Executive MBA for Physicians Blog

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EMBA Alum Starts a Women Surgeons Webinar Series

Dr. Palma Shaw, a graduate of the Executive MBA for Physicians class of 2021, is a vascular and endovascular surgeon at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. She also runs the vascular fellowship and teaches general surgical residents. Outside of her clinical and administrative duties, she participates in several regional, national, and international societies. Below Dr. Shaw shares about the webinars that she runs with the International Society of Endovascular Specialists (ISEVS), her time as a female vascular surgeon, and her experience as an EMBA physician.

Please tell me about the webinar you run. Who is it in collaboration with and how did you become involved?

I am on the Executive Council as Secretary for the International Society of Endovascular Specialists (ISEVS). I was asked to run a live webinar called CV Sisterhood in Surgery, which I co-host with Dr. Linda Le, a Vascular Surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital. The webinars started in March 2020 on a monthly basis. We discuss a variety of topics, some medical and some practical. The webinars run from the DeBakey Studio, and I “Zoom in” as do most of the guests. I have also co-hosted ISEVS Critical Issues Series webinars, including one with Dr. Rania Preventza, EMBA’17. If an interesting topic comes up, I add a webinar about it. It has given me an opportunity to give a voice to my colleagues, especially women.

In the CV Sisterhood in Surgery Webinar, we have covered a variety of women’s issues, including:

  • COVID Impacts on Career, Pregnancy, and Family
  • Further Advanced Degrees for Female Surgeons
  • Fertility and Female Surgeons
  • Perspective of a Latina Vascular Surgeon
  • Single Motherhood as a Surgeon
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Vascular Surgery

Topics I have brought to the Critical Issues webinar include:

  • Limb Salvage During a Pandemic
  • Women in Global Cardiovascular Care
  • Women in Aortic Surgery
  • CEO Perspectives on Healthcare and Industry

Where can we find your webinar?

If you searchCV Sisterhood DeBakey” on Google or another ssearch engine, you will be able to find them. They are also available at https://www.isevs.org.

You have talked about being a female surgeon in a male dominated subspecialty. Tell me more about what that has been like and how you have overcome barriers in your field.

My challenges have served as food for discussion in the webinars. I am not only a female in the field of Vascular Surgery (approximately 14% of board-certified vascular surgeons are women), but also a single mother raising children on my own. Fortunately, I have a supportive family. One of the challenges was the lack of female role models. Often, advantages were given to men over women. We have had to work so much harder to move up the ladder. Even now, we struggle to become investigators on clinical trials and receive invitations as speakers for major vascular meetings. Women often get pushed into the venous and wound care fields, as men covet the aortic field. Things are changing slowly.

How has your time in the EMBA influenced your work on this webinar and as a surgeon?

The EMBA has been amazing for my career and this webinar. As we moved through the courses, I was able to apply the teaching immediately in my daily life. Dr. Jon Chilingerian’s Social Networking Project improved my relationships with my co-workers. Dr. Brad Morrison’s Operations Management Assignment helped me gain a better understanding about how the endovascular suite conducted operations and ordering of product. It helped my relationship with my colleagues at Upstate, as they felt invested in my EMBA and were excited that I would better understand their role. I used Dr. Brenda Anderson’s Capital Budget Project to learn about a hybrid room construction that is underway now at Upstate. It allowed me to connect with the people in charge of this renovation and understand more about what was happening in our practice.

The EMBA gave me the confidence to hold webinars on certain topics. I received limited support from my institution for all that I have done, but I felt very supported by my EMBA learning group and by the other classmates and faculty. For example, I would never have had the confidence to interview a CEO for a webinar without having done the EMBA. My recent webinar on June 21 was inspired by Dr. Chilingerian’s Everest Simulation. I got the CEO speaker for this webinar to agree to participate by using what Dr. Chilingerian taught me—Go to A to get to B. The title is:  “Climbing Mount Everest and Reaching the Peak in Vascular Surgery: One Woman’s Journey.” I also recently gave a talk called “How to Build a TEAM” for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program for the Eastern Vascular Society. All of the content was derived from my EMBA experience.

What would you want female physicians who are considering an MBA to know?  

The EMBA is an excellent opportunity for women in medicine. It helps give us more credibility and an understanding of how the c-suite works. The exchange of ideas from the other classmates is very eye opening. Having such accomplished colleagues believe in and admire you is important. Many women are working in jobs where they are held back and made to feel like they do not have what it takes, all while their male colleagues get promoted with fewer qualifications.

I would highly recommend the EMBA at Brandeis to any of my colleagues. It is a transformative experience.

EMBA Alum starts mobile breast and cervical cancer screening clinic in Southern New Jersey

Headshot of Dr. Rachel KramerDr. Rachel Kramer, a graduate of the Executive MBA for Physicians class of 2020, recently shared about her entrepreneurial start-up within her health system, a van that offers breast and cervical cancer screening to under and uninsured patients, and her recent promotion to Medical Director of Women’s Services at Virtua Medical Group (VMG). Read more about how she got her venture up and running and the details of her promotion below.

How did you come up with the idea for the Mammo Pap Mobile?

I developed the Mammo Pap Mobile project during the Entrepreneurship course in the EMBA Program. I started to think about the high number of CEEDS patients who would “no show” their appointments. CEEDS is the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Screening Program where underinsured and uninsured women had access to mammograms on a weekend in community locations such as a church and then sign up at the appointment for a Pap in our office for a later date. When I ran the numbers, 52% of these patients never showed up to our offices for their Pap smear.

How did you acquire support within your institution? Did you have this support going into your project or did you secure it later?

I met with the Oncology Nurse Manager in charge of the CEEDS program at Virtua, and we sat down together to brainstorm. My goal was to get a mobile van out with our own mammogram machine and an exam room so both a mammogram and a Pap smear exam could be done at the same time, increasing access to underinsured women. We decided that before we asked for a million-dollar investment, we would put a pilot together to show that women would want to get their Pap smears in the van. We leased a mobile mammo van from another institution and had it come to our offices on the weekend. Women could opt for a mammogram, Pap smear, or both. It was a huge success, with a line around the block. We then figured out how much money it would take to buy our own van, gas, driver, etc. and asked a foundation how to fund it with donors. The Foundation was very interested and took our proposal to senior administration and eventually the Board of the hospital. The Board granted permission to buy a van and start in 2022.

How has the mobile clinic been impacted by COVID-19?

When COVID happened a year ago, the proposal got stalled because senior administrators were busy with the emergency. However, I wrote to the CEO and said that if we had a mobile van, we could have used it to go to underserved communities that were suffering disproportionately from COVID to provide testing and vaccination. I kept pushing – calling the CMO, who is also my mentor, and not letting senior administration forget about this project.

Please tell us about your recent promotion. What are you responsible for? What are the major changes from your previous role?

Last month, I was promoted to Medical Director of Women’s Services for VMG. I am still the lead physician for VMG’s largest OBGYN group. I was promoted because last year I was successful in putting together a new OBGYN group at our flagship hospital, which didn’t previously have its own group. I was able to teach them the Virtua culture and their group is now flourishing. My new responsibilities this year are to bring a group we just acquired into the Virtua culture and to make sure all OBGYN groups are following Virtua guidelines. The leads of each group report to me. My current project is implementing direct patient appointment booking through MyChart for obstetrical appointments and to continue to drive culture development in all of the VMG employed OBGYN groups.

How has the EMBA for Physicians program helped you in your roles?

I used tools I learned in many EMBA classes to start the mobile clinic. Accounting taught me how to put together different financial statements that I needed for approval. I used the quick pitch method I learned from Entrepreneurship. I used the leadership lessons from Leadership and Organizational Behavior. Without the EMBA program, I would never have thought up this project, which saves the lives of so many underserved women. I have never felt a high so great as the first day I saw how many women showed up for Pap screening.

EMBA Alum Discusses Transitioning into the Role of Vaccines Medical Director with Pfizer Vaccines

Headshot of Dr. Tracy FooBelow is an interview with Dr. Teresa “Tracy” Foo, a member of the EMBA for Physicians class of 2019 who transitioned into the role of Vaccines Medical Director at Pfizer Vaccines in 2020.

Please tell us about your role. What are you responsible for? What projects are you working on?

I am a Vaccines Medical Director with Pfizer Vaccines. I am responsible for providing medical and scientific information about Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended and approved vaccines. I have been working to improve vaccine confidence, knowledge about our vaccines, and internal team processes.

What did you do before working at Pfizer? Why did you want to transition into the pharmaceutical industry? 

Prior to starting at Pfizer in April 2020, I had been working in public health at the state level in both immunizations and acute disease epidemiology. I was attracted to my current role because it allowed me to focus my efforts on increasing vaccination rates and have a broader impact in my work.

What should physicians know about the COVID vaccine? How can physicians better prepare for conversations about vaccines with patients? 

Health care providers need to know that they are often the most trusted source of information about the COVID-19 vaccine for their patients. A strong vaccine recommendation from a health care provider is often the reason a patient gets vaccinated. There are many resources available to health care providers to improve vaccine confidence. One to start with is https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/vaccinate-with-confidence.html

How has the EMBA for Physicians program helped you in your new role?  

The EMBA program helped me determine what type of organization I was looking to join and also better assess the organizations (e.g. culture, leadership) I interviewed with. The leadership courses and my development as a leader through the program helped prepare me to take on this new role and join a new team. The program also helped improve my skills in system thinking and analysis, as well as organizational change management.

 

Welcoming the Class of 2022 and Adapting to a Virtual World

Class of 2022 in Zoom

In early January, 32 members of the Executive MBA for Physicians class of 2022 kicked off their 16-month journey with a 10-day virtual orientation and residency experience.

 

 

The physicians:

  • Come from 14 states, Germany, and Saudi Arabia;
  • Represent 11 specialties, including emergency medicine, internal medicine, urology, and numerous surgical subspecialties;
  • Are 38% women and 40% US students of color (as % of US);
  • Have an average age of 48 and an average of over 15 years of post-residency work experience.

The physicians began Thursday afternoon with a series of orientation sessions to introduce them to the program and each other and to prepare them for the work ahead. The program director, Dr. Jon Chilingerian, led them in a leadership case study discussion to anchor them in the types of material and delivery formats they can expect in the EMBA. Students then had the chance to literally get moving and get to know one another through activities with an improv instructor. The focus of “taking care of your partner” tied back both to their daily work as well as to the group work they will be doing through the program with fellow students. That night, students participated in a virtual mixer where they broke up into small groups and continued networking. In the morning, students completed a simulation and worked with a media specialist to learn about communication during times of crisis.

Friday afternoon marked the end of orientation and the beginning of the first semester classes. The program curriculum focuses on core business concepts in the first semester with Financial Accounting, Economics, Operations Management, and Leadership and Organizational Behavior. Students also participated in guided refection with professional and peer coaches while reviewing the results of a 360 degree leadership assessment that they completed prior to the start of the program.

The 10 days wound down with some more social activities. Students had a chance to interact with members of the EMBA class of 2021, who were in their third semester residency. They met in small groups to learn who else is in this growing network of physicians and heard the perspectives of experienced students. The session closed with an intimate dinner with the Program Director. Students enjoyed a catered meal, which the program sent to each individual, and used the time to further bond as a cohort.

While all of these sessions would normally be held in person, the program adapted them to be delivered virtually due to COVID restrictions. To do so, even more emphasis than usual was placed on varying teaching methods, including simulations and guided group work. Also, to address the potential of screen fatigue, the schedule included multiple free blocks so that students could step away from Zoom and focus on review and preparation for upcoming sessions.

Now that the 10-day session has concluded, students have returned to their daily working lives and will continue the program through the synchronous webinar portion of the semester with class sessions one evening a week and every other Saturday. This residency was a unique occurrence, but it was a successful 10 days filled with learning and connections. The program team is excited to welcome the class of 2022 in person as soon as circumstances allow.

The Physicians Field Experience: Practical Expertise in the Classroom

Students speaking to one another in the classroomOn a daily basis, Brandeis EMBA physicians take the theoretical learning from the classroom and apply it to their clinical and administrative responsibilities. One specific course that offers these practical lessons is the Physicians Field Experience (PFE) – a 3 credit course spread over 3 semesters in which physicians have direct access to guest lecturers about current events, on the ground leadership experiences, and career related topics. This masterclass examines concrete issues students may be facing and brings experts beyond the program faculty into the classroom.

Past PFE presenters have included:

  • A headhunter at a major firm who specializes in recruiting physicians.
  • A state-level CDC director who spoke about his state’s pandemic response.
  • A former hospital CEO who turned around a hospital’s culture and brought the hospital out of significant financial difficulty.
  • An expert in negotiations and women in medicine.
  • A Heller School Associate Dean focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who led a discussion about implicit bias in medicine.
  • A community leader focused on youth violence in Boston who spoke about how to move racial justice conversations forward in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
  • An Emmy nominated media expert who gave advice for doctors handling the media during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A physician who introduced a dashboard at a New York academic medical center that increased accountability between physicians.

Angie Kloepfer-Shapiro, MD, MBA’21 partnered with PFE Professor Jon Chilingerian in working with one speaker prior to their session, helping to hone the scope of their presentation to be particularly relevant to the interests of the cohort. Dr. Kloepfer-Shapiro thinks the class “has been an incredible opportunity to interact directly with clinician and non-clinician experts from a variety of industries. PFE has helped me to refine my own approach to management and has opened my eyes to the varied roles available to physicians in leadership.”

Lori Berkowitz, MD, MBA’21 has also found the class to be particularly useful. “It’s been surprising to me how helpful the Physician Field Experience has been and how much I look forward to those classes in particular. Hearing the way in which leaders have approached challenges, as well as their careers in general, is a highlight of the MBA experience.”

The PFE is also a chance for students and alumni share their own exceptional experiences. Richard Bold, MD, MBA’20 presented to his class about leadership in times of acute crisis. He discussed his experience during California’s wildfires when he worked in a regional hospital that had to be rapidly evacuated and was subsequently destroyed. This was based on his role working with the hospital as Medical Director of Cancer Network Operations and Physician-In-Chief of the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Bold shares, “The Physician Field Experience gave me the opportunity to critically analyze how healthcare leaders make decisions in times of uncertainty, seeking information and input but remaining resolute having made difficult decisions. It allowed an evaluation of leadership styles and effectiveness of teams, decision-making under pressure and optimal interpersonal communication. It was a great opportunity to see how all the classroom lessons can be successfully applied in the real world through competent and effective leadership and provided the framework to which I aspire.”

The Executive MBA for Physicians program seeks to train physicians in the new science of medicine and management. The PFE brings those concepts to life by exposing student to professionals who navigate the intersection of those discipline.

EMBA Alum Discusses Her Advocacy Work

Below is an interview with Dr. Shaneeta Johnson, a member of the EMBA for Physicians Class of 2020 who advocates for many issues both personally and in her role as a senior fellow at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute.

Please tell us about your role. What are you responsible for?

I am an associate professor in surgery and program director for the general surgery residency program at Morehouse School of Medicine. Additionally, I am a senior fellow in the Satcher Health Leadership Institute (SHLI) with a focus on global health equity. SHLI was founded by Dr. David Satcher, the 16th US Surgeon General, to make an impact in the field of healthcare and health equity.  In my roles, I am responsible for training surgeons and preparing them for delivering surgical care to the community.  Also, I work along with SHLI to improve health equity for the community.

Please tell us about your advocacy. 

There are several areas in which I have been focused on advocating for the rights of the underserved. These include advocating for Georgians to have access to obesity treatment, working to illuminate health disparities, and elucidating the causes and possible ways to correct the disparate effects of COVID-19 on the underrepresented and underserved communities.

Through work with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, I have addressed the Pennsylvania Senate on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African-Americans and work towards implementing an action protocol to impact this community and eliminate these disparities. I’ve also had the opportunity to address the CMS Administrator and State Senatorial leadership along with other healthcare leaders regarding the impact of COVID-19 on our communities and healthcare systems.  Additionally, with a few colleagues, I published a call to action and opinion editorial in The Lancet regarding the impact of race and obesity on the mobility and mortality of COVID-19. It is a call to action for our community to save lives.

Regarding obesity healthcare coverage, I have testified to the Georgia House of Representatives on the impact of obesity on our community and the need for state coverage of bariatric surgery and obesity care. To that end, through work with the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons, Georgia Chapter, February 4 was declared Obesity Care Day in Georgia!

What would you want physicians to know who may be interested in getting involved politically?

Many of the policies that will affect our healthcare for generations to come need the voice of physicians who are practicing on the front lines. It is imperative that we are involved with policymaking and advising those who are seeking to implement policies that will impact the communities we serve. I encourage you to speak with your government leaders and advocate ardently for your patients and community.

How has the EMBA for Physicians program (and any specific skills and tools you learned) helped you at work or in your legislative work?

I have learned immensely from the EMBA for Physicians program. The greater understanding of national and state health policy, organizational management, strategic management, and all of the other classes have strengthened my drive to make a difference in the community but also improved my skills so that I may be more effective in my professional roles. I continue to work with my professors for advice and collaboration.

Is there anything else you would like to add that we have not covered here?

I am thankful to the EMBA program for the skills that it has imparted to me and look forward to further developing the skills to make a greater i

EMBA Alum Discusses His Role as CMO in an HCA Hospital

Below is an interview with Dr. Bill Killinger, CMO of a major hospital in Florida and Class of 2020 Executive MBA graduate.

Please tell us about your role. What are you responsible for?

I am the Chief Medical Officer for a large HCA hospital in Florida. It’s a great job. As CMO, I have numerous responsibilities. I am first and foremost in charge of patient safety and the quality of care delivered in my hospital. HCA makes patient safety a priority; we use over 30 dashboards to track process improvement and ensure quality. I am also accountable for driving satisfaction in three arenas: with patients, physicians, and employees.  Ensuring high levels of satisfaction in all three areas is critical to achieving our mission. The CMO has significant operational oversight for the emergency rooms and procedural areas and with overall hospital operational efficiency in terms of length of stay. As part of the executive team, I am heavily involved in financial planning and growth, and I work directly with the CEO and COO on new program development, marketing, and strategic planning. Finally, as the senior clinician, I help explain clinical matters to the Board of Trustees. I wear a lot of hats. Every day is a different challenge!

How has your work changed as a result of COVID-19?

I had been in my role as CMO for 4 months when COVID hit. I was just really learning the operations and getting to know the medical staff. Almost overnight, the world changed. We were very cognizant of the situations in Italy and in New York City. We were not sure how hard we would be hit here in our area. I was communicating with county emergency leaders almost daily and reached out to the CMOs at our competing hospital to form county-wide contingency plans. My hospital held emergency administrative meetings 7 days a week, sometimes multiple times during a day as we managed PPE, ventilator, and ICU bed shortages and scrambled to fill staffing shortfalls. It was wild. I had to organize hospital triage committees and action plans to prepare for the unthinkable prospect of an overwhelming influx of critically ill patients. We spent a lot of time with the ethics committee to ensure our triage plan was equitable in the event we were faced with a situation like in Bergamo, Italy.

We also operate a freestanding Behavioral Health hospital, which presents several unique challenges. We had to develop an entirely different strategy to keep that vulnerable population safe. Early on, we implemented universal admission testing and employee masking- well before it was recommended. Our strategy has been effective. We have had no patient deaths or serious illnesses in that hospital so far.

What have been the differences between your experience at a nonprofit and a for-profit healthcare organization?

I was initially concerned about the transition from the not-for-profit world to the corporate world. I can honestly say it has been great. We have four care standards which are central to everything we do. In order, they are safety, hospitality, empathy, and efficiency.  We take these very seriously and consider every decision first in terms of the care standards. They are the core of who we are and what we do. Patient safety is always first. Notice that efficiency is last; it’s very important but never trumps the other three standards. I actually have more safety resources here than I had in my previous institution.

How has the EMBA for Physicians program (and any specific skills and tools you learned) helped you in your CMO role? In your response to COVID-19?

The EMBA has been helpful in so many ways. The strong focus on organizational leadership was crucial. Leadership is a skill, and I learned a tremendous amount from the faculty. I had zero background in finance, and the accounting and corporate finance courses have proven to be invaluable. This I think is the key advantage of the MBA over an MHA; I understand and can actively participate in the budgeting and strategic planning for my hospital in a way I could have never done without the Brandeis program. The courses were tough but are paying big dividends (corporate finance pun!). There were so many other important courses – healthcare law and ethics, marketing, state health policy – I use the learnings from the EMBA every day.  Putting together the team consulting project gave me confidence I could navigate a complex project through to completion. The physician field experience sessions, especially the media relations seminars, were especially valuable to me. I’ve found myself unexpectedly in front of the camera or microphone several times in the last six months, and that training was worth its weight in gold.

My classmates were some of the most impressive people I’ve met. I have reached out to them on many occasions since graduation for advice. It’s a tremendous honor to be a member of this network. I would recommend this EMBA program to anyone. You will work really hard, but the faculty is great, your classmates are great, and if you put in the effort, you can do it. It’s among the best decisions I’ve made.

EMBA Alum Discusses His Experience as a Pulmonologist in New York City during the Pandemic

Head shot of Dr. Samaan RafeqDr. Samaan Rafeq, a member of the EMBA class of 2020 and a New York City interventional pulmonologist, sat down with us with to recount his story of working on the front-lines in Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Rafeq is also Fellowship Director and Associate Chief of the Interventional Pulmonary Section at NYU Langone Health, where he is responsible for day-to-day operations of the section. Below, Dr. Rafeq describes what it was like early on in the pandemic, what he has learned in case of a second surge, and how the EMBA prepared him to respond to this crisis.

How did your work as a pulmonologist change because of COVID-19?

It changed dramatically. We had to essentially stop all normal operations, including ambulatory care and elective surgeries and procedures, and focus all the attention on caring for critically ill patients that were coming into the intensive care unit with COVID-19. During that time, I was part of the airway team that performed airway procedures on ICU patients, including bronchoscopies and percutaneous tracheostomies. It was a constant flow of patients for six to eight weeks, day in and day out. Those procedures are part of what we are trained to do, but you do not expect that that would become the only thing that you do in your daily practice for that extended period of time.

What was it like working on the front line in one of the first pandemic hotspots?

It was surreal. It was a mix of emotions all at once. At first, it was as if you’re watching a sci-fi movie or something that you’ve read about in history, but not something that you would expect to be faced with during your lifetime. There was a feeling of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. There was also a sense of responsibility, and pride, as a physician helping people as much as possible.

Now that New York City is more under control, what is happening on the ground?

We are back to regular operations. Our ambulatory volume has returned to where it was pre-pandemic, which is great. I think we’re close to that level for procedures and surgeries, both on the inpatient and outpatient side. Obviously there are extra measures that are in place to ensure everyone’s safety, such as testing patients, ensuring adequate distancing within our practices, and following proper safety measures with PPE for both administrative and clinical staff.

How are you and NYC hospitals better prepared for a potential second surge?

We learned a lot from what we experienced in the height of the initial wave of the pandemic. We know much more about the disease itself and its management, including ventilation and non-invasive ventilation, thromboembolic complications, and post-ICU care. There is certainly a much better understanding medically and clinically about what we’re dealing with.

We also are better prepared to handle resource management. We’ve come to understand what is necessary to care for COVID-19 patients, so we can allocate resources better, whether that’s equipment or human resources with administrative staff and clinical staff. If there is another surge, then we know, for example, what it takes to get an ICU up and running including equipment, supplies, and human resources.

How has the EMBA program prepared you to respond to this crisis?

I thought initially that the MBA would improve my understanding of the administrative and operative parts of healthcare management, but it also made me a better clinician. I keep going back to the skills I had learned during my MBA degree – operations management, leadership, strategy. It’s amazing that when you start to put the pieces together, how everything becomes relevant to what you see on a daily basis.

What else do you want other physicians to know?

Medicine, as a clinical practice, and management are intertwined. Learning the aspects of healthcare management makes you a better clinician. At the same time, being a clinician and understanding what goes into healthcare management, makes you a better administrator, manager, and leader in your respective healthcare organization. There’s certainly an important role for physician leaders and physician executives to play in the future, not only with this pandemic but also with the healthcare system in general. I think the more people who acquire this knowledge, the better off we will be as a healthcare system and as a society. Applying what I have learned in this EMBA program in the real world has been very satisfying and rewarding.

EMBA Alum Reflects on Her Associate CMO Role in a Psychiatric Hospital during COVID-19

Headshot of Dr. SzulewskiDr. Susan Szulewski, member of the Class of 2020, recently transitioned into a brand new Associate Chief Medical Officer role at McLean Hospital. She has also kept her previous role as Medical Director of the Clinical Evaluation Center. She is an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and trains psychiatry residents, psychology interns, and medical students. Below, she discusses her new role, how the EMBA has helped her, and the implications of COVID-19 both in psychiatric hospitals and on provider mental health.

Please tell us about your new role. What are you responsible for?

Since my Associate CMO position at McLean Hospital is the first of its kind there, I had a unique and exciting opportunity to help shape some of the responsibilities. The highlight of my role is being able to partner with the 500+ credentialed medical staff to ensure high quality, evidence-based care. When I thought about the vision for this role, I wanted to keep the focus on enhancing our unique diagnosis-based care models in behavioral health and fostering that further by providing strategic direction to the physician functions. It is exciting to think of the possibilities!

Some of the routine responsibilities include working closely with the Chief Medical Officer, oversight of the hospital’s clinical service budgets, recruiting and training physicians, provider performance evaluations and metrics, clinical process improvement, physician wellbeing initiatives, as well as ensuring that all staff adhere to safety standards while delivering the highest quality of medical care. The work often involves a mixture of tasks ensuring compliance with state health policy guidelines, regulatory requirements, and utilization management. As Medical Director of the Clinical Evaluation Center, I oversee psychiatric admissions for our nine inpatient units by collaborating broadly with the Mass General Brigham (MGB) network and community emergency departments.

How has the EMBA for Physicians program helped you in your new role?

The Brandeis program provided me with the tools I need to be nimble at my job each day. My role has a daily intersection of business, strategy, quality efforts, and clinical care. The curriculum exposed me to a wide range of these topics, and I am often referencing back to things I learned during classes or pulling out notes that I had taken during lectures. Despite beginning my new role during a time of crisis, I felt confident and prepared to take on challenges. I attribute this ability to the real-world applicability of the physician-focused EMBA where core concepts are taught with instruction on implementation and execution.

Has your work changed during the response to COVID-19? If so, how?

I was involved with and led a wide range of urgent change initiatives across the institution that were brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to maintain continuity of care, we had to adopt numerous changes in a very short amount of time. Our outpatient and partial hospital levels of care transitioned to a virtual care model at a record-breaking speed. These changes required training staff to perform work in an unprecedented way for behavioral health, while ensuring all proper regulatory and privacy requirements were met. In parallel, our inpatient services learned and adopted increased infection control abilities, such as the creation of isolation rooms, proper instruction on personal protective equipment use, pre-admission testing, and protocols of how to safely maintain a COVID-19 positive patient in a freestanding psychiatric facility.

How has the program influenced the way you have responded to COVID-19?

A theme that ran through much of the EMBA course study was the importance of being a present leader. Effective, transparent communication is essential in managing a crisis. Early in the pandemic things changed on a daily basis, so it was especially important for providers to be made aware of steps and actions being taken by their leadership team to remedy issues and maintain safety.

What trends have you seen at McLean Hospital during the pandemic?

In behavioral health, we initially experienced a drastic decrease in patients seeking treatment but this started to change approximately two weeks after the peak surge in Massachusetts, resulting in a secondary mental health surge. Our inpatient psychiatric beds across the MGB system have been filled at a 99% capacity. One benefit is that the surge forced us to work in close collaboration with internal and external facilities on daily capacity and to look at all patients waiting in emergency departments and match them to appropriate open beds across the state. This need for system integration has markedly reduced the wait times for patients seeking psychiatric treatment as well as ensuring appropriate placement based on medical needs.

Many people are aware of the pandemic’s impact on mental health in the general public. What do you think the on-going mental health ramifications will be for healthcare providers?

Healthcare provider wellness and resiliency needs to be a top priority. We know that frontline providers are experiencing higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use but often with a higher reluctance to seek care versus the general population. This has an even larger impact when combined with the increase in home stressors of schools closing, fear of contaminating loved ones, and guilt associated with greater patient deaths. This highlights the need for mental health programs that are specifically focused on healthcare provider burnout and proactive plans for wellness beyond traditional programs. There is a lot of opportunity to provide a stronger safety net to support that culture for caregivers. This difficult moment in time offers the opportunity to advance our understanding of how to provide prevention-focused, population-level psychological first aid and mental health care and to emerge from this experience with new ways of doing so.

Class of 2020: Wrapping up the EMBA for Physicians Program

Zoom meeting with students, friends, and family in small squaresThis May, the Class of 2020 finished their courses and degree requirements for the Executive MBA for Physicians program. The graduating physician-leaders presented their Executive Team Consulting Project, reflected on their leadership skill development with their executive coaches, and gathered with family for a virtual graduation party. The final 10 day residency which concludes the program provides physicians time to share what they have learned and how they have applied it, gain perspective on their growth, and celebrate their achievements.

The Executive Team Consulting Project is a 16-month capstone project where EMBA students lead a team of colleagues in their organizations in addressing a significant management issue. Typically students participate in a live poster session. Although the posters were presented virtually this year, students still shared their learning and successes with their colleagues. They used training in giving concise presentations from media expert Mike Nikitas and guidelines on creating clear, effective posters from ETCP professor Dr. Sally Ourieff. Students presented on numerous types of management and business challenges within healthcare, such as the role medical scribes can play in reducing physician burnout, ways to decrease the likelihood of readmission after heart failure, and strategies to reduce wait times between referrals at a spine center.

Participants also met with their executive coaches and their learning groups to participate in a final 360 degree leadership coaching session. With the help of the executive and peer coaches, students reflected on feedback gathered from colleagues for the second time in the 16 month program. The students also gave each other feedback and analyzed the goals they set at the beginning of the program while developing further goals for the future.

After their final intensive classes and presentations, the students gathered together with faculty, family, and friends to celebrate their graduation. They heard from graduation guest speaker Daniel Dawes, JD about health equity and the social and political determinants of health. Graduates Dr. Samaan Rafeq, a pulmonologist in New York City, and Dr. Shaneeta Johnson, a bariatric surgeon in Atlanta then gave inspiring speeches about their transformative experience within the program including the lifelong network of colleagues and friends they developed with each other. The students then toasted with champagne and moved their graduation cap tassels from the right to the left.

The Executive MBA for Physicians program is proud of everything the Class of 2020 has accomplished so far and is excited to see what they do in the future. Congratulations graduates!

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