CMO advances to payer side of healthcare after earning Kelley Physician MBA

The sum of our careers can be imagined as several moments that shape our professional trajectory. One of those pivotal moments for Joel Spear, MD, MBA’17, occurred when he enrolled in the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

“Earning my MBA at Kelley was a defining moment in my career,” he said. “The friendships and career development I gained during those two years were incredible. I became confident that my new credentials would support me as I moved into a new role.”

He was considering a new role on the payer side of healthcare. Dr. Spear had been a provider his whole career and was intrigued by courses at Kelley that explored the payer aspects of healthcare.

“These courses caused a stimulating discussion and gave me greater perspective on the business side of medicine,” he said. “I was interested in learning more about healthcare beyond the provider experience.”

As a chief medical officer and infectious disease specialist with more than 25 years of experience, Dr. Spear wasn’t necessarily looking for a promotion when he enrolled in the Physician MBA Program at Kelley. The Chicago-based physician had plenty of administrative experience, but he felt he’d advanced to that role without any preparation for being in the C-suite. 

“I realized I had moved into an executive-level position without having executive-level credentials,” he said. “I sought an MBA so I could excel as a CMO. I wanted to be able to understand a balance sheet and know what people were talking about when they discussed depreciation.”

With a full-time executive job located three hours from Indianapolis, Dr. Spear ultimately decided that the physician-only MBA program offered by the top-ranked Kelley School of Business was the right choice for his continuing education—and worth the commute.

I realized I had moved into an executive-level position without having executive-level credentials. I sought an MBA so I could excel as a CMO.  

Joel Spear, MD, MBA'17

“I know there are online MBAs available, but Kelley’s in-class experience takes this MBA to a whole different level,” he said. “The camaraderie and friendships I developed with other physicians, the rich discussion that occurred every single time we were together, and the powerful networking are invaluable. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.”

During the Physician MBA Program, Dr. Spear sharpened his executive presence and business skills. He found the teamwork and group presentations to be helpful tools for physicians who normally function as autonomous leaders. In fact, he found the courses on leadership to be particularly insightful for better defining such a role.

“A leader is someone people want to follow. Simply being in charge doesn’t mean people want to follow you. This is a very distinct difference that the Physician MBA courses illuminated dramatically for me,” he said. “Just because you’re positioned at the top doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a leader.”

Kelley Physician MBAs stop for a photo during the Global Healthcare Studies course in Cuba.

While at Kelley, Dr. Spear studied the healthcare system in Cuba during an elective Global Healthcare Studies course. The class examined the medical system in Cuba and then traveled to the country for a 14-day tour of healthcare facilities and discussions with medical officials. Dr. Spear called it eye opening.

“I expected Cuba to be a chaotic, developing country where medicine was behind the times,” he said. “The reality is that they’ve learned how to survive without U.S. technology and still deliver very reasonable healthcare. The Cuban healthcare structure—which focuses on primary care with specialized care only as needed—is the model that American medicine is trying to develop.”

After he graduated from the program, Dr. Spear’s organization underwent dramatic changes, and he recognized it was time to move on. He relied upon the Physician MBA career coaching course and the work he’d done with his personal coach, Chuck Stoner. They’d strategized how to make the right transition at the right time, and by utilizing the program’s career coaching course, Dr. Spear modernized his résumé and bolstered his LinkedIn profile.

“A leader is someone people want to follow. Simply being in charge doesn’t mean people want to follow you."