Physician MBA candidates get a firsthand look at healthcare policy and politics in D.C.

Medical education
More doctors are going to back to school to learn the business of healthcare.

They couldn’t have picked a better time to be studying about healthcare policy. This week, a group of doctors—all candidates to receive their MBA degree—are in Washington to meet with policymakers and regulators.

Spending the week in the nation’s capital while healthcare and the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act are dominating the political discussion is "pretty neat,” John LaGoria, M.D., told FierceHealthcare. LaGoria is an anesthesiologist who is associate director of quality and safety for Mercy Health in Muskegan, Michigan.

About 40 physicians from around the country, including LaGoria, are taking part in a course on healthcare policy at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business’s physician MBA program.

Viewing the inner workings

“The big takeaway for me is learning about the policy-making process from the basics of legislation to advocacy. In my practice in Michigan, we’re being challenged by healthcare policy issues,” LaGoria told FierceHealthcare.

The doctors made a stop on the floor on the floor of the House of Representatives and are meeting with various D.C. policymakers and today will visit the Federal Trade Commission and Congressional Budget Office (CBO). They're talking to policymakers about the Republican effort to repeal the ACA and what the change could mean for them and their patients.

While doctors feel the impact of the healthcare policies decided in D.C., many don’t know much about how the decisions get made.

“We’re learning how things work. It’s quite enlightening for most of us,” says Gary Drillings, M.D., a private practice orthopedic surgeon in Wayne, New Jersey.

Getting politically active

For at least one of the doctors, the visit has opened her eyes about the importance of political activism. “Physician practices and healthcare organizations are often apolitical,” said Karen Cabell, D.O., chief quality officer at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

But she worries about the CBO’s prediction that 23 million Americans will lose their health insurance by 2026 if the House’s American Health Care Act becomes law, as well as the possibility of decreased revenues that will put pressure on rural healthcare.

It’s a balancing act between maintaining high quality and reducing the cost of care, said LaGoria. “What’s important to me is that we provide affordable and accessible care."

Preparing to lead

All three doctors, who will graduate in August from the program, said they decided to seek an MBA to learn more about the business side of healthcare—something they didn’t learn in medical school.

When she was called on to take over the duties of another administrative leader at Kootenai Health, Cabell said she felt ill-prepared to deal with responsibilities such as capital budgeting and developing strategy.

Drillings said he has been in practice since 1991 and wanted to take on more of a leadership role.

“I felt the way healthcare was heading, I needed some new knowledge and information,” he said, so he could participate in conversations with administrators and people deciding policy.

About 82 physicians are now enrolled in the two-year MBA program for doctors at Indiana University, said director Susannah Gawor. They decided to go back to school to better serve the patients at their hospitals and healthcare systems. The average age of the students is 45, but they range in age from their mid-thirties to late sixties. On average, they completed their residency about 17 years ago.

Today, more physicians are putting both M.D. and M.B.A. credentials after their names. In 2000, there were fewer than 20 MBA programs for doctors, but today the number has more than doubled.