How One Physician Is Using His MBA to Improve Patient Care

For a growing number of physicians, holding a medical degree and understanding the scientific side of medicine just isn't enough anymore. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and other significant changes to the industry, physicians like Adam Brown are now pursuing MBAs so they can understand the business side of medicine and provide better patient care in the process.

"The MBA has been invaluable. I have been given exponential levels of responsibility, and yes, improved income since starting and completing the program." For the latter, he credits Alison Fragale, professor of Negotiations, for "talking with me at length about my contract negotiations for my current job and helping me beat my own expectations for compensation."

When Brown started MBA@UNC, he was working as associate medical director of an emergency medical department in Illinois. Within a year of starting the program, though, he was offered a position as medical director of a moderate-sized emergency department in Washington, D.C. After he completed his MBA, Brown was promoted to regional medical director with EmCare's North Division, covering the D.C. and northern Virginia area.

Starting in his new hospital positions, Brown recognized that others might see their new boss as a threat. “Using techniques from Developing Management and Leadership Skills, I developed strong relationships with both the physician/provider team, nursing team and hospital executives. Despite the initial concerns, I was quickly viewed as a genuine, competent leader whose interests were the lives of patients and those of the providers treating those patients. Today, I am using operational and financial skills to improve our hospitals’ metrics, and therefore, improve the patient’s quality of care and experience,” says Brown.

Brown is also a medical director at United Medical Center and system chief of emergency medicine at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, working as an emergency medicine attending physician at both. As if that weren't enough to keep him busy, he's also an adjunct assistant professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and senior scholar at the Office of Clinical Practice Improvement at GW.

Brown says he was able to apply the classroom lessons from MBA@UNC to real-life situations almost immediately. When he noticed that operational inefficiencies caused long waits for emergency room patients, Brown sprang into action. "Using some of the ideas and teachings from our Operations Management class, I was able to implement various principles that significantly improved operational metrics," he explains. "From our Marketing Strategy, Analysis and Development class, I used new ideas to promote the emergency department in the community."

I believe my program was better than any 'brick-and-mortar' programs because the university brought together leaders and educators from across the globe, which would have otherwise been inhibited by geography," he says. "The classroom sizes were small—less than 16—with face-to-face interactions with world-class professors and students. I challenge anyone to find a program where she or he could say every class in business school was a class size less than 16.

Brown points out that improving efficiency and turnaround times not only improves the hospital's bottom line, but also patients' health care outcomes. "Using the principles from Operations Management, I have been able to have a significant impact on thousands of patients' lives," Brown says.

In addition to helping Brown polish his leadership and management skills, the program even helped him learn accounting and finance. "Ashraf Jaffer, my accounting professor, spent numerous Saturday mornings helping with accounting, working through problems, and at times, giving me advice on various managerial accounting questions for my current job," Brown says. "While I am a great physician and strong business leader, an accountant I am not. However, now the hospital's CFO frequently sees me as a reliable source of information."

Through MBA@UNC, Brown has also built a stronger professional network. In fact, he recently hosted six colleagues at his home. "Each of us continue to stay connected by phone, social networking and in person," Brown says.

One of the greatest benefits of the program is the broad net of alumni and classmates scattered across the U.S. and the world. There are few metropolitan areas in the U.S. where I do not have a close friend or colleague.

Brown encourages other physicians contemplating a business degree to consider MBA@UNC.