Physicians spend a considerable portion of their time in medical school, residency training, and fellowship in clinical training to become proficient in their specialties. Throughout the training process, there is little to no guidance on the business side of medicine.
With the evolution of health care and a focus on fiscal management and economics, maintaining a medical practice—whether independent practice or hospital employment—is a challenge. Although experience often is the best teacher, there are gaps in areas such as finance, marketing, and business analytics.
To adapt to the evolving healthcare profession, aspiring doctors and practicing physicians are increasingly studying business and medicine concomitantly.
According to a 2016 study conducted by Ljuboja et al., the number of joint MD/MBA programs has doubled over the past two decades. As a result, many physicians are being appointed to managerial and leadership positions within hospitals and private practices. Goodall et al., reported in 2011 that hospitals that rank higher on the list of U.S. News & World Report’s best hospitals are substantially led by physicians and continue to outperform facilities led by administrative managers. In addition, physicians are progressively involved in consulting roles for pharmaceutical and industry vendor companies. For many physicians, management, marketing, and business acumen have become as important as medical and surgical knowledge.
Although an MBA may appear appealing from afar, physicians who have obtained the degree admit there are challenges. Studying for an MBA requires additional time spent away from clinical practice, medical research, and personal life. Furthermore, the notable cost associated with business programs may be prohibitive for those with overwhelming debt from medical school.
Finally, obtaining a business degree does not automatically ensure future management or capital success. I considered these aspects before pursuing my MBA.
I spoke with Alex R. Vaccaro, MD, PhD, MBA, about his decision to pursue an MBA. A practicing and high-volume orthopaedic spine surgeon, Dr. Vaccaro is the Richard H. Rothman Professor and Chairman in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University, as well as president of the Rothman Institute. He earned his MBA online at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in 2015, 22 years into his clinical practice.
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Dr. Siddiqi: Why did you choose to pursue an MBA and why through an online program?
Dr. Vaccaro: I chose to get an MBA because of my lack of professional business training. I saw it as the most logical pathway that would enable me to speak the same language with business administrators and understand the basic elements of accounting, finance, economics, and operations. I chose an online MBA because of its convenience due to my schedule and time constraints.
Dr. Siddiqi: In your opinion, do most MD/MBAs eventually leave clinical medicine?
Dr. Vaccaro: I hope not. Physicians who continue to maintain their practice can use the principles learned during their business training to help their groups or enterprises be more successful in a competitive environment. Leaders are much more effective when they practice with a “boots on the ground” mindset and can empathize with physicians.
Dr. Siddiqi: How and why has this dual degree become so popular?
Dr. Vaccaro: The MD/MBA has become popular because physicians are experiencing a transformational medical environment with new payment paradigms such as the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and alternative payment models. The cost of providing medical care is increasing; physicians, therefore, need to understand the true cost of their care and ways to minimize variance and waste in their practices. This knowledge is vital to their livelihoods.
Dr. Siddiqi: What advice do you have for surgeons who may be considering an MBA?
Dr. Vaccaro: I believe getting an MBA is attainable at any stage of a physician’s career, whether it’s as an intern, resident, fellow, or practitioner. There is never a perfect time to dedicate the efforts needed to obtain another degree, but if a physician chooses an MBA program that fits his or her lifestyle, like I did, and makes the commitment, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.
The new wave of dually qualified physicians (MD/MBA) is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing down. Obtaining an MBA may be one stepping stone that provides physicians with the additional tools needed to further achieve already illustrious careers.
Ahmed Siddiqi, DO, MBA (candidate), is a chief orthopaedic surgery resident at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is working on his MBA at Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia. After residency graduation, he will complete an adult reconstruction fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
An MBA can provide additional perspective
The increased interest in obtaining dual degrees among medical students and practicing physicians is indicative of the complex environment that exists in health care today, as well as physicians’ desire to play a greater leadership role in addressing the many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Of all the many potential benefits of pursuing advanced training in business administration that are cited in this article, the ability to understand health care from a variety of different stakeholder perspectives is the most compelling.
As physicians, we can be blind to the complex web of stakeholder relationships that exist around us that influence the care we provide to our patients, and the health outcomes achieved because of that care. Gaining insight into the perspectives of other healthcare stakeholders gives physicians who choose to pursue an MBA an opportunity to drive much-needed change in our healthcare system. Equipped with this knowledge, and the humility necessary to be effective leaders, physicians with advanced training in business administration are uniquely positioned to help transform our healthcare system into one that leverages sound business and scientific principles to produce greater health for the people for whom we have the privilege of caring.
Kevin J. Bozic, MD, MBA, is professor and chair of the Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2001.
Consider your options when pursuing an MBA
I have always found it fascinating that there are three groups of people: the MD/MBA group that emphasizes how important an MBA is to one’s education, the MDs without MBAs who state that “on-the-job” training is just as adequate, and the small number of physician “seekers” who are considering MBA programs.
Douglas W. Lundy, MD, MBA
I can unabashedly say business school was an incredible experience for me, and I was disappointed when it was over. Although the curriculum is time consuming and an unneeded stressor in our daily lives, the yield from this education is absolutely worth the investment of time and money. Although in-residence full-time study at the elite Harvard, Kellogg, or Wharton business schools and part-time executive programs are quite different, they all amplify the understanding and ability of physicians to participate effectively in the business paradigm of modern medicine.
I strongly recommend that physicians interested in formal business training consider the educational options carefully and make a choice best suited to their situation and aspirations. Orthopaedic surgery needs effective leaders, and formal business education will enhance the ability to further our profession in this arena.
Douglas W. Lundy, MD, MBA, is the copresident and an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Resurgens Orthopaedics in Atlanta. He received his physician’s executive MBA from Auburn University in 2014.
- Ljuboja D, Powers BW, Robbins B, et al: When doctors go to business school: career choices of physician-MBAs. Am J Manag Care. 2016;22:e196-8.
- Goodall AH: Physician-leaders and hospital performance: is there an association? Soc Sci Med. 2011;73:535-9.