Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the University of Tennessee’s Physician Executive MBA (PEMBA) program can point to a roster of graduates who have made their schooling pay off by improving the quality of patient care.

One graduate has helped an emergency room in a large urban hospital in Michigan reduce admit time from 23 hours to 90 minutes. Another has helped an endoscopy center in Ohio reduce wait time for cancer screening results from seven days to 48 hours. Yet another has helped a breast diagnostic center in Palo Alto, Calif., reduce diagnostic time between lump discovery and lab results from four weeks to two days.

“Healthcare came late to the quality conversation,” said Mike Stahl, director of the program. “But when it did arrive, it jumped in with both feet. Physicians are thirsting for knowledge about how to run patient-centered practices that improve patient outcomes, eliminate redundancies, shorten patient wait times, put an end to reworks, simplify paperwork and save space.”

Since the PEMBA program began in 1998, about 250 physicians have graduated from the program, equipped with skills ranging from business plan creation to organizational change. They represent 38 states and an arc of international addresses, from countries as culturally diverse as Saudi Arabia and Korea.

“It’s the most diverse student population in the university,” Stahl said.

Later this month, about 50 graduates of the program, representing every alumni class and from as far away as Germany, will gather in Knoxville for a reunion. Instead of focusing on social activities, the physicians want the April 27-28 gathering to be a series of working sessions on improving the quality of health care. Topics will include applying the concepts of lean to health care, improving the quality of delivered care through the eyes of the patient to avoid malpractice, a discussion of entrepreneurial ventures designed and started by physicians, and information technology improvements in health care.

The PEMBA program, offered within the College of Business Administration’s Center for Executive Education, blends four, one-week residences with online interactive learning. It is the only MBA program of its kind, organized so that doctors can stay fully engaged in their careers while earning their degrees.

For three years in a row, Modern Physician and Modern Healthcare magazines have called it “the #1 MBA program exclusively for physicians.”

Along with a curriculum of planning, entrepreneurship, ethics, finance, information design and leadership, PEMBA physicians also get a healthy dose of lean management principles that they can apply immediately to their own workplace initiatives.

“The results are absolutely measurable,” Stahl said. “Once our physicians look at their operations from an enterprise perspective or from a supply chain perspective, it radically shifts the way they think about how to improve service.

“Leadership development is embedded in this curriculum,” Stahl said. “We use insightful testing techniques to identify a physician’s strengths, including simulated confrontations with a difficult employee we call ‘Christine.’ She’s actually one of our doctoral students in industrial/organizational psychology who is acting out the part.”

Here are some of PEMBA graduates’ comments about the program:

• Dr. Herman Gray, a 2003 graduate and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan: “It helps you see the world from a different perspective — as a physician leader with an analytical approach to business.”
• Dr. Jody Crane, a 2004 graduate and a director of emergency medicine in Fredericksburg, Va.: “(The MBA) will pay for itself in more ways than you can imagine.”
• Dr. Bruce Meyer, a 1999 graduate: “UT’s Physician Executive MBA remains the best investment I ever made.” Meyer is vice president for medical affairs, associate dean, and executive director of the faculty practice plan at the University of Texas Southwestern.

Cindy Raines, (865) 974-4359,
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,