. Healthcare System” taught me more about Medicare and Medicaid than I’ve ever known before. It was a topic I had simply relegated to not being able to understand,” Dr. Strachan said. “I use the “Conflict Resolution and Negotiation” course every day. Just this morning, I was talking with a colleague using techniques I learned in conflict negotiations, such as pauses and mirroring. I’m able to use a little bit of every single course in my daily work.”
My only regret with this entire experience is that I wish I’d done it 10 years earlier.”
As he graduates with an MBA, Dr. Strachan says the experience has taught him how valuable a physician MBA is to the healthcare setting because of the dual perspectives one brings to the table. He’s glad he took on the additional responsibility to his already burgeoning workload to equip himself to lead even better than before.
“My only regret with this entire experience is that I wish I’d done it 10 years earlier because I could’ve been so much more advanced than I am now,” he said. “Having this experience a couple years into my administrative work would have given me a decade to put those skills to use in a more efficient way. It has reinforced the need to be a lifelong learner.”