Like the vast majority of healthcare professionals, Dr. Rocky Singh, chief medical officer at Indiana University Health West Hospital in Avon, began his medical career with a singular focus: to provide the best care for his patients.
But Singh, trained as an emergency medicine specialist, quickly learned that medical school had not given him the financial know-how to navigate the delivery system.
“When you're talking with your CEO about getting a new piece of equipment, you need to justify that when his question is, 'What's the ROI on this?' ” Singh said. While physicians can likely make a strong clinical case for such an investment, many might struggle explaining how it benefits the business.
The need to better understand the business aspects of healthcare became clear in 2002 after Singh became a site medical director for the emergency department at IU Health Morgan in Martinsville, Ind.
The experience forced Singh to ask questions he had not thought about when he worked solely as a clinician. He had to bone up on critical business metrics, including understanding the hospital's service area, patient volume, and the cost of supplies and labor, to name a few.
“That's when I realized that my knowledge and skill in finance, accounting, microeconomics and what's happening on a macro level were rudimentary at best,” Singh said.
In 2013, Singh decided to get an MBA. At the time, many of the schools he considered had programs geared more toward other professions and not healthcare. None, he said, took into account the many changes that were reshaping the healthcare industry as implementation of the Affordable Care Act was underway.
In the end, Singh picked Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. The decision was due to the school's ties to the university medical school, which for 20 years had been running development programs to teach basic business acumen to academic medicine faculty members.
That same year, the business school launched its Business of Medicine Physician MBA program, intended to teach clinicians.
But the two-year program also includes curriculum that aims to improve operations across the delivery system. Students can learn how to cut down on patient wait times while adding efficiencies designed to improve care quality and outcomes.
“We started an MBA program for physicians because we saw the need out there,” said Susannah Gawor, director of IU's graduate business programs in medicine. “The change that really needs to happen in healthcare needs to happen from more physician leadership.”
Kyle Anderson, a clinical assistant professor of business economics at IU's Kelley School of Business, teaches a course to physicians during a Physician MBA residency session in Indianapolis.
Indiana University is one of dozens of business schools throughout the country that have created healthcare- specific MBA programs over the past decade. Like IU, many schools have adapted their programs to meet the continuous changes within the industry to stay relevant for students.
Many have responded to the even closer relationship between business and medicine by offering programs that allow students to earn an M.D. and MBA at the beginning of their careers.
“I think a lot of people over the last decade have probably been graduating saying that they're interested in helping people, yet they understand there are a whole lot of aspects about the business of healthcare they'll need to understand in addition to the medical aspects,” said Dan McCleary, assistant dean of admissions for Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
The evidence can be seen in the growth of the programs. The number of schools offering joint M.D./MBA degree programs has increased from approximately six in 1993 to about 65 today, according to the Association of MD/MBA Programs.
That growth has led to greater competition among schools to recruit students.
“In the old days, there were probably fewer than 10 programs that I could have discussed with any candidate for them to consider,” said Kim Kuerten, executive director of graduate executive programs at Auburn University's Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. “Today, they have lots of options.”