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The Kelley Business of Medicine Physician MBA: an integrative experience

February 28, 2017

Throughout the 21-month program, Kelley Business of Medicine Physician MBAs learn the language of business.

After studying operations, marketing, economics, strategy and finance, all topics to ensure physician leaders better understand business operations and administration within a large-scale health care system, physicians begin to apply what they've learned through live case studies.

The Integrative Experience course at the IU Kelley School of Business asks Physician MBAs to work with an organization to assess its strategy and determine in which direction it should move.

Integration

"This is an opportunity for our Physician MBAs to draw on the content they've previously learned in different functional areas to come up with ideas for the company they’re working with," explained Todd Saxton, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship. "In their own organizations, they're not facing problems in silos. As these physicians move into leadership positions, or even if they are already in those positions, the kinds of problems their organizations face are integrative by nature and are complex. They're able to bring together the different pieces through this course."

Application

Saxton weaves in three threads across the integrative experience, explaining that while integration is the overarching theme, the second is application. 

"This is an opportunity to get out of the classroom and move on from the written case study that was arm's length. They're able to internalize what is happening with these organizations and realize they could have a meaningful impact on the trajectory of the company," Saxton said.

Todd Saxton, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, speaks to Kelley physician MBA students.

Todd Saxton, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, speaks to Kelley physician MBA students.

"They've studied corporate cases and organizational-level analysis, but this is a real-life organization. As I'm going through the students' reflective essays, I see the degree to which they've ratcheted up the intensity and also the pressure, which I think is important."

The third theme, he says, is persuasion.

Persuasion

"One of the pieces I've seen many students under-appreciate is that good strategy and leadership is also about persuasion and communication," said Saxton.

"The Kelley Physician MBAs had to do more than just come up with good ideas and strategic initiatives; they had to sell them to the company, to me and to their classmates. Learning to package and sell their ideas as part of being change agents for their own organizations is an important lesson as well," he added.

Kelley Physician MBA experience

"For me, it was really useful to begin to understand how much I’ve learned in these business courses," said Dr. Tom Gallen, MBA'17. Gallen is the assistant medical director of anesthesiology at IU Health Arnett Hospital.

"This experience was certainly meaningful to me and, I believe, also meaningful to the company, as we worked to determine the company's overall direction and the rationale for it," explained Gallen.

Dr. Urs von Holzen, MBA'17, is the director of thoracic oncology at the IU Health Goshen Center for Cancer Care. "We've learned a lot over the past year, and through this experience, we got to apply it," he said. "When applying knowledge, you learn a lot that you hadn't thought about while learning from a textbook. This will be very helpful for the future."

It's a course the Physician MBAs say doesn't begin without some trepidation.

"When I started the program, the second-year students were doing this -- taking a company, dissecting it, considering where they should go and making recommendations. I thought, 'That sounds terrifying! Where do you even start?'" joked Gallen.

"But as time goes on," he added, "you're able to take this very general question and hone it down into a series of finer questions. You use the tools and methods you've learned, in order to discover answers, and then you're able to take those answers and coalesce them into a larger picture to answer the original question."

Phil Powell, associate dean of academic programs, speaks to physician MBA students while professor Todd Saxton looks on.

Phil Powell, associate dean of academic programs, speaks to physician MBA students while professor Todd Saxton looks on.

"The course culminated in a great deal of certainty about what I've learned and what I've gained from this program," Gallen said. "I now think about problems in a better, more influential way. That is the most valuable part to me -- recognizing that individual classes and individual lessons and individual tools were more than individual parts. They were synergistic in allowing you to create a better process or make a better decision."

The benefits of the Integrative Experience extend beyond the Physician MBA students themselves. Both Helmer Scientific and Springbuk, two local life sciences companies that participated, received critical feedback.

"We've made some great relationships, and we had an influx of new ideas from refreshing perspectives as a result of our involvement with Kelley's Business of Medicine Physician MBA groups," said Bruce King, CEO of Helmer Scientific.

"I found it especially helpful that we got to work with a real company. This wasn't just an exercise in a classroom. We interacted with people who are really passionate about their procedures and their products. Interacting with the CEO of that company was a great experience," said von Holzen.

Gallen says he believes the learning extends beyond the hospital or health care organization in which the Kelley Physician MBAs work.

"There's no question to me that the majority of the information you learn in this course can be applied not just in your professional life, but in your personal life. It helps you understand the world as it is, rather than how you want it to be. It does that by giving you the tools to understand how other people see it and by showing you a wider viewpoint that allows you to focus differently -- to see the world as it actually is."

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