According to a prominent medical journal, leadership constitutes a key competency for medical professionals. And yet, even though many physicians eventually find themselves in leadership roles, medical schools do not always provide the training required to develop competent, thoughtful leaders who can communicate clearly with many different types of people and engage in strategic business thinking.
Those who seek to become physician leaders often stand out among other healthcare professionals for their unique ability to understand both sides of the industry. Evidence shows that doctors make effective managers. The two best hospitals in the US—the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic—feature chief executive officers who trained as physicians. Physicians who make the leap into leadership positions are uniquely qualified to focus their facilities on continually improving patient outcomes while also keeping an eye on organizational performance.
Physicians considering this path likely have questions about available options and how each aligns with their intended next steps. They naturally ask what is the best management degree for physicians? This article discusses the options, covering:
The rise of dual M.D./MBA programs in recent years demonstrates the desire—and in many cases, necessity—of physicians' understanding the medical and business sides of healthcare. While most aspiring doctors do not initially give much thought to the business side of healthcare, those who have spent a few years in their roles recognize the benefits that come from advanced competencies in leadership, executive communication, strategic planning, and management.
Of course, not all physicians need to complete management training. However, those who want to increase their hireability and expand career options may decide completing one of the following programs makes sense for them.
Physicians looking for graduate programs focused on healthcare can choose among several master's degree programs, though not all are created equal. In this section, we look at several options to see how they stack up against each other.
Designed specifically for doctors who want to expand their knowledge into the business of healthcare, Physician Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs provide curricula covering human resources, informatics and information systems, decision making, entrepreneurship, and operations management, among other subjects.
Students can choose from online and in-person learning options, depending on their scheduling needs and intended outcomes. Working professionals seeking a mix of both may find The University of Tennessee-Knoxville's (UTK) physician executive MBA a good fit. Lasting just 11 months and combining online sessions with four in-person residencies, UTK's curriculum covers quality improvement, change management in healthcare settings, and business planning in healthcare.
At The University of Pennsylvania, students spend two years working through Physician Executive MBA core curricular requirements as well as any electives or specializations they want to explore. None of the program is offered online; working professionals can choose to take classes at either the Philadelphia or San Francisco campus.
On first glance, Physician Executive MBAs and Master of Medical Management (MMM) degrees may appear the same. They are, in fact, quite similar. Designed specifically for experienced physicians looking to spend one or two years building healthcare-specific managerial skills in an academic setting, MMM programs function similarly to MBAs.
Carnegie Mellon University 's Heinz College offers a Master of Medical Management for those with at least five years of post-residency experience. Cohorts engage in a hybrid program that cover organizational management, power and influence, enterprise data analytics, and executive leadership.
Similarly, Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management provides a Master of Management in Healthcare that takes one year to complete. The program is offered in-person at the Nashville campus; required classes include economics of healthcare, leading teams and healthcare organizations, and strategic management.
While MMM programs provide similar training to a Physician Executive MBA, they remain far less recognizable due to the smaller number of universities offering them. For physicians seeking a graduate degree with instant recognition, an MBA degree is likely the better bet.
Master of Science in Healthcare Management programs, though not all that common, appeal to a niche selection of professionals. While MBA programs focus exclusively on traditional business skills such as human resources, entrepreneurship, operations management, finance, marketing, and strategic planning, MS in Healthcare Management programs take an interdisciplinary approach.
For example, the curriculum for the MS in Healthcare Management offered by Michigan State University includes courses in hospitality and the patient experience, critical thinking and innovation in healthcare, performance management, and other topics traditionally not seen in an MBA program. At Thomas Edison State University, learners who choose the MS in Healthcare Management cover similar topics in the 36-credit in-person program. Students enroll in classes such as organization of the healthcare value chain, healthcare law, and healthcare administrator leadership. They also complete a management capstone.
Lastly, The University of Rhode Island offers an online 30-credit MS in Healthcare Management via the College of Business. The curriculum covers topics around fundamentals of healthcare quality science, data analytics for healthcare management, and healthcare in America, followed by a practicum. Because these programs typically do not focus exclusively on business topics and spend less time considering skills building around strategic planning and executive leadership, they attract fewer management-minded physicians.
Master of Health Administration (MHA) programs are commonly found both online and in-person, with part-time or full-time learning options, from public and private universities alike. MHA programs appeal to individuals looking to manage the day-to-day operations of healthcare facilities, bringing together studies in areas of health management, health policy, and public health. Courses vary from program-to-program. At Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the MHA degree covers public health concepts, strategic issues in healthcare quality, critical issues in hospital management, and public health concepts. Depending on the individual program, students may complete either an on-site practical experience or a thesis.
Students attracted to Master of Health Administration programs come from within and outside the healthcare and allied health worlds, including individuals with no previous work experience or knowledge of healthcare organizations/ Traditionally, few physicians feel drawn to these programs, as they tend to lack the type of strategic leadership and planning training needed to work in more executive-level roles. While this degree can lead to those positions, it's not the traditional route and offers less focused training than an MBA.
Physicians looking to expand their business acumen can choose from several routes. That said, these routes do not all lead to the same destination, making it important for prospective students to consider which path works best with their professional aspirations.
While the Master of Medical Management prepares graduates in similar ways as the Physician Executive MBA, it lacks the recognition of the latter—meaning some employers may not understand graduates possess a mastery of executive business functions.
Earning a Master of Science in Healthcare Management means gaining a more interdisciplinary set of skills and knowledge, some of which do not directly relate to the types of roles physicians leaders typically pursue. A Master of Healthcare Administration does prepare graduates to take on management positions and hospital administrator roles, but are more commonly suited to those with less existing training.
For individuals looking to become healthcare leaders involved in steering the future of American healthcare systems, a Physician Executive MBA provides the most recognized and well-rounded option. MBA students develop advanced leadership skills through innovative coursework and experiential learning options. Given that MBA programs have a long and respected history, students benefit from exclusive opportunities to network with experienced physicians and business executives alike and build the entrepreneurial skills needed to imagine new ways of improving the healthcare industry.
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