2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Chris Strachan, Indiana University (Kelley)

Chris Strachan

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Age: 55

“I’m a loyal, dedicated, hard-working leader of clinical emergency medicine.”

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Family Members: I’ve been married to my wife, Cindy, for almost 26 years. Our son, Jake, is finishing a Brain and Behavioral Science degree at Purdue University with plans to pursue medicine. Our daughter, Jordan, is finishing her first year at Indiana University and is exploring the field of Youth Development.

Fun fact about yourself: I was a non-traditional medical student. I took four years after college to work and gain management experience before entering medical school. I worked my way up the ladder at a home improvement store in Chicago, and with the support of a mentor, I progressed through the leadership track. Ultimately, I entered medical school. The time between college and medical school taught me about leading people, payroll/management, conflict, negotiations, and the retail space.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • BS in Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • MD at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago
  • MBA at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business (Physician MBA Program)

Where are you currently working? I’m the Executive Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Health Physicians. Additionally, I was recently promoted to Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I am honored to be the first emergency medicine physician to receive the Evans Fellowship in Health Care Leadership from IU School of Medicine to support my MBA studies. I’m also proud to have been nominated by my peers to become the first emergency medicine physician to receive the John Fitzgerald Leadership Award at IU Health Physicians. This award is presented to an IU Health Physician who exemplifies leadership traits such as putting patients first, serving leadership, humble integrity, and decision making that benefits the healthcare system.

The community work I am most deeply involved in is my role as the longest-serving medical team manager for the Indiana Task Force 1 – Urban Search and Rescue Team. This FEMA team is composed of emergency responders from public safety and private sector agencies trained to respond to local and national emergencies. During my time on this team, I’ve responded to disasters such as the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, Hurricane Katrina, and Surfside condominium collapse in Miami in June 2021. This is an amazing team, and I take great pride in our response to disasters across the country. I have been recognized for the work in this group by state and federal lawmakers.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The two things I am most proud of during my time in business school are 1) starting and successfully completing a rigorous MBA program during a global pandemic and 2) earning a promotion to Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the IU School of Medicine. The latter requires a great deal of additional academic work and six months of preparing a full dossier on my efforts. It was mutually beneficial with my studies. A course in the Kelley Physician MBA Program required me to create a LinkedIn profile and build a résumé (in addition to a CV), which allowed me to apply my new-found business skills across functions.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not simply go away because I was enrolled in an MBA program. On the contrary, it was an incredibly busy and taxing time to manage both emergency medicine responsibilities and a challenging executive MBA program. COVID-19 appeared in Indiana in March 2020, and my courses began six months later. During this time, I also served as the IU Department of Emergency Medicine Commander for our ED specific Incident Command System. I manage 150 physicians and 50 advanced practice providers in a clinical arena spanning 10 hospitals, which amount to about 400,000 emergency department encounters each year. I am very proud of both my clinical and academic achievements during this time.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud that have I continued to work clinical emergency medicine for more than 26 years and that I lead my team by example. I don’t ask anything of my colleagues that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I still work clinical shifts, and I try to lead in a way I would want to be led. Despite the adversity I have faced, I’ve been able to keep my head up, and I’ve been recognized for these efforts. My teams appreciate my integrity and professionalism, which means a great deal to me.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Ken Carow, Professor of Finance and Executive Associate Dean of Faculty and Research at the Kelley School of Business. Ken is an unbelievably knowledgeable professor who’s incredibly approachable. A course like finance has the potential to be very dry, and yet Ken turns it into an engaging experience that makes me want to learn more.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The decision to enroll in the Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business was a natural extension of where I am currently. I’m already a faculty member at IU, so it’s within the IU family; it’s located in my backyard, and it’s a nationally-recognized program. I know many people who’ve completed this program and recommend it. This includes very close friends in emergency medicine and other specialties. I didn’t need to waste valuable time doing a nationwide search of programs when I knew I had an excellent program right here in my community.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Within each course in the Physician MBA Program, there is a specific takeaway I’m able to draw upon. From the very first course—Professor Nir Minachemi’s class on the “Anatomy and Physiology of the U.S. Healthcare System”—I learned more about Medicare and Medicaid than I’ve ever known before. It was a topic I had simply relegated to not being able to understand. I’m currently in “Conflict Resolution & Negotiation,” and I deal with conflicts every day. Just this morning, I was talking with a colleague using techniques I learned in conflict negotiations, such as pauses and mirroring. I’m able to use a little bit of every single course in my daily work.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? When you start the Physician MBA Program, Program Director Susannah Gillan Gawor warns you repeatedly to not take vacation during the finance course because you won’t be able to catch up. You must not take vacation during finance: we all circle it on our calendars. Around this time, the COVID-19 surge was happening. Plus, I’m balancing family life, having just moved my daughter to college and helping her adjust. Amid all this, the condominium collapse happens in Surfside, Florida, and our Search and Rescue team was deployed in what, ultimately, became the longest mission I’ve served on the team. During some of these missions, you might spend time on the computer, but this one was entirely field work. I’d spend 12 hours a day on the rubble pile doing recovery work, followed by paperwork and, finally, sleep. This repeated constantly for two weeks, including one weekend the MBA hosted a live residency. All of this happened during the finance course. I was flabbergasted.

When I enrolled in the program, I’d shared with Susannah my role on the Search and Rescue team and that I could take a leave of absence from it, but typically we would only deploy every other year. Then, the Surfside collapse happened. My family and employer are very supportive of the Search and Rescue work, and the Physician MBA Program was incredibly supportive, as well. Professors and program staff offered me deadline extensions and additional support. I decided I didn’t want to get behind or take on an extension, so when I returned, I spent two solid weeks catching up on coursework in addition to my usual Vice Chair work, and it was a monumental task. It was helpful that COVID had moved the residency sessions to a virtual format, so I could watch the videos seamlessly. This was probably the most stressful time I experienced during the MBA program, but my family, work colleagues, and the MBA program faculty and staff all came together to support me through it. I think that’s something I took home: The people in Physician MBA Program want you to be successful.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? You are more than capable of doing this. And do it sooner rather than later. The life lessons you’ll pick up and the benefits you’ll earn from having the MBA will be significant in future leadership positions. You’re learning a whole new set of skills you can’t get without going through this program.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? You don’t have time to do it. Everybody has time to do it; it’s just a matter of managing that time appropriately. My cohort earned our MBAs at a really difficult time: COVID, Zoom sessions, and changes in managing family obligations. Everyone did it in an extremely difficult time, but we did it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My only regret with this entire experience is that I wish I’d done it 10 years earlier because I could’ve been so much more advanced than I am now. I’ve been in administration in one form or another since 2008, and I wish I’d done it in 2010. Having this experience a couple years into my administrative work would have given me a decade to put those skills to use in a more efficient way.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Steve Roumpf, MD, the medical director for IU Health Methodist Hospital – the busiest site of the Emergency Departments at IU Health. When a COVID-19 surge happens in a community, it shows up in the hospital through its emergency department doors. Steve has had an incredible amount of work surrounding COVID that took his attention elsewhere, and he was able to manage all of it along with the MBA. We pride ourselves on not missing deadlines, and Steve has done fabulously.

On a personal level, I know what Steve’s going through with the MBA, and I appreciate him. We work together each day, and we enrolled in the Physician MBA Program at the same time. We understand what each other is going through, and having a familiar partner go through the program alongside you creates such an amazing collaboration. We keep one another on track. I might say, ‘Hey don’t forget there’s a Zoom session tonight.’ I had similar rapport with all 30 physicians in the MBA cohort (We have our own Facebook group and group text.), but I deeply understand Steve’s experience. I admire him for his hard work.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose the Physician MBA Program because it is more healthcare-focused than other programs. It’s designed specifically for physicians, so we all face similar struggles and experiences. It’s important to learn business through the lens of healthcare, but you’re also learning alongside a group of physicians from different specialties, which enrichens the learning experience. It creates a lot of camaraderie because you’re all struggling with the same issues in medicine. We’ve become such a tight-knit group, despite COVID preventing us from meeting in person for the first year of the program. I think we benefited from that, though, because we were forced to find different ways of communicating with each other. It made it much better when we could finally meet on campus in person each month.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? While I try not to pigeonhole myself in terms of declaring my ideal position, I aim to be opportunistic with what’s available. In the last six months of the MBA, we receive executive coaching, and my coach asked a similar question. I said, “Well I’m very happy with where I am; I enjoy what I do. I’ve had this position for a few years now, and I’m comfortable doing what I do. I’m not really actively looking.” She said something that will always stick with me. Coach Jennifer Robin said, “Oh, so then you’re passively looking. You’re either actively looking or you’re being opportunistic in waiting.” Through this MBA and through the promotion process, I’ve learned how valuable I am, and anyone who goes through this program is because physician MBAs are a rare breed.

What made Dr. Strachan such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“I taught Chris Strachan in fall 2020 in the accounting course of our Physician MBA program. I have taught this course for nine years, and while all the students in this program are exceptional and a joy to work with, Chris stands out in my memories for a couple of reasons. First, in one of my assignments, I ask the physicians to write a memo about a budgeting shortfall and how it should be handled. Chris came up with a solution that neither I nor any other student has ever considered. He suggested we allow the physicians to own their productivity in a very transparent way. In addition to this interaction, he and I traveled together to Puerto Rico for the Physician MBA’s “Global Healthcare Experience” course in February 2022. We were together for much of our time there, and I got to know him much better. He was always engaged and thoughtful, and his contributions always improved our site visits. I recommend Chris for this honor with highest enthusiasm.”

Reed Smith
Professor of Accounting at the IU Kelley School of Business


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