Reed Smith knows accounting. A professor at the Kelley School of Business, Smith has been teaching and researching in accounting for 34 years. He’s a Fullbright Scholar, chairperson of Kelley’s Graduate Accounting Programs, an international accounting expert and the Katz, Sapper, and Miller LLP Faculty Fellow.
In 2012, Smith was looking for the “next big step” in his career. Little did he know, he would learn a whole new way to teach accounting.
That same year, the Kelley School began to build an MBA program specifically for physicians.
“I was looking for that next big challenge and I thought teaching in this program would be formidable and time-consuming,” said Smith. “I discussed it with my wife Sharon, who’s a retired nurse, and she said, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Smith began formulating what an accounting course for physicians should look like: identifying the relevant, critical principles and deciding how to impart technical and non-medical concepts to an experienced physician audience. From the start, he felt this program was deeply critical to the future of healthcare in the United States.
“The fact that physicians aren’t the ones running hospitals is a major problem within our society. As a result, hospitals aren’t operating from a patient-centric perspective because business people don’t get it,” he said. “I understand it more now than I did back then, but I’m an accountant, I’m not a physician. I’m not deeply acquainted with the aspects of medicine that truly matter. My greatest goal going into this was to empower physicians to take over healthcare.”
Smith’s accounting class is the very first course physicians take in the Kelley Physician MBA program. He says he’s learned a few things about teaching experienced physicians that differ from teaching traditional business students.
“First of all, I hate to refer to it as ‘teaching,’ because I’m simply helping to guide these physicians in their own search for information. I see myself more as a coach than a teacher,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is to never open up a topic for discussion unless I’m willing to take a deep dive, because physicians don’t do anything halfway. They go 100%.”
Similarly, he says physicians don’t simply take his word for it when he explains an accounting concept. Much like their approach to the study of medicine, physician students need to fully understand the mechanics of a topic before they accept and internalize the lesson.
“They don’t want to just memorize lessons,” he said. “Physician students must understand how the heart pumps the blood through the body and how the blood is oxygenated. Similarly, they want to understand how accounting works and why it works the way it does. It’s so much fun to teach.”