When busy physicians consider earning an MBA, the curriculum must be applicable from day one. While enrolled in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business, Mara Nitu, MD, MBA’18, chief medical officer at Riley Children’s Hospital, workshopped ideas during class to solve challenges at work.
“I really loved that most homework assignments asked us to apply the concepts we were learning to a problem we were facing in our own working environment. The professor would grade it and give you instant feedback on our analysis,” Dr. Nitu says. “In the Macroeconomics for Managers course, I submitted my problem with bed occupancy in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) – how do we staff to meet all the demands? That instant mentoring was a fantastic way to glean the most pertinent takeaways. In fact, after I did that analysis, my project was funded and the PICU got the support we needed in critical care.”
Dr. Nitu has also found that the business and leadership training she gained at the Kelley School has helped her better articulate her concerns and ideas to hospital administration. By using the right data to complete a return-on-investment analysis, Dr. Nitu says she can better relay her ideas to non-clinical leadership.
“I’d ask our CFO a certain question the way a physician would, and I could see that that was not effective communication, so I would flip and use the language I’ve learned in business school, and we would understand each other,” Dr. Nitu says. “The tools the Kelley School teaches you strengthen your position to argue for whatever you need at the bedside. Instead of being frustrated with whatever gap I perceived between physicians and administrators, this MBA gave me the tools to articulate how the gap needs to be closed and justify my implementation plan.”
Instead of being frustrated with whatever gap I perceived between physicians and administrators, this MBA gave me the tools to articulate how the gap needs to be closed and justify my implementation plan.”
Dr. Nitu was the division chief for pediatric clinical care at Riley when she decided to enroll in the Physician MBA Program. She was attracted to the physician-only program and the chance to participate with peers who could support one another as they contributed to improving healthcare. Dr. Nitu says she enrolled to learn more about critical care operations and how to deploy business insights to improve them.
“I wanted to learn about process improvement and how you use finances to inform operational decisions,” Dr. Nitu says. “There are intricacies in the way pediatric critical care is intertwined in the different areas of the hospital. As an exclusively inpatient specialty, we interact a lot with the operating room, radiology, and laboratory. I enrolled in the MBA to better understand critical care as a microcosm of a hospital and improve how we interact with everyone.”
Among the business skills Dr. Nitu gained to better articulate her clinical solutions was strategic analysis. In the Developing Strategy course, teams of physicians create solutions for healthcare organizations that present a business challenge to the class. Physician groups work through the various analytical tools they’ve learned in the coursework to create proposals based on strategic analysis.
“My class worked with Eli Lilly and Roche, and it was so fun,” Dr. Nitu says. “I loved understanding how you break down the question and use a clear methodology to approach it from a strategy standpoint, how to do a market analysis, what tools you deploy to objectively drive strategic recommendations, and how you propose your recommendations. Plus, the hands-on approach was fantastic.”
The Healthcare Policy Experience is a course in the Physician MBA Program that includes an immersive trip to Washington, D.C. in which physicians interact with policymakers and regulators. At this point, Dr. Nitu hadn’t done much advocacy, and she says this course was a powerful, hands-on lesson.
“Now more than ever, healthcare funding is closely intertwined with politics. When you look at prioritization and support for various areas, you can see why advocacy makes a big difference in how those dollars are spent,” Dr. Nitu says. “The trip to Washington, D.C. teaches you how doctors can make their voices heard effectively to raise public opinion, educate, and gain the support needed for patients.”
During her last month in the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Nitu earned a promotion to vice chair of clinical affairs for the Department of Pediatrics. She learned that one of the considerations about her as a candidate was a perceived lack of knowledge in outpatient medicine since Dr. Nitu provided inpatient care.
“But that lack of clinical experience in outpatient medicine was very easily bridged by the fact that I have learned process improvement in the MBA program, and I know how to analyze processes and production lines. I have learned how to look at bottlenecks and how to think through solutions. That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing as vice chair,” Dr. Nitu says. “I was able to bring something valuable to the table through production line improvement strategies.”
I have learned process improvement in the MBA program, and I know how to analyze processes and production lines. I have learned how to look at bottlenecks and how to think through solutions.”
As Dr. Nitu participated in the department’s strategic efforts in market analysis and developing a statewide strategy to meet patients closer to home, she gained greater experience across the IU Health system.
“My experience in operations and strategy increased my visibility as I worked closely with hospital leadership. When the position of chief medical officer became available, it was a very natural decision for me to apply,” says Dr. Nitu, who began in the role of CMO in 2023. “Transitioning to this role has been truly seamless. The MBA has been transformational in my career, no question.”
The MBA has been transformational in my career, no question.”
Dr. Nitu says she uses the skills she gained in the Physician MBA Program “every hour of every day.” She’s learned to see healthcare differently and be more confident about advocating for change. She’s also gained a wider perspective on healthcare, thanks to the close-knit group of physicians from various specialties in her MBA cohort. “It helps you go beyond what you see at the bedside of your specialty to understand the many facets of healthcare through the other surgeons, OBGYNs, and radiologists. It was very fun.”
For a year before she enrolled, Dr. Nitu says she agonized over whether it was the right time to do an MBA while raising young children. She’s glad she didn’t wait for the ideal moment because she enrolled at the perfect time. Dr. Nitu encourages other physicians to consider enrolling in the Physician MBA Program because it’s impossible to anticipate how it will impact your career down the line.
“If you’re thinking about this program, do it. I don’t think any one of us who have enrolled in the program anticipated all the doors it would open.”