As the regional vice president of health services for Humana in the south-central region of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, Giridhar Chilukuri, MD, MBA’19, uses the skills he gained in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business. From business negotiations to improving operational efficiency, Dr. Chilukuri says he applies the MBA every day.
“The Physician MBA Program helped mold me into a better communicator who can offer insight. Having the credibility, presence, and voice to speak up earned me a greater leadership role,” Dr. Chilukuri said. “In my work, I evaluate the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness in how we deliver care. I have the clinical voice and the business voice to give input and drive change.”
A family medicine physician, Dr. Chilukuri initially transitioned into an administrative role in the Medicare space, working as the intermediary between large physician groups and the health plan. As his knowledge and interest grew, he realized he needed greater training in the business of healthcare.
“I started learning more about the decisions being made and the things that occur behind the scenes. I wondered why there weren’t more physicians at the table, giving their perspective. We bring a certain viewpoint from treating patients and the day-to-day reality of providing quality care. It’s a perspective that is needed,” he said. “I realized it’s important for physicians to have a seat at the table to serve as a bridge between the clinical experience and the health system or payer.”
Dr. Chilukuri researched executive MBA programs and selected the Kelley School for its reputation and hybrid format of online and in-person classes. Based in Houston, Dr. Chilukuri made monthly trips to Indianapolis for the class sessions. He says connecting with and learning alongside peers from various specialties was an advantage of the physician-only program.
“Getting together with your cohort of physicians made a world of difference. We loved seeing each other, we had a lot of fun, and we worked hard during those weekends,” he said. “You looked forward to this environment of connecting with your peers, socializing, and learning something in person from the faculty. I really enjoyed my cohort.”
Through the coursework, Dr. Chilukuri learned accounting, operations, finance, marketing, and business law as they relate to healthcare in a curriculum designed exclusively for experienced physicians. These new skill sets improved his ability to address the business of medicine in his administrative roles.
“Today, I’m much more comfortable interpreting an Excel sheet, understanding the return on investment, and deciphering a financial statement. And if I don’t remember something, I can easily look it up as a refresher,” he said.
The Physician MBA is a dynamic program that evolves to address the latest healthcare business challenges. Physicians contribute to the program’s pedagogy by workshopping solutions to issues in their own healthcare systems. This combination of evolving curriculum, diverse students, and expert faculty offers innovative solutions physicians can apply in their organizations from day one.
For Dr. Chilukuri, the program gave him early insight into the role of social determinants of health in the delivery of medical care, which would become critical in his later roles managing population health.
“When I was at Kelley, we talked about social impacts to health because we know they play a huge role in how healthcare is delivered. Someone who doesn’t have food isn’t necessarily thinking about their hypertension or diabetes. I still remember sitting in class and the professor talking about how large a component of healthcare social determinants is, and I remember looking at that slide and thinking, ‘I guess that’s true,’” he said. “Ultimately, it became a reality in how we approach care. Not only is the Physician MBA Program relevant today, but it also offers foresight into understanding what is coming down the pipeline so you can understand the research and potential solutions now.”
Dr. Chilukuri also gained a national and global perspective on healthcare through the unique, immersive offerings in the Physician MBA Program. He traveled to Singapore and Malaysia as part of the Global Healthcare Experience course, in which physicians study and then travel to an international healthcare destination. He also gained a deeper understanding of medical legislature in the United States through the Healthcare Policy Experience course.
“I went to Washington, D.C. thinking our policy makers don’t have a pulse on what’s going on in the real world, but I returned from the experience pleasantly surprised. Despite what we hear, a lot of our policymakers try to collaborate, understand, and implement the correct procedures and policies,” Dr. Chilukuri said. “I still think we need more physicians and clinicians in the policy space in Washington to represent certain aspects of our healthcare systems, but it was great to be there, hear from excellent speakers, and even meet the Surgeon General at that time.”
As he was finishing the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Chilukuri was considering moving to the payer side of healthcare. He took advantage of the professional development, networking, and personal branding support at the Kelley School, including leadership coaching.
“The coaching was great. It was nice to be able to talk to someone and gain a different perspective on my career,” he said. “We all have our own barriers, and sometimes you don’t see them. Talking to somebody and getting their perspective and guidance was helpful.”
Ultimately, he applied what he learned and accepted the role at Humana six months before graduating with his MBA. In this role, he gets to impact many more patients than he would in direct patient care.
“On the payer side I’m dealing with creating impact for large patient populations, whether it’s behavioral health or home-based care,” he said. “I analyze these programs for my region from the clinical perspective, looking at quality and evaluating whether it will ultimately provide better outcomes for this large population.”
Dr. Chilukuri says he’s evolved as a physician and a leader because of the Physician MBA Program.
“The program is tremendously beneficial. It’s easy to stay engaged because it’s something you’re involved in every day, be it from the clinical or administrative sides. You also get to see what your peers are experiencing,” he said. “It gives you the tools, the language, the perspective to be a physician leader.”