Program Sharpens Docs' Business Skills

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ISMA says improving doctors’ business skills translates to better patient care. ISMA says improving doctors’ business skills translates to better patient care.

A family medicine physician in northern Indiana, Dr. Rhonda Sharp doesn’t really think of herself as a student, but she recently found herself in a classroom learning skills that weren’t taught in medical school. Health care reform has transformed doctors’ roles, now requiring them to be well-versed in financial statements, managing human capital and even politics. The newly created Physician Leadership Program at Butler University is helping doctors navigate the unfamiliar territory by providing a crash course in the business demands of practicing modern medicine. 

“More and more, physicians are finding themselves being pulled into things often away from patient care—things like regulatory requirements,” says Sharp, who is also president of the Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA). “When I was in training, we never even thought about linking quality outcomes and patient satisfaction to physician compensation. A lot of this stuff we were never exposed to in medical school, and it’s quite foreign to many physicians.”

That’s why ISMA approached Butler’s Executive Education program about launching a series of classes to help doctors increase their business acumen. While other universities in the state offer MBA programs for doctors, both Butler and ISMA recognized a need for helping time-crunched physicians learn business skills, STAT.

“This is meant to be a very focused, very immersive quick hit, so they have immediate skills; it’s not a long-term degree approach,” says Butler Executive Education Program Executive Director Sheri Fella. “I think there’s room in this space to offer all kinds of development opportunities for doctors.”

The first six courses are already underway in Indianapolis, with topics including financial statement analysis, pricing strategies, and power and politics. Doctors can also earn Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit for each three-hour course. The curriculum is designed and taught by Butler’s business heavy hitters: the dean and associate dean of the College of Business.

“We don’t want more than 20 to 25 physicians in the room at once, which is also unique, because demand is much greater than that,” says Fella. “We don’t feel like we can have the transformation and high engagement we want with larger class sizes. Having them in the room [rather than an online course] and being able to work directly with them hands-on is also a great advantage.”

ISMA members can enroll for $150 per each three-hour course, and the doctors are encouraged to bring real-life business challenges from their practices to class for analysis.

“You can ask [the instructors] specific questions—and it’s actually kind of fun,” says Sharp. “After all this education in medical school, sometimes you think I don’t want to learn another thing, but surprisingly enough, it is fun and it’s useful.”

Organizers hope to add more courses and expand to different areas of the state, making it more convenient for doctors to attend. Sharp notes improving doctors’ business skills is critical, because it translates to better patient care; physicians won’t have to take time away to muddle through financial statements, for example.

“It’s more of a streamlined, executive-level alternative to something like an MBA,” says Sharp. “It’s business knowledge you can immediately apply to your practice when you go back the next day.”

Sharp says the ever-increasing business demands of practicing modern medicine are foreign to many physicians.
Fella says convenience and the quality of the curriculum are key components of the program.
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