As chief medical officer for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, Sosunmolu Shoyinka, MD, MBA ’17, had a problem. Philadelphia had a world-class mental health system recognized around the globe for innovation in mental health service delivery, including a network of five crisis centers providing access to people experiencing a mental health crisis. However, many Philadelphians were not aware of the breadth of mental health services available within their city. And its crisis system was plagued by inefficiencies and dissatisfied staff and service users. Some citizens described getting services through the crisis centers as traumatizing.
“We’re one of a few places in the world where, regardless of your level of need or ability to pay, mental health services are available to everybody,” Dr. Shoyinka said. “People in Philadelphia didn’t know that. It was striking that I’d go to public meetings to talk about it, and people had no idea, even if they lived their entire lives here.”
Dr. Shoyinka drew upon what he’d learned in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business to lead a complete redesign of the crisis center’s image. Through process improvement skills and tools like process mapping, fishbone diagrams, and time studies, Dr. Shoyinka and his team doubled the crisis system’s capacity and gained national attention for their efforts in mental healthcare.
“I borrowed the idea of social marketing from the Kelley Global Healthcare Studies course in Cuba to commission a social marketing firm to help us build a marketing campaign, which is currently underway,” Dr. Shoyinka explained. “The MBA gave me a new set of lenses to view the same problems and create solutions.”
Dr. Shoyinka says the Physician MBA Program also helped him translate the healthcare challenges he sees from a physician’s perspective into actionable business strategies. For instance, many years of working public mental health gave him an awareness—which was made starker during the COVID-19 pandemic—that Black and Brown communities are not only more vulnerable to mental health issues due to prevalent social determinants of health, but they also have a strong stigma against seeking care for mental health issues.
“In those same communities, but even globally, there’s evidence that people seek and trust advice from their faith communities and may even trust them more than physicians or healthcare experts,” Dr. Shoyinka said. “Historically, psychiatry and faith have been at odds. In Philadelphia, the Office of Mental Health has nurtured a relationship with faith communities for a long time. We recognize that to get anything done, you need buy-in of the churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues, so you need to speak their language.”
In 2023, Dr. Shoyinka wrote the book Understanding Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Communities to demystify the subject of mental health by walking readers through common mental health conditions, how medical issues contribute to mental health, and what treatment looks like.
“People are frightened, and they don’t know what to expect in treatment. My book confronts this with plain language and data,” Dr. Shoyinka said. “The Kelley Physician MBA also helped me think about this issue from a business standpoint and how it could be leveraged strategically for my practice.”
Earning an MBA has been a part of Dr. Shoyinka’s vision for his career since medical school. Originally from Nigeria, he followed up medical school with a year of national service, which gave him time to think about what he wanted to do with his career.
“As good as clinical training is, it became obvious to me that a medical degree alone would not arm me with the skills I needed to do what I wanted to do to lead health systems,” Dr. Shoyinka said. “Within a few short years of stepping into clinical practice, I quickly recognized that what really drove healthcare were business decisions that required an understanding of the business of medicine.”
One of Dr. Shoyinka’s mentors offered him experience in system-level operations. He followed that up with an American Association of Physician Leadership program, and then, he decided to pursue a business degree. He was accepted into a medical management program but decided to look at MBAs, including the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business.
“The Kelley program blew the others out of the water. I thought, ‘Where have you guys been all my life?’” he laughed. “I loved the class of 40 physicians. I really liked Indianapolis, and I loved the fact that it’s an elite institution for executive business education with a solid reputation and a wide alumni network. It was the right fit. At the time I lived in Missouri, but the five-and-a-half-hour drive was doable.”
As he learned that business—like medicine—has its own specialties like marketing and leadership, Dr. Shoyinka says earning the Physician MBA was “eye opening.” He enjoyed learning from Kelley faculty, who are experts in the business of medicine. He says the experience not only gave him skills he can apply every day on the job, but it also expanded his career potential.
“I remember one day in class thinking that if I never want to do patient care again, I don’t have to. There are so many doors open to me; I could do something even better if I wanted to. That is the gift of the Kelley Physician MBA,” Dr. Shoyinka said.
And he’s already begun expanding his career. Dr. Shoyinka applied business principles from Kelley to launch his own telehealth-enabled psychiatry practice, Centia Health, which treats patients in Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Michigan. During his MBA, Dr. Shoyinka launched the first iteration of Centia Health to focus on rural areas where people have less access to psychiatric treatment. He began offering addiction treatment, psychiatric programming, and primary care as a Federally Qualified Health Center.
“I learned from Kelley that part of leading is evolving. We’re evolving to do more of the traditional clinic practice, but we’re also offering telehealth care in a hybrid format,” Dr. Shoyinka explained.
He says the Physician MBA has also been a “game changer” in his career. As a psychiatrist in the public mental health environment, he’s accustomed to operating within public funding, in contrast to the traditional business world. He says the MBA gives him a fresh, business perspective to use in approaching strategies in the public realm.
“I’m able to evaluate these niche ideas to see if they make business sense or suggest something else we should consider. Going through this program really helped me gain that perspective,” he said. “For example, during the Cuba trip, I remember being struck by the way a very poor country was so masterful at using social marketing. Cuba’s mother-to-child HIV transition rates are far lower than those in the United States. I remember being gobsmacked by that. We went to the ministry, and they told us what they were doing. That idea of social marketing stayed with me.”
Now several years since earning his MBA, Dr. Shoyinka says the experience has unquestionably changed him as a physician and a leader. He regularly draws upon the lessons to solve challenges as a psychiatrist and a CMO in public health.
“In behavioral health, we use the phrase ‘making what is unconscious conscious’ as a tool for change. When you’re aware, you can deploy these tools at will. I use the coursework from the Physician MBA each day, but the most important classes for me were those I used during COVID-19 because my office was central to the pandemic effort in Philadelphia,” Dr. Shoyinka said. “COVID was probably the biggest test of leadership that I’ve ever had to navigate, and I remember going back to watch a series of lectures the Kelley School offered, such as one on how to communicate during the pandemic, comparing and contrasting examples at the time. I remember watching that and drawing lessons from all my studies to adopt new approaches.”
As the availability of behavioral health services continues to become increasingly clear in public health, it’s met with a shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health providers amid a burgeoning demand for therapy. Dr. Shoyinka says the Physician MBA Program helped prepare and support him to continue to create and innovate solutions in this particularly in-demand specialty.
“The MBA has helped me to think about problems through both the clinical lens and the business lens. Now, I can marry those two perspectives to make better decisions than if I were looking purely from a clinical lens,” he said. “I teach fellows at the University of Pennsylvania in the public psychology fellowship—and I’ve used some of the COVID communications material in teaching the next generation of public health professionals.”
Looking back, Dr. Shoyinka says what the MBA ultimately gave him was an improved business instinct to match his well-developed clinical one.
“There’s no question: I’m a much better and more effective physician leader because I understand the business of healthcare as opposed to doing it by instinct only.”