Physicians need business training that meets them where they are.
Gagan Pawar, MD, MBA’22, was a year into the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business when she was offered the role of interim CEO of Clinicas del Camino Real, Inc, which provides primary and preventative care in Ventura County, California. She reached out to Physician MBA Program Director Susannah Eastwick for help preparing for the role.
“Susannah put me in touch with my executive coach in the program, even though I wasn’t scheduled to have one in the curriculum for a few more months. That experience was life changing,” Dr. Pawar said. “My coach, Valerie, helped me develop better emotional intelligence as a leader. I took all the coaching sessions she had available. She was my biggest supporter in leading change and managing people. It was a very safe place to discuss strategy and determine how to incorporate my values into my daily work. These are things nobody tells you outside of a coaching setting. Executive coaching is one thing I took away from the Physician MBA and continue to use today.”
It’s not that Dr. Pawar was new to leadership; she’d been CMO at Clinicals del Camino Real for the past eight years. After a nationwide search, Dr. Pawar earned the position of CEO, and she says having an MBA played a role in that decision. “I was seen differently by my board.” Dr. Pawar enrolled in the Physician MBA Program to gain healthcare business skills beyond what she learned on the job.
“One of the biggest things I wanted to learn about was finance. Nobody teaches physicians how to look at balance sheets; we have to Google to figure it out,” she said. “But more importantly, I wanted to be in a classroom where we were all at the same level. Most MBA programs include students from different professions, but a key element of Kelley was it was healthcare specific and directly applicable to physicians. I’m a doer; whatever I’m learning, I want to implement it right away. Otherwise, it won’t stay with me, and this MBA did that.”
Dr. Pawar had many opportunities to put the hands-on, real-world Kelley coursework to use in her organization. As physicians move through the program, they learn operations, accounting, finance, marketing, and business law through a healthcare perspective. The immersive coursework is designed to be easily translatable to physicians’ work. Students like Dr. Pawar workshop real-world challenges at their healthcare organizations in classroom projects.
“I loved sitting at a table with my team and saying, ‘This is a good project for us.’ For Lean Six Sigma process improvement, we focused on improving processes at my referral center,” Dr. Pawar said. “Four physicians and a professor spoke with my current staff, and we identified the problems within the processes and came up with a new plan for our patient referral process. The solution involved a lot of financial input, and my organization is still moving it forward today.”
Through a marketing class in the Physician MBA, Dr. Pawar recognized her organization’s potential to increase its offerings and capture a wider market. Clinicas del Camino Real is a Federally Qualified Health Center offering primary care, dental, vision, mental health, and specialty services. Dr. Pawar realized the value her organization could provide by offering urgent care centers.
“I created the whole marketing structure for how to offer urgent care services and how to evaluate the competition. I used it to guide my team here,” Dr. Pawar said. “In the year since graduating, I’ve opened two urgent care centers because of the MBA.”
The marketing courses were particularly insightful for Dr. Pawar, who found that her organization needed greater support in this area. As she learned more about the principles of marketing (“It’s not just advertising!”), Dr. Pawar explored her organization’s brand image internally to begin planning a new path forward.
“I did a survey, and the biggest question I asked everyone was directly from the MBA: ‘What’s our brand?’ Everyone had different answers. Then, I realized we also didn’t know the return on our investment in marketing – we couldn’t gauge its success,” Dr. Pawar explained. “Our website also needed an overhaul. You have seven seconds to catch your audience’s attention. We needed patient and employee testimonials, and we needed to better share our culture on social media.”
Dr. Pawar built out a marketing department that reports directly to her. There’s a marketing strategy and a budget to fund it. She’s also expanding the team with two more full-time positions, and she led the development of a new website that features images of staff. Along the way, she’s also learning to better empower her teams.
“As a physician, if you have a problem, you solve it. But as a leader, you’ve got to learn to delegate,” she said. “In the Physician MBA, I learned this was a weakness of mine, and it’s something my coach helped me overcome. Though I tend to prefer to take care of things myself rather than wait for someone else to do it, I’m at the point in my career where I need to allow my team to do the work, and I gain more credibility in doing so.”
Dr. Pawar likes post-It notes. She keeps reminders written on small squares throughout her office. One says, “Changes are not for chickens.” After leading her organization through COVID and major updates as its new CEO, Dr. Pawar says a major part of her growth as an executive leader has been accepting, embracing, and leading change.
“In any organization, it takes a while for a leader to be accepted. Two years into this role, I think people believe in what I’m doing. I introduced a lot of changes, and change is hard. But in the Physician MBA, they teach you how to lead change,” Dr. Pawar said. “These ideas helped me become a more polished leader because I had a very safe environment in which to gain new perspectives. You have obstacles in every path, but now I better understand those obstacles and which direction to go in resolving them.”
Along with the skills to implement change, Dr. Pawar says the Physician MBA also gave her the confidence to lead and the network of physicians to support her. The peer learning model of the Physician MBA Program brings together like-minded clinicians from a variety of specialties and healthcare organizations, on equal footing, to explore business concepts using their healthcare expertise. It not only helped Dr. Pawar grow her network, but it also inspired her to continue to foster more ongoing physician leadership connections. She recently joined a six-month certification with the CEO Institute, adding even more physician leaders to her network and learning from shared experiences.
“I was a physician for 17 years before the Kelley Physician MBA, and I would’ve never joined this institute to meet new people and unpack my issues as a leader,” she said. “The Physician MBA gave me confidence. I did an emotional intelligence test, and I can see the difference from the changes I’ve made. I have a different leadership style and new ways of handling things, and the feedback I get now is that I am calm and confident.”
Dr. Pawar has also created a culture that is supportive of working mothers. As mom to two young boys, she often talks about her children at work. And as the leader of an organization comprised of 86% women employees, Dr. Pawar recognizes when team members need to take off a day of work because a child is sick. She says the perspective that doctors—and women—can bring to leadership is an important one, and she encourages other physicians to pursue the Kelley Physician MBA to achieve this.
“Unfortunately, this knowledge isn’t taught in medical school, and we need more Physician MBAs to fix the U.S. healthcare system,” Dr. Pawar said. “I spent two years researching MBA programs before choosing Kelley, and I got so much more out of it than I ever expected.”