Real life learning

ProMBA program at UT prepares students to apply knowledge

Dr. Michael McIntyre, director of the University of Tennessee Professional MBA program interacts with some ProMBA students.

Dr. Michael McIntyre, director of the University of Tennessee Professional MBA program interacts with some ProMBA students.

Richard Hall

Richard Hall

Often college graduates wonder if what they learned in class will really apply in the “real world” of jobs and careers.

Richard Hall doesn’t worry about that. The Blount Memorial Hospital assistant administrator swears by the training he got through the Professional MBA program at the University of Tennessee.

One lesson in particular rings true with Hall every day. John Gallagher, who was also a professor at Maryville College, taught Hall how to communicate not only with the written word, but in “metrics,” which is using spreadsheet type formats to convey critical information.

Hall got a spark in his eyes as he explained the relevance of the information in each box of a spreadsheet on his computer monitor. The way he learned to process information helps him see what’s happening even when he’s not in the hospital.

“You can get a feel for the flow,” he said. “In an emergency room or on a patient care floor or any department in a hospital, the numbers are like a living thing. Those metrics are vital signs for how that thing is reacting in any given situation.”

If patient flow suddenly escalates, and there is a patient flow crisis, Hall said he can manage it remotely if he has to do so. “It gives you eyes into what’s going on independently. You don’t have to be there to know we’ve got floors empty, beds available and staff available,” he said. “You can move people around and get things taken of.”

The metrics and spreadsheets and information he gleans translates into patient care, Hall said. “We want all arrows pointing the same way and want everyone focused on maximizing the wellness of people in our community.”

Hall shared his thoughts on other lessons he learned through the Professional MBA program and through his many mentors. The Professional MBA program, Hall said, has been of the greatest value in shaping his professional life.

Hall said he started the Professional MBA program in 1999 while at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge and finished in 2001 at Blount Memorial Hospital. “I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t been part of that program. It is true that the people who have mentored me are every bit as important as the tools I got in the program. My current boss taught me more than I could’ve ever learned in an academic setting, but I had to have that foundation to see how it all that pertained to what I was learning.”

Hall said the 16-month program doesn’t instantly make you ready to run any aspect of business in any industry. “It’s the foundation that helps you take it to the next level as far as your career. You have to have some academic foundation under you, and this program gives you an academic foundation.”

Hall said he got involved with the program because he grew tired of constantly asking questions about revenue and expenses when administration would tell him to cut staffing.

“I would ask questions about expenses and revenue and ask if there was another way to manage expenses without cutting staffing,” he said. “I didn’t like the answers and didn’t understand enough about what the finance folks were talking about to make my point effectively.”

He learned about the ProMBA program through a friend and was impressed with the program. “It was impressive. The curriculum was very interesting. It was more than just, ‘This is the culture of health care.’ It was, ‘This is how Toyota makes a buck. This is how McDonald’s provides customer service and this is how Dell Computers controls cost and keeps thing efficient,’” he said.

Hall said the program also focuses on lean thinking and strategic management. “It has an emphasis on finance, which is what I wanted,” he said.

Hall said all the instructors came from different industries and did a good job of holding the students’ attention. “That made it easier to learn things outside my usual scope. It was a struggle at times, relating things I learned there to what I was doing in health care. There was about 20 percent of the curriculum that was purely health-care related, so there was some emphasis in health care,” he said.

The hospital executive said the program also allows students to actually work on projects that are part of their work. Hall came to Blount Memorial as a director of operational efficiency. “It was a created position for someone to work on projects and make sure customer service was where it needed to be and operational throughput or patient flow was good, and people weren’t sitting in lobby,” he said.

Hall took on a variety of projects after graduating the program, including building the surgical program for the bariatric surgery program and making sure the outpatient diabetes program was certified through the federal government so the hospital could get reimbursed.

“I got to use things I learned in the MBA program and when my predecessor retired, she recommended me for her job. I was in the right place at the right time and had done the things I needed to take advantage of the opportunity,” Hall said. “I don’t think I would have been ready or had the background or preparation to do this job if I had not been through the Pro MBA program.”

Hall likened the knowledge he picked up through the program to a toolbox. “It’s always dependent on what you do with the tools in the toolbox, but I wouldn’t have had the tools if it had not been for the program. I use those thought processes and teachings on almost a daily basis,” he said.

Something else that stuck with him was the attitude of co-worker Doris Carrigan. “She would say, ‘We’ll be successful the majority of the time if we will keep our focus at the bedside.’ That struck a chord with me. I use it just about every meeting. When we make decisions I hold them up against that idea. Does that fit? Are we keeping our focus at the bedside?”

The assistant administer said lean thinking is another aspect of the program that professors stress. “There’s waste in every service industry and health care is no exception. No matter what we do, there will always be some waste, and we have to minimize it,” he said. “In health care it takes a long training process so we have to anticipate volume, look at trends and do a better job every year of meeting the needs of people in the community. We’re here for the community’s benefit.”

As chief nurse executive and assistant administrator over patient care delivery, he has 820 people in his division and 16 people who report directly to him. He has the Emergency Department, the operating room, all patient care floors, Morningview Assisted Living, the Transitional Care Center, hospice and home care.

Hall has been at Blount Memorial Hospital eight years. When he first got into the Pro MBA program in 1999, it took some time to get back into the swing of being a student.

“You have to prioritize your time so you can succeed in academics while still holding down a full-time job, but it was good,” he said. “Over time, you start getting back into the flow, and you kind of miss it when you get out and wonder what you’re going to do with all your time. You don’t sleep much when you’re in the program.”

Dr. Michael McIntyre, director of the Pro MBA Program, said this is the eleventh year for the program. “This is Class 11, and it’s crazy rigorous. Everyone in the program has demanding full-time jobs and families and travel schedules, and they have to commit to coming to class three of four Saturdays a month, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 16 months, so it’s a great group of committed, energetic, enthusiastic folks. They feed off each other. Everyone starts together and ends together,” he said.

In addition to the Saturdays on campus, students are required to be online approximately two Tuesdays each month from 7 to 10 p.m. Students can access this from where ever they may be.

“The attendance is amazing. (In Class 10) we had 10 people who never missed a minute of class and 90 percent who made it to all but one class. It’s crazy. They invest a lot of time and money and take it seriously and work hard. It’s very rewarding,” he said. “We get people who are experts at what they do and very accomplished in their current roles, and they’re trying to get ready for that next level.”

The director said the program is a general management curriculum. “We assume folks have no business background and that’s true for about 50 percent of the class. They come in without a business education background, so we cover accounting, finance, economics, strategy, marketing and operations,” he said. “The way we teach it is by asking ‘What does a manager need to know about these topics? It’s all focused on managerial decision-making. We’re not getting into picky details; we’re focused on management. The students work on projects related to their organization throughout the program from very the beginning. There’s a stream of related projects.”

McIntyre said the students find the curriculum interesting. They get to apply it to their own situation, which makes going through the learning process beneficial to the organizations. “We have these students working as consultants for 16 months with the backup of faculty. Typically these projects develop real value to the company,” he said. “We tell students we want them to make big, positive impacts on their companies.”

McIntyre said most students come in knowing their areas well but don’t see the big picture and haven’t had exposure to the big picture or to customers. “This helps students connect the dots. From the onset, we make them think about what industry their company competes in and who their competitors are and what the market forces and economic forces are,” he said. “We stretch them in the beginning and make them get out of their comfort zone.”

The director said the program costs $35,000 for the 16 months. “The return on investment for students is outstanding. The options and opportunities it creates for students pay off over and over again,” he said. “The impact on the companies is big. The students really develop great business plans for their companies. Many of the companies will implement the plans students develop. You have that benefit, and 50 percent of our students will be promoted within a year of graduating.”

McIntyre said the staff doesn’t take full credit for their students’ success. “We get good students, and they do good things,” he said. “We had a gentleman whi quadrupled his salary in 18 months after the program. He was promoted twice and ended up with huge responsibilities for running a business unit.”

The director said the job market now is very competitive. “Having an MBA is a good thing for people.”

Students are employed at such local companies such as Denso, Blount Memorial Hospital and Clayton. “We have students from Maryville College, Sea Ray, Marriott Business Services, Y-12, ORNL and Eastman as well as your small operations and entrepreneurs,” McIntyre said. “Our students come from all companies in the region.”

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