MBAs Provide New Opportunities for Physicians

September 20, 2010
Ed Rabinowitz

Physicians, in increasing number, are heading back to college in pursuit of a Masters in Business Administration. Many have determined that in the field of healthcare today, a medical degree alone just doesn't cut it.

The doors to college classrooms across the country swung open just a few short weeks ago as students returned to school for the Fall semester. Physicians, in increasing number, are among those students, returning to the halls of education in pursuit of a Masters in Business Administration. These doctors have determined that in the healthcare field today, simply having a medical degree is not sufficient.

“I don’t think any physician should be able to leave medical school unless they have a business school degree,” says Faran Bokhari, MD, a board certified surgeon, Rush University professor, and trauma and burn specialist at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. “It’s tremendously helpful.”

Medical schools realize that as well. According to Stephen Whitney, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics-emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and a physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, the MD/MBA program instituted at Baylor in 1997 was the third of its kind in the country. Today, more than 50 medical schools have dual-degree programs.

“The complexity of reform laws, the complexity of the business situation for medicine over the last several years has made it more and more important that physicians have some sort of idea what they’re doing from the business side of things,” Whitney says.

A Challenging UndertakingFor Bokhari, going back to school after more than 17 years as a practicing physician was more difficult than he anticipated. “The key challenge is time management,” he says. “You have to be very rigid with yourself as to when you can study and when you can’t.”

Still, Bokhari had decided that there were basic differences between the way physicians think versus the thought process of healthcare administrators. “It’s a difference in perspective, and I didn’t want to be limited to one perspective,” he says. Bokhari says he specifically chose a MBA program that was absent of physicians. “I wanted to become completely divorced from that perspective, and come at this problem of leadership and management of a business from a pure business perspective,” he says.

Bokhari has used his MBA training to grow his own business. His Chicago-based Renew Spa is a medical spa that offers cutting-edge, organic and nonsurgical facial rejuvenation procedures. “It has been very instructive to me,” he explains. “You end up learning what people are willing to pay for -- within their financial environment -- for psychological well being; for physical well being.”

For Whitney, obtaining his MBA brought immediate dividends. Recruited to help set up and run a Medicaid HMO, he attended his first senior management meeting and gave what he thought was a very clear description of how to begin the transformation. When his presentation was met with lukewarm response, he was told the problem was he didn’t use the right language -- business language. He obtained his MBA, then gave the same presentation in business-speak, and his plans were met with resounding approval.

“It’s certainly a challenge,” says Whitney, of obtaining a MBA while maintaining a medical career. “It’s doable, but if you do it well and put as much time into it as you really need to in order to get what you need out of it, it takes almost all of your time.”

So Why Go Back?Whitney says he is often asked, “When is the correct time to get a MBA?” He says that while Baylor’s MD/MBA program, which is run in conjunction with Rice University, is designed for students who are starting medical school, there are benefits to going back to school after years of exposure to the business world.

“The thing that’s different about people coming in with work experience is they’ve had a chance to be in a situation to know what they need to know,” Whitney explains. “And they can often apply what they’re learning -- at the time they’re learning it -- to the work they’re doing.”

Bokhari agrees. He says that while students who obtain their MBA during medical school are far ahead of their colleagues who opt for a singular medical degree, those who return to school after experiencing medicine get much more out of the process.

“You understand what they’re talking about, and how it fits into the practicality of the workflow,” Bokhari says. “Otherwise they’re just theoretical concepts. You need the concepts, but I think practical experience is very important. I think you’re primed for learning at that point. It’s like a second life.”