Sam Kim, MD, MBA’18, is a urologist who worked previously in private practice. For years, he and his partners took turns as practice president.
“While I was the president of the practice, I quickly realized how important it is to know the business side of healthcare, like negotiating with insurers,” Dr. Kim said. “I realized an MBA could be a tool to help me enhance our negotiations with insurers, hospitals, and anyone else on the revenue side. As physicians and surgeons, we’re good content experts, but being a good physician doesn’t make you a good business person.”
While Dr. Kim was accustomed—like all physicians—to keeping up with continuing medical education and the latest research in his field, he began seeing a shift in his practice from delivering medicine to a greater importance on understanding the economics of healthcare.
He wanted to earn an MBA for physicians to better navigate the business of medicine. His brother-in-law, Courtney Hardy, MD, MBA’16, had just completed the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business, and Dr. Kim decided to enroll in the same program to enhance his breadth of knowledge in revenue and healthcare operations.
“What I quickly realized is being a physician doesn’t make you a leader and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have business savvy. But I’m now connected to several professors in operations and finance whom I could lean on if I ever need it,” Dr. Kim said. “We physicians tend to spend time with other physicians, and I think the Kelley business classes gave me other resources to tap into.”
Dr. Kim appreciated the hands-on learning that was immediately translatable to healthcare. He enjoyed the Conflict Resolution & Negotiation course in which the class talked through real-life workplace challenges and how to approach them from a leadership perspective. For instance, a doctor who is bringing in a lot of revenue but is also very disruptive or disrespectful may not be a good cultural fit in the organization.
“Many leaders are never put in these situations, so they don’t know how to react to them,” Dr. Kim said. “Asking those questions forces you to think about it before you get into those situations. The Kelley School of Business allows you to look at the bigger picture of healthcare leadership.”
After the degree program, Dr. Kim’s private practice sold to a private equity group, but he decided to part ways. Using his newfound business training in the MBA for doctors, Dr. Kim was able to transition to an administrative role throughout the remainder of his non-compete agreement. He now serves as the chief of surgery for Indiana University Health’s East Central Region.
“Without the MBA, I may not have been able to bridge the gap and continue in a leadership role at the hospital while waiting out the noncompete. I would’ve traveled for work. The MBA allowed me to work at an organization where I plan to stay,” Dr. Kim said. “As a result of not having to travel for work, I got to spend more time with my son during his freshman year of high school. I got to watch all his tennis matches because I could morph into this leadership position, which the MBA prepared me to do.”
The curriculum in the Physician MBA Program is designed to be directly applicable to the work of a physician leader. During the Operations Analysis & Process Improvement course, physicians can apply their learnings to solve a real-life challenge in their organizations.
Dr. Kim decided to analyze the financial return on investment his new employer might make in switching from fiber optic to digital ureteroscopes. This type of analysis is helpful to physicians who want to pursue a new technology but need the supportive data to sell the idea to administration.
“Even though digital scopes are nicer and more lightweight, it didn’t make financial sense, so we didn’t move forward purchasing that equipment. But having that data opened the discussion. We even considered recycling materials to defray costs across the system,” Dr. Kim said. “A doctor can say, ‘I want this equipment,’ and if someone can produce the data, we have a way to prove that it may or may not be worth it financially. The MBA helps physicians use their unique perspective to influence financial decisions in a way that’s more productive and realistic.”
Dr. Kim says there are many practical and interpersonal skills a physician gains in the MBA program that go beyond accounting and finance. Not only did he gain a new perspective on the business of medicine, but Dr. Kim also says the degree has elevated his executive presence.
“It’s the self-confidence of walking into a room with non-physicians and being able to understand and speak the financial language with them. Even more importantly, I walk into that room with much more credibility than I did before,” he said. “When it comes to talking about operations or analyzing a financial situation, I get asked my opinion. There’s implicit trust that I understand the process a bit better than physicians who didn’t earn an MBA.”
Dr. Kim now works clinically at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, combining it with his leadership role. As he immerses more into the largest healthcare system in Indiana, he’s meeting more physicians from other specialties. He brings with him a wide professional network from the Physician MBA Program, where peer learning and networking are key to the student experience.
“Even though I know nothing about OB/GYN, I do know Dr. Mary Pell Abernathy [MBA’18], and I now know radiologists like Dr. William Berry [MBA’18], from my cohort. I know physicians across the network through my MBA. If I’m having some problem, I can reach out to them and ask for an outside opinion because we know each other and I trust them,” he said. “These are connections you gain going forward that will be more important as we move into a larger medical group.”
Dr. Kim realizes that many physicians are put into the position to lead without any training. If they don’t succeed in leadership, it may be less about ability and more about being equipped to lead. Dr. Kim has referred several colleagues to the Physician MBA Program to prepare them with the skills to become not just leaders, but also better physicians.
“You’re becoming a better physician, business person, and leader because you went through the program,” he said. “Whether you pursue a clinical or leadership role after the Physician MBA, the return on your investment in this education is instant.”