Why I decided to get an MBA after becoming a private practice gastroenterologist

onegi trademark

It was my dream from an early age to become a physician. Even as a child I was fascinated by medical procedures and interventions. As I pursued my medical degree, I became increasingly interested in a career where I could integrate patient care and the latest innovations in technology.

Dr. Vasu Appalaneni

Training in gastroenterology has provided me an exciting mix of patient care and procedures, with medical devices and technologies that are constantly evolving. As I began my career, I joined Dayton Gastroenterology, a private practice affiliated with GI fellowship at Wright State University, Fairborn, Ohio, because the practice provided an opportunity to care for patients, train GI fellows, and provide employment opportunities to the community I serve.

After spending so many years to become an expert in medicine and then training in gastroenterology, it might have seemed daunting to go back to school to get an education in another field. But we all know the medical environment is constantly changing – in the last decade dramatically so, in technology as well as in how groups are organizing themselves in response to health care consolidation and other external forces. Developing expertise in both medicine and business can prepare physicians to be better advocates and leaders as health care continues to change.

The importance of understanding the business of health care

Consolidation in health care has increasingly impacted private practices, with more primary care and specialty physicians being employed by hospitals. In some areas of the country, this has affected the flow of patient referrals to independent GI practices, and these practices must now adapt to continue serving their communities. This is being amplified by the increasing demands for patient services coupled with staffing issues and reimbursement cuts.

These challenges have resulted in some smaller practices joining local hospitals systems. Others have come together to form larger groups or managed services organizations (MSO), and some have partnered with private equity firms to compete in response to these market forces.

During our training and education in medical school, we aren’t taught how to run a successful practice. We aren’t taught how to bring together different industry partners, collaborators, and payers or how to build patient-centric practice models. But sometimes the best method of learning is by doing, and my experiences during the merger of Dayton Gastroenterology with One GI, a physician-focused MSO with practices in six states, was invaluable.

That merger process taught me a lot about how companies are valued, the nuances in determining deal flow, networking, human capital, and everything else involved in how a transaction takes place. I developed a greater understanding about how to develop and build successful large practices, with improved employee satisfaction, company culture, and great patient experience.

Developing a positive practice culture

It was during the process of partnering with One GI and during the pandemic that I decided to pursue my desire to get a formal business education, and I’m glad I did. The executive MBA program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University allowed me to gain an in-depth understanding of various aspects of business, finance, accounting, marketing, leadership, governance, organizational transformation, negotiations, and so much more, all while continuing to work full time as a gastroenterologist in private practice.

We met for classes in-person each month over the course of four days. There were also live and recorded virtual sessions in between each monthly class. The program was rigorous, but worth it. Connecting with leaders from different industries and learning from exceptional professors alongside these professionals was an invaluable experience.

Two of the most vital things I learned were the importance of team building and development of a company culture that will sustain an organization over the long term. I learned management strategies to empower employees, governance best practices, and how to align the interests of internal and external stakeholders.

Anyone can buy a practice, and anyone can merge their practice into a larger entity, but it is critical to understand the components of a successful integration. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. You can have the best minds, develop the best processes, but if there is not a strong culture with the alignment of physicians, staff, and practice management, even the best strategies can easily fail.

What to look for in joining a practice

As physicians, we all want to be the best at what we do. It’s important to be intentional about what you value and how you would like to shape your career. When considering which practice you might join, there are several things to consider, such as the location, medical needs of the community, and services offered by the practice. Equally important is understanding how the practice is managed.

Does the practice promote growth opportunities for its physicians and staff? Are there governance structures and processes in place to empower and retain talented staff? What values does the practice portray? Is there a buy-in or buy-out when becoming a partner in the practice, and are there equity opportunities? These are just some of many questions early-career physicians should ask.

My MBA helped me become a better leader

A physician understands the needs of delivering exceptional medical care, the challenges involved, and the resources required. Increasing the depth and breadth of our knowledge is power. Good people make good organizations, but great people make great organizations. Those of us who are on the front lines are the best advocates for our patients and other frontline workers. We can become powerful advocates and leaders when we better understand how business trends and other external forces affect our ability to care for the patients in the future.

Pursuing a business education provides a strong foundation for physician leaders who have strong analytical intuition and focus on patient-centric practice models. If you are considering a career in private practice and are interested in practice management or growing a practice, an MBA or similar educational programs will provide an understanding of finance, accounting, and other business-related fields that can enable physicians to become agile and empathic leaders.

Dr. Appalaneni is a practicing gastroenterologist at Dayton Gastroenterology in Ohio. She is Executive Vice President of Clinical Innovation at One GI, a physician-led managed services organization. Dr. Appalaneni has no conflicts to declare.

About One GI®

One GI® is a gastroenterology management services organization that partners with GI physicians to help them manage, optimize, and grow their practices. One GI® provides critical business services to physicians so they can focus on what they do best: providing excellent care to patients. For additional information on One GI®, please visit www.onegi.com.

About Webster Equity Partners

Founded in 2003, Webster Equity Partners is a private equity firm that partners with healthcare service companies with a focus on high impact growth strategies based on delivering the highest quality care and exceptional service. For additional information on Webster Equity Partners, including a complete list of companies, please visit www.websterequity

Mary Mackey