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Seeking greater impact, physician becomes a strategist and communicator

Adam Brown

The modern American healthcare system is complex and requires leaders who can balance patients’ needs with business demands. They manage teams of doctors, nurses and administrators while recognizing financial restraints.

“There must be a physician at the boardroom table who also understands both the medicine and the business,” says Dr. Adam Brown (MBA ’13), founder of ABIG Health.

While he was a doctor specializing in emergency medicine, Brown realized his limited understanding of public policies and their financial implications. Armed with a desire to improve more patients’ lives, he set out to find a rigorous, prestigious MBA program to develop a new skillset while continuing to practice medicine.

He also was looking for a program that could help him lead with heart when he found UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA@UNC program. After growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Brown knew about the Business School’s culture and leadership in both teaching and scholarship.

“The personality of our program and of our school starts at the top and with the culture of UNC Kenan-Flagler,” Brown says. “It starts with someone realizing that people are more important than profits. In the end, what we determine to do with this knowledge is of the greatest importance.”

Before signing up for business school, Brown was an associate medical director of an emergency department in Illinois for Envision Healthcare. During the program, he was promoted twice and moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

He served as medical director of a distressed hospital in southeast Washington – the same year he started his studies.

MBA@UNC was “one of the best decisions of my life,” he says. He immediately began applying what he was learning about operations and leadership at the medical center.

Brown and his husband, Dr. Steven Farmer

He was promoted to regional medical director for Washington and Virginia and faced challenges managing multiple hospitals’ emergency systems. He also published an article about value-based care and a pay-for-performance model with his husband, Dr. Steven Farmer, a cardiologist, health policy professor and chief strategy officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid.

In 2017, he was promoted to senior vice president for the Mid-Atlantic region, where he regularly used what he was learning about financial statements, negotiating contracts and accounting in his MBA@UNC classes.

“The MBA catapulted me to a senior vice president position quickly,” says Brown. “I was one of the youngest senior vice presidents in the organization. The MBA set me apart.”

At the end of 2019, Envision Healthcare named him president of emergency medicine. He oversaw operational efficiency, quality outcomes and strategic direction of its largest service line.

When the coronavirus pandemic started to dramatically change the world in 2020, Envision appointed Brown as lead for the COVID-19 task force, coordinating its response to the virus. Next, he was appointed to lead its clinical communication strategies and named an executive sponsor to its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative. His abilities as an outstanding communicator and strategist positioned him as a recognized thought leader in the industry, and in 2020, Brown was selected as one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Healthcare.

In 2021, he assumed the role of chief impact officer and continued in his roles in pandemic response and DEI. He frequently shared his expertise, discussing the COVID pandemic response, healthcare disparities and healthcare news with journalists at CBS News, CNN, BBC and Yahoo Finance.

After 15 years with Envision, Brown decided to follow his passions into healthcare strategy and health and science communication. He started a healthcare strategic advisory and media engagement firm, ABIG Health, in Washington, D.C., in 2022.

Paying it forward

What drove Brown to business school was his desire to have a positive impact on more people by having a bigger impact on patient care.

“Physicians are strong leaders,” says Brown, “and they lead the business of healthcare by strengthening their role and visibility while also protecting patients and providers.”

“In a single shift in the ER, I would see 25 to 35 patients and had an impact on their lives,” he says, “but because of the education I received at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I have had opportunities to help even more people by making broad improvements in multiple emergency departments and hospitals. By 2020, I was responsible for more than 15 million patients’ lives every year leading over 10,000 clinicians in more than 46 states. Once I tasted the sweetness of improving the health of one or two,” says Brown. “I didn’t want to stop until I was improving the lives of thousands and even millions.”

Brown gives back in many ways to UNC Kenan-Flagler, as recognized by the 2019 Dwight W. Anderson Young Alumni Award. He was the class speaker at his graduation in 2014, where he announced his class had created the Major Steven Brothers MBA@UNC Fund to honor their classmate who died while they were students.

Brown in Haiti supporting Nourish Every Child

He serves as co-chair for the Center for the Business of Health leadership board and on the Business School’s Board of Advisors. He also is a board member of Nourish Every Child, which supports children’s nutritional and education needs in Haiti.

Brown frequently speaks at the Business School about trends and the future of the business of healthcare. When the global pandemic made it unsafe for MBA@UNC students to travel in March 2020, UNC Kenan-Flagler tapped Brown to help deliver a new online course on how business people can effectively lead, manage and navigate during the COVID-19 crisis.

He is taking on a new role at the Business School in 2022: professor of the practice of operations teaching the Challenges in Healthcare course.

Brown has a driving passion to empower people to make the best decisions for their health. Using the skills and influence he’s gained as a healthcare business leader, media contributor and physician, he continues to expand his reach with every step in his career journey.