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Kelley’s Physician-Only MBA For Busy Doctors

Business of Medicine Physician MBA students. Courtesy photo

Many MBA programs have healthcare concentrations. But only one top-ranked business school program exclusively admits physicians and works around their schedules.

The Business of Medicine Physician MBA at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business is specifically designed for working physicians. Launched in September 2013, it’s a 21-month hybrid program where coursework is mainly online, with weekend sessions in Indianapolis once a month. Most participants, flying in from all over the country, continue working as full-time physicians.

The physician-only nature of the program makes it somewhat unique. The only other schools with physician-only MBA programs are the University of Tennessee, Auburn University, and Brandeis University, though other universities may have physician-only business programs that are not MBAs, like Northwestern’s Physician CEO.

“A lot of physicians are increasingly interested in learning about business management, leadership, and so forth,” says Anthony Cox, faculty chair for the Indiana Kelley program. “I think it’s largely because they want to regain leadership in healthcare. There are fewer physicians in solo practices or small groups. More and more, they’re employees at large hospitals and health systems, and usually the leaders of those health systems are not physicians.”

It’s a situation that is pretty much unique to healthcare. Most law firms, for example, are led by CEOs who are lawyers; most universities are led by academics. Yet according to a 2014 report from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, only 5% of hospital leaders are physicians.

‘THERE’S A LOT OF DISCONTENT AMONG PHYSICIANS’

Dr. Anthony Cox. Courtesy photo

“There’s a lot of discontent among physicians because, I think it’s fair to say, they’ve lost control of healthcare,” Cox says. “I think the physicians in our program want a seat at the table, and some want to be at the head of the table.”

New cohorts are admitted each fall, each with approximately 40 participants. Though the online coursework is meant to make the program more flexible for working physicians, Cox says they really value face-to-face contact — more than half of the program’s hours are spent during the monthly visits to campus. One weekend each month, participants arrive in Indianapolis for lectures and discussions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, which is about 16 hours total. They take two classes per quarter, so the time is split between those classes and a speaker series Friday evening.

Nearly all participants, Cox says, are full-time, practicing physicians. “For most of our hybrid programs, we have participants come in twice a month, but we decided that would be too much, since physicians are so busy. We also publish the schedule more than a year in advance, so they can plan ahead.”

Even so, he says, most participants describe the program as akin to drinking out of a fire hose.

‘WE’RE ALL COMING FROM MEDICINE, NOT ACCOUNTING OR FINANCE’

Dr. Gary Drillings. Courtesy photo

Dr. Gary Drillings is a second-year in the program this year. An orthopedic surgeon practicing in New Jersey since 1991, he’s also been the chairman of the orthopedic department of his hospital for the last 10 years. Recently, the hospital merged with several others to become one large healthcare network.

“I’ve been involved with certain leadership roles, taking part in system-wide care plans and projects, and I’ve seen healthcare evolve and transition over the years,” Drillings tells Poets&Quants. “It became apparent to me that healthcare is changing dramatically, and I felt that if I wanted to pursue more of a leadership role, learning the terminology and gaining some additional skills would be worth my while.”

At first, he says, he was concerned about the time commitment of flying to Indianapolis once a month. Now, in a way, he looks forward to it. “We have great discussions that would be difficult to have online,” he says of the face-to-face time on campus. “It’s a pain in the neck to fly out Thursday for classes Friday and Saturday, but it’s invaluable.”

Discussions with other physicians are helpful because physicians have had similar experiences, Drillings says. The classes are not all health-based, since the program covers all the traditional subjects of an MBA, but class discussions always have a bit of a health slant.

“We all have different backgrounds and perspectives,” Drillings says. “But we’re all coming from medicine, not accounting or finance. I think we approach things differently because of that.”