At one time, MDs who pursued advanced degrees in business, public health, or another field did so only to attain leadership roles in the public or private sector. However, as changing demographics, medical science breakthroughs, advanced technology, and new business trends begin to challenge healthcare providers to expand their knowledge base and skill sets, more residents and MDs are choosing to pursue non-medical advanced degrees, largely in business administration (MBA) and public health (MPH).
Explore This IssueSeptember 2019
The choice to pursue an advanced degree is not to be made lightly—degree programs are notoriously costly and time-consuming, and perhaps overwhelming for the typical overstretched resident or MD. Still, forgoing that additional education degree may come at a cost in today’s increasingly complex and competitive healthcare environment.
The decision a physician makes about additional education comes down to the available program options and to what extent the experience, knowledge, and skills gained in any one program can be applied to a healthcare practice.
MBA: The Business of Medicine
Business education is of particular value to physicians and residents who wish to serve as hospital administrators, financial managers, or consultants. However, MBAs have also become more commonplace among MDs in general, partially due to an increase in larger group practices, for which business acumen is essential.
Ron Kuppersmith, MD, MBA, an otolaryngologist and a clinical associate professor of surgery at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in College Station, Texas, enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Washington one year after completing his residency at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. Although the program was not focused on healthcare and Dr. Kuppersmith was the only physician in his classes, he believes that he has benefitted from that foundational business education. “The additional knowledge [I received] has been helpful when participating in the management of our practice, interacting with other entities that affect our practice, and when participating in leadership roles within other organizations,” he said.
“Interacting with other entities” is an especially salient point at a time when more consumers are demanding not only cutting-edge medical care, but also a more personalized and integrative healthcare approach, packaged in a convenient and streamlined care experience. In an effort to meet those expectations, more healthcare providers are partnering with private-sector businesses in technology, wellness, and marketing/branding, just to name a few. The ability to partner with other businesses tends to give medical practices a competitive edge.
Does an MD need to go so far as to earn a separate master’s degree to gain the understanding and knowledge required to maintain a successful medical practice? Not necessarily, said Dr. Kuppersmith, who added, “Whether or not you pursue an MBA, performance in business comes from ability and motivation. Ability is a function of aptitude and training and must be developed through self-study, mentoring, and experience. I would recommend obtaining an MBA if you are truly interested, motivated, and have the support to complete a rigorous program.”
To optimize their time and money, many medical students and residents are opting for dual MD/MBA programs, designed to focus specifically on the managerial, financial, and technical aspects of healthcare. There are a growing number of such programs in the United States—65 at last count, according to the Association of MD/MBA Programs.
On its face and certainly to the public, an MD/MBA combination might seem odd or inappropriate. Maria Chandler, MD, MBA, founder and president of the Association of MD/MBA Programs and faculty advisor of the dual-degree program at the University of California at Irvine, believes that the differences between the two worlds are what make these programs so valuable. “[As physicians] we’ve been set up to think that we know more than we do,” Dr. Chandler told Medical Economics in a 2017 interview (available at medicaleconomics.com/med-ec-blog/dissecting-value-mba-private-practice-
physicians). She cited the positive influence of the business world’s staff-focused “team culture” on the more hierarchical environment of medicine. “I would argue that an MBA makes you a better physician, because you’re using your resources to treat patients more efficiently.”