During his studies in the Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Asheesh Bothra, MD, MBA’22, applied his operations lessons to a problem he’d noticed in his hospital system. The turnaround times on MRIs was long, and there was excessive use of “stat” priority for MRI orders.
“We looked at all the processes and identified the root cause as congestion resulting from top-priority MRI orders. With so many listed as needed ‘stat,’ others are delayed, too. When everything is ‘stat,’ nothing is ‘stat,’” said Dr. Bothra. “When we worked on these issues together, we applied operations, strategy, and good communications with physicians. We were able to come up with a solution that has already improved average MRI turnaround times by over two hours, and it is expected to improve further.”
More than a skill set, Dr. Bothra says the Physician MBA Program changed his view about and his approach to improving healthcare. “It’s like in the movie ‘The Matrix,’ when Neo can see beyond the code of zeros and ones running in front of his eyes—he can see the whole picture.” Dr. Bothra says now that he understands operations, he can more easily pinpoint a bottleneck or barrier in healthcare processes.
“Before, you might see a clinic’s problems—long wait times, low volume, high cancellations—and you might assume it’s a staffing issue,” Dr. Bothra said. “Once you understand operations and can break down process flow, suddenly everything makes sense, and you see where the problems are. You can devise ways to fix this or optimize that and create more efficient operations that benefit everyone—patients, physicians, and other care providers, as well as cost and capacity.”
A degree that can be put to use from day one, Dr. Bothra says operations is just one of many ways he’s applied his Physician MBA degree at work. An attending hospitalist and vice president and partner of the South Dayton Acute Care Consultants in Dayton, Ohio, Dr. Bothra is also a clinical assistant professor at Wright State University School of Medicine. He enrolled in the Kelley program because he felt healthcare is broken and in need of change.
“At some point, I realized we must stop complaining and start acting. We must become part of the solution by actively engaging with the organization and with policy at every level of the healthcare system to ensure that we are helping and guiding those solutions rather than just complaining about it.”
Dr. Bothra says his greatest takeaways from the program were the skills and insights he gained in leadership, strategy, and operations. As with the MRI-turnaround-time project, Dr. Bothra says he approaches challenges in healthcare much differently now that he understands the business principles of medicine.
“For every problem that comes to me, I first break it down operationally in terms of how that problem plays out. I look at it from the process perspective, then the strategy perspective–how it fits into solutions that align with the existing organizational priorities–then how it will work with other departments and groups within the institution,” Dr. Bothra said. “That’s how I have started to frame every single problem using the tools I gained from the Physician MBA.”
While classes may teach examples from diverse fields, such as manufacturing, airlines, and hospitality, the physician-only MBA program delivers a business education through the lens of healthcare.
“The curriculum stimulated us; it made us think,” Dr. Bothra said. “It is designed to challenge us to think outside the boxes we have been in for years. It made us dig deep and see where our approach could be more effective.”
“The curriculum is designed to challenge us to think outside the boxes we have been in for years. It made us dig deep and see where our approach could be more effective.”
For Dr. Bothra, it changed his approach to leadership. Long seen as adversaries, physicians and hospital administrators are often at odds over approach. But Dr. Bothra said the Physician MBA Program made him to see the wider view of a healthcare organization and how every piece is relevant to the whole.
“I had incremental realization with every course that not everybody is against us. Essentially, we are all working toward the same thing; it’s just we’re running on different treadmills,” Dr. Bothra said. “We see each other running at different paces, but we’re all trying to get to the same place. We need to work together with administration and other stakeholders, recognize our different needs, and synchronize our efforts so we achieve our goals together, which is essentially excellent patient care provided efficiently, at low cost.”
The lessons in leadership have helped Dr. Bothra change his approach to healthcare strategy. If operations is the microscope that zooms in on root causes of process flow problems, strategy is the wide-angle lens, offering physicians a glimpse into how one particular issue or challenge fits into the wider picture of the entire healthcare system and the needs of all its various stakeholders.
“A few years ago, my vision would’ve focused only on my own department’s needs. But when you look at the organization as a whole, in a way that includes everyone’s priorities and needs, it is a more collaborative view of things than I’ve had in the past,” Dr. Bothra said. “That is why I love strategy—it completely changed my view of how I see healthcare and how I craft any project or new policy in my own department. Now, I can see how it fits with other departments, organizational goals, and administration.”
Earning a rigorous MBA at a top-ranked school in Indianapolis while working full time in Dayton certainly required thoughtful scheduling, but Dr. Bothra says it wasn’t as challenging as it may seem to make it all fit together. He valued the weekends in Indianapolis, gathering with other physicians from various locations and specialties, discussing and solving healthcare problems. Plus, he says the program faculty and staff are very supportive of physicians returning to the classroom several years after medical school.
“This program really cares for its students. The level of support we felt from the faculty and program team was incredible. They are all so invested in your success,” Dr. Bothra said. “Every faculty member was so accessible. If we needed to reach out with questions, they gave us their cell numbers. I knew if I missed out on a class or was behind on something, it just took a phone call to ask for help, and I could catch up. During the pandemic, the staff ensured all our needs were met, our voices were heard, and all our concerns were addressed. We felt like we were all one, big family.”
Dr. Bothra’s favorite course in the Physician MBA Program was the Healthcare Policy Experience in Washington, D.C. Students travel to the nation’s capital for a five-day course, learning firsthand about healthcare reform directly from policy makers, lobbyists, regulators, and government officials.
“It was the most unique learning experience I’ve ever had. It’s a very well-organized course with an excellent slate of speakers and a wide spectrum of topics that opened our eyes to the new world of healthcare policy and how decisions are made,” Dr. Bothra said. “Everything in healthcare is decided in Washington, D.C. Congress passes legislation. CMS makes the rules, and we are affected by them every day without understanding how we got here. The Healthcare Policy course showed us how those decisions are made and how we can shape the direction of healthcare moving forward.”
In fact, the camaraderie amongst physicians in the program is so great that Dr. Bothra says they were sad to wrap up their time together in Washington and finish up their degree. Peer learning is a key feature of the Physician MBA Program, allowing physicians to learn from each other’s experiences and experiment with healthcare problem-solving in a safe environment.
“If healthcare is the field you want to work in, the Kelley School Physician MBA Program has the peer learning you want,” Dr. Bothra said. “This learning is not limited to healthcare. For example, my final venture strategy project was on cryptocurrency. This isn’t a traditional healthcare topic, but our four-person team worked on this venture strategy for a stable coin that could also be applied to healthcare. You will learn a lot of lessons from your peers that go way beyond healthcare.”
If healthcare is the field you want to work in, the Kelley School Physician MBA Program has the peer learning you want.”
As a practice partner leading 50 physicians and 35 advance practice providers, Dr. Bothra says he has become a different leader now that he’s earned the Physician MBA degree. He feels prepared to lead the change that first inspired him to pursue an MBA.
“I’m a much better physician, much better leader, and I have a deeper understanding of the healthcare system and the issues it faces. Now, I’m armed with the tools to craft solutions to any problems I encounter. Now, I feel empowered to lead and bring about healthcare change.”