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The benefits of a physician MBA program

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics May 2024
Volume 101
Issue 5

Many physicians are eager to find a way to transform health care in a way that better benefits both patients and providers. They would be well served by enrolling in an MBA program designed for doctors.

The business of health care has never been more challenging. Physicians often find themselves at the mercy of business decisions that, from their perspective, don’t make sense. Many physicians are eager to find a way to transform health care in a way that better benefits both patients and providers. They would be well served by enrolling in an MBA program, specifically one designed for physicians, says Amrou Awaysheh, PhD, MBA.

Awaysheh is the OneAmerica Foundation Endowed Chair at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. He is an operations professor in the school’s Physician MBA program, a hybrid online and in-person course of study designed exclusively for doctors. Awaysheh sat down with Medical Economics to discuss the program and how it helps physicians lead healthcare change. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Medical Economics (ME): How does an MBA degree complement a physician’s medical training?

Amrou Awaysheh, Ph.D., MBA: Medical school teaches physicians how to care for patients. The Kelley Physician MBA teaches physicians how to lead and change health care, how physicians can be an agent of change in their organization. We give physicians the business and management tools to think about how they can change processes, improve performance, and drive policy changes.

While you can think of medical school as teaching physicians how to care for patients, we teach physicians the business of medicine.

ME: Who do you see as the ideal candidate for a physician MBA?

Awaysheh: The ideal candidate is somebody who wants to make bold changes for health care, for patients, and for themselves. It’s somebody who wants to lead and not just sit on the sidelines.

Health care is really evolving, and physicians have a couple of choices. They can just be somebody who watches the change happen and take whatever solutions come, or they can be somebody who has a voice at the table and helps drive that change.

ME: What specific leadership and management skills can physicians who are pursuing an MBA degree gain in this program?

Awaysheh: They’re able to speak the language of the nonclinical side of health care, the side that runs health care. They gain financial skills that help link decisions to organizational outcomes. They will understand market dynamics, government regulations, how to identify bottlenecks, manage patient flows, improve the patient experience overall and maximize assets. They study all elements of business.

ME: Do you have examples from your curriculum of how the physicians who are in this program apply the skills they are learning?

Awaysheh: Students complete projects that look at an issue in their organization, how they can change it, and what improvement looks like.

One example is a large health care system in the country that has turnover in its emergency room, and it operates relatively slow. They looked at improving patient throughput, and in the end, that improvement saved the system about $5 million.

For a different project, the student team looked at how to revamp operating rooms at a three-hospital system, and they found savings of about $90 million by changing a few things.

Again, this is physician driven. They’re doing the analysis and putting in place solutions that physicians value.

ME: Most physicians will be familiar with an MBA program. How does your MBA program at the Kelley School of Business, which is specifically for physicians, differ from a standard program?

Awaysheh: It’s very much different than an executive MBA program. Our program is different because we only take MDs or DOs who are three years post residency. They come from across the U.S. and represent an array of specialties.

The core business and leadership concepts are taught through a healthcare lens. We have specific courses that are focused on the business of health care, and we’ve developed content and case study materials that cover business issues. They also learn a great deal from their physician peers.

ME: What kind of support and resources do you have available for students to help them balance their clinical responsibilities with their
MBA studies?

Awaysheh: At the Kelley School, we are pioneers in online business education, and we’ve developed the Physician MBA to be a true hybrid program.

And so, the students have online interactions with their professors over the course of a few weeks, and then, they come to Indianapolis for what we call a residency period, which is an intensive three-day experience where they take all the concepts they’ve been learning online and apply them in person. They meet with their peers and network. They don’t have to take that much time away from their clinical practice, as it’s just three days every three months. Throughout the program, the online content is delivered in the evening, so they don’t need to take time off from their practice. We have faculty members who specialize in the business of medicine who have been teaching in this program for over a decade, and there is a personal executive coach and their cohort of like-minded physician peers.

We have the world’s largest business school alumni network of more than 130,000 people that can be leveraged as well.

ME: What are the the hands-on learning experiences like?

Awaysheh: I’ll walk you through how we’ve mapped out our residency experiences. The students have four hands-on, in-person immersion experiences throughout the program.

The program kicks off with a five-day intensive leadership residency, where they all get to know each other. One of the experiences is in Washington, D.C., where they learn about policy and advocacy in health care. There’s one that I run where we look at operations and process improvement. They implement Lean Six Sigma, which results in a project that focuses on how they can transform health care delivery at their own organization. And finally, our program wraps up with a hands-on capstone consulting project.

ME: Can you share some alumni success stories?

Awaysheh: I think every single one of our graduates has a phenomenal impact on their organizations. A couple of examples that come to mind: One graduate used his knowledge from operations process improvement in the leadership courses to redesign his urology clinic and decrease the elapsed time for a frequent procedure. It used to be 102 minutes, and they got that down to 29 minutes. What they saw was increased access, increased efficiency and higher revenue while improving patient quality and satisfaction.

Another graduate advanced to Chief Medical Officer at her hospital while she was still in the program. Today, she’s president and CEO of that organization. Another graduate transitioned from a family medicine clinic to be an associate vice president at a major pharmaceutical company.

ME: Any parting thoughts on the value of this program for physicians?

Awaysheh: Every physician ended up in medical school because they want to make an impact on human lives. And maybe today, some of them feel frustrated and want to be an agent of change.

That is what our program enables you to do. It gives you the tools, the skills, the vocabulary to get a seat at the table where decisions about health care happen. It should happen on the clinic floor, but it usually happens behind closed doors in meetings.

Our physician graduates can get a seat at those tables and be involved in making things better for physicians and improve health care in America. That’s what we do: We empower physicians. We provide the business mindset to help transform health care, one physician at a time.

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