Executive MBA for Physicians Blog

Educating physician leaders in the new science of medicine and management

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Alumni Updates: 6 months after graduation

This November marks six months since our Class of 2017 received their Master of Business Administration. To celebrate this milestone, we checked in with some of our physicians to ask what they have been up to and how their degrees have been helping them at work. Read more below how they have been able to apply their learning below:


Dr. Aristides “JR” Cruz

The Heller School’s Executive MBA for Physicians program helps strengthen and solidify physicians’ instincts to change things for the better.  My experience with the program provides a real-life example for this.  As a Pediatric Orthopaedic surgeon, I treat children with broken bones on a daily basis.  When I arrived at my current institution, I noticed that kids were routinely receiving XRAYS in the Emergency Department after their bones were set, despite the use of XRAY during the actual procedure of setting their bones.  To me, this was a potential waste of time, resources, and also may have been exposing children to more radiation than necessary.  After asking colleagues both in my department and the emergency department as to why we were ordering these XRAYS, answers varied from: “we have to make sure the bone was set correctly” (reasonable) to “that’s just how it’s always been done” (not so reasonable).  I decided that this practice and process was ripe for change and the tools learned during my 16 months as a student in Heller’s EMBA program provided me with the knowhow to accomplish this.

Operations Management taught me how to map out the process and find targets for change.  Relational Coordination taught me how to engage all the people involved in the process and obtain buy-in to work as a team to change it.  Management of Healthcare organizations taught me how complex healthcare systems are and how difficult it can be to change even a seemingly simple process.  In fact, each class taught me pieces of what I needed in order to accomplish this goal.  After almost two years of work, this project resulted in a better process for patients, parents, and providers and has been also recognized as important from professional peers resulting in publication of our results in a peer-reviewed journal (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29049266).  The Heller School’s EMBA program was instrumental in this achievement and has sparked my nascent interest in the science and discipline of medicine and management.


Dr. Heidi Larson

I am using every bit of what I learned in our EMBA Program, from strategy to financial accounting, operations and leadership and organizational behavior.  I am combining all my newfound skills with my 20 years of family medicine experience as the Medical Director for Population Health at Eastern Maine Medical Center.  Working with patients and families, clinicians and administrators, I am helping to manage costs and utilization through a grant-funded research project I developed to help reduce our rates of readmission to the hospital.  I am involved in developing strategy around MACRA and, through the ACO, looking ahead to ways we can redesign our practice workflows to prepare us for the transition to value-based payment models.

The health policy and legislative training I received at Brandeis was instrumental in helping me to get involved at the State level with Advance Care Planning/Maine’s Death with Dignity Act, and also with Maine Providers Standing Up for Healthcare.  I have presented testimony at the State legislature and also communicated directly with Senator Susan Collins on important issues regarding how we care for the most sick and vulnerable among us.  “Health equity as a social justice contract” is near and dear to my heart, and a topic I will advance at every opportunity.

I am very grateful for the experience and inspiration of this MBA Program.  I am especially thankful to my incredible classmates without whose support and engagement with lively debate I would not be doing any of this.


Dr. Michael Lynch

Since graduation in May, I have continued to work as an ED doc and have continued my role as Chair of Emergency Medicine.  In addition, I am Chair of the Concord Hospital Trust, which oversees the use of philanthropic funds.  I have also joined one of the oversight boards for the hospital corporation.  Although I have not changed jobs, my experience in the Brandeis EMBA has forever changed my perspective on health care and the lens through which I view not just medicine but the world.  And, consistent with the themes that Jon laid out for us as we began our journey, I have learned and continue to challenge assumptions, my own and those of my colleagues.  As I said many times, I thought I would like the program and the learning, but I didn’t know how much I would love it and how many wonderful people I would meet.  I miss being with that crew, both my classmates and the professors and the admin team.

The EMBA for Physicians Classroom Experience

The Classroom Experience

The Heller School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) for Physicians is focused on improving both clinical outcomes and financial results in healthcare organizations by training physician-leaders in the new science of medicine and management.  The learning environment integrates the students’ medical expertise with new knowledge in critical areas ranging from health policy and economics to operations, high performance leadership, and healthcare innovation.   Learn more about the classroom experience below.

Modes of presenting material

The EMBA uses a variety of teaching methods to ensure students remain engaged in the learning and absorb the information.  The methods include lectures, case studies, problem sets, simulations, individual reflection, and small group work.  For instance, in Dr. Jon Chilingerian’s Leadership and Organizational Behavior course, students practice their leadership skills through a simulation where the goal is to identify support and resistance to a new idea throughout the organizational hierarchy.  In Dr. Michael Doonan’s State Health Policy course, students develop and present mock legislative testimony and receive live feedback from their classmates to prepare them to take their expertise back to their own state legislatures.  Regardless of the method, faculty look for creative ways to enhance student learning.

Professors well versed in teaching physicians

The EMBA was developed on a foundation of over twenty years teaching dual MD/MBA students and twelve years partnering with healthcare organizations to educate physician executives about the new science of medicine and management.  Our faculty are very familiar with the needs of physician learners and are able to go deeper than a typical MBA curriculum to illustrate how the concepts they are teaching apply to the field.  Many of the examples and cases used are healthcare focused – even in quantitative courses such as Accounting – so students see a full picture of the intersections between business skills and clinical practice. The faculty also pull from their extensive experience shaping healthcare policy on a state and national level. For example, Dr. Stuart Altman, the Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy at the Heller School, serves as chairman of the Health Policy Commission for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Leveraging the medical experience in the room

Every student in the room is a mid-career, practicing physician who brings valuable professional experience to classroom discussions.  The Class of 2017 had 800+ years of clinical experience collectively between the 36 students.  That background provided examples, best practices, and a common language amongst the students that accelerated the collective comprehension of the material and how to apply it within the industry.  Students understand each other and the environments in which they work much more fully than if the program was open to people from other industries, or even to people in other roles within healthcare.  That understanding also increases the ability of students to support one another educationally and professionally through the program.  The bond built within the cohort and the ability to leverage each other’s professional knowledge have numerous benefits, especially within the classroom.

Online courses

After the residency periods, the courses continue with online sessions.  These sessions, also referred to as webinars, are accessed remotely – from home, work, conferences, vacations – but they still resemble a live classroom setting.  They are “synchronous”, meaning that the professor and students all join the session at the same time to teach and engage in the material.  The software mimics a classroom with live video of all participants, the option for a student to virtually raise their hand to ask or answer questions, and breakout rooms to split the class into groups during the session to work on projects and tackle specific questions.  This style differs from typical online courses, which are usually “asynchronous” and lead students through a structured series of modules and quizzes without live professor interaction.  The synchronous model tends to work well for people who prefer a traditional classroom setting.  It also allows faculty to judge the comprehension of the material by the entire class in a real-time way and allows students to bring their questions and concerns to the whole class at once.

Making the most of your EMBA: Leadership Coaching


In a recent survey of 425 physicians from across the country conducted by the National Physicians Foundation, respondents reported that leadership development is their most important learning need.  The healthcare industry is a prime example of a business that is volatile and complex.  Crisis is the norm and physician leaders must navigate through a constantly changing environment.

Physicians usually rise to the position of leadership because of their expertise as a clinician and/or researcher, but those experiences do not guarantee leadership strength.  There are three primary components to becoming a strong, capable leader: knowledge about the science of management; advanced leadership skills and competencies; and vertical growth, or leadership maturity, necessary to be effective.

The Leadership Coaching Program helps you translate your EMBA curriculum into action by building your understanding of your leadership strengths and gaps, setting specific development goals, and providing peer coaching to practice and refine your leadership impact.

In the month before the EMBA begins, all students complete an online self-assessment exploring their leadership style.  They also identify 10 to 15 colleagues spanning all levels of professional relationship, from supervisor, to peer, to direct report, who complete the same tool.  These colleagues submit feedback across twelve key leadership competencies. Students then use an anonymous report detailing and comparing data to reflect on what they and their colleagues perceive to be their leadership strengths and gaps.

Students receive the reports during the first semester residency period and spend a full day in organized individual and group activities with an executive coach to review the report, create a development action plan, and train as peer coaches for each other.  This process repeats during the final semester with a second round of self-assessment and colleague feedback giving students the opportunity to judge their progress and refine their plan beyond the EMBA.

Engaging in the Leadership Coaching Program is an invaluable part of the EMBA experiences.  Students call it “extremely useful”, “an excellent feature of the program”, and “very relevant and excellently executed.”  Read below for more comments on the experience.

“I learned a lot about myself and received excellent feedback.  I will definitely apply what I learned to improve my leadership skills.”

“The most powerful part of this exercise was hearing the intense sharing and exchange with the other members of the group.  This built a lot of trust and the entire larger group seemed to be more cohesive after this exercise.”

“This was one of the most meaningful days in my professional life.”

“Great process and outcome for each of us individually and collectively.”


Why Should a Physician Get an Executive MBA?

Interview with Jon Chilingerian, executive director of the Executive MBA for Physicians program at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management

What current trends in the healthcare industry warrant a physician obtaining an Executive MBA?

It’s critical that we first understand what’s expected of people in healthcare today. We have what I call a new triple performance problem. The first is that healthcare organizations are expected to achieve excellent technical outcomes. This means that the primary providers of care must work together to bring the cutting edge of biomedical science into the practice of medicine. The second performance problem is about outstanding patient experience. When patients enter the health system, they have needs beyond the technical aspects of their care. For example, the emotional needs, the need for information, the need for great relationships with providers, so that overall, they will feel extremely satisfied. The third performance problem, efficient care, is a bit more difficult particularly when you take the first two into consideration. Efficient care does not mean slash-and-burn downsizing, but rather providing the best care possible in a way that allows you to find the quickest way to help the patient – efficiently moving from diagnosis to treatment so that you reach those excellent technical outcomes and improve the overall health status of the patient.

And so the real question is, is it possible to do all three of these well? Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that there are very few places in the U.S. and around the world that do. I’ve heard from countless physicians who are struggling. They’re struggling to maintain a financially viable practice because of falling reimbursements and rising overhead costs, and because of things like malpractice insurance, new technologies and electronic health records. Physicians are also struggling with converting to a value based approach and with a new international classification of disease code. What we’re seeing is horrible physician burnout. So you put all this together and what we see is that the weight of the regulatory environment is negatively impacting the triple performance problem and thus, the practice of medicine and the experience of caregivers.

My new mantra is that every physician needs this kind of training in the blossoming science at the intersection of biomedical and management science. Physicians are the principal co-owners in the care process. They are the entrepreneurs that decide what new technologies and new methodologies ought to be adopted and assimilated. And they’re also the general managers of these care processes. There has been a large gap between medical decision-making in clinical operation and healthcare management. So I see the future very strongly around the idea that every physician is a leader and every leader is a collaborative team player.

How do you know if you’re ready for an Executive MBA program? What does an ideal candidate look like?

If you feel you were trained to help people and the job doesn’t give you the resources and support to do that, then you’re ready to consider an Executive MBA. If you’re an MD and you’re in a private practice, you’re working in a department, you are a clinical director, you’re a chair or chief, or you’re in the executive suite and you don’t have management training, then you would be an ideal candidate for our program. If you look at the motivating environment and you feel the incentives aren’t there to do the right thing, or you feel that people are not deeply engaged in the work that they do around you, or you see that coordination is lacking and the organization isn’t designed correctly, you are likely experiencing challenges. If you have difficulty understanding the cost of what you do, you need a more sophisticated understanding of cost.

It is essential that we understand the critical role of leadership within healthcare, and that just merely adopting new technology and trying to assimilate it into the organization doesn’t necessarily create value. We understand physicians must successfully navigate new regulatory requirements, new reimbursement requirements and the new value based approach, and our program can help. We provide not only the training but also the education and the skills from expert executive leadership coaches so that medical leaders can translate ideas and desire into helping people in a well-designed organization.

Generally speaking, what do most Executive MBA physicians aspire to accomplish upon finishing the degree? What are their future goals?

When you’re operating within the context we discussed earlier (the crushing overhead, the falling reimbursements, and the physician burnout), it can be hard to develop a personal strategy or path to successfully navigate the environment. So the first thing physicians should accomplish is to have a deeper and more clinical understanding of the situation in which they are embedded. An Executive MBA program allows you to reenergize and recommit yourself to the work that you originally vowed to do. Reenergizing and recommitting is a large part of coming back and doing this advanced graduate study. It’s ultimately a sense-making process that people go through, and as you begin to better understand the unfolding events that occur around you, you are then able to diagnose the situation in a much more lucid way.

The goal is that you come out and achieve aims for the 21st century: we want to produce safe care (avoiding injuries to patients); effective care (making sure that the best biomedical science knowledge is applied and through management science, effectively implemented); we want to achieve those triple aims (outstanding technical outcomes, outstanding patient experience, and efficient care); and finally, we want to produce equitable care (providing care that does not vary in quality because of the personal characteristics of gender, ethnicity, geography and so forth). We train you so that you can comfortably run a practice, but also become a chair of a department, a clinical director, a medical director, a chief operating officer and a chief executive of any size healthcare organization, including a hospital, accountable care organization, primary care organization, nursing home or rehabilitation center. Physicians leave with the confidence to alter their career trajectory, and the derivative is going to be much greater than it was before they started the program.  You’ll be able to create and lead institutions that are safe, effective, achieve the triple aims and are equitable.

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