Intubating an acute asthmatic patient or suturing an open wound may come as easily to medical school graduates as filling out patient charts, but that's because they spent years learning and honing their techniques. When it comes to the business of medicine, however, some aren't quite as adept.
While many clinicians are excellent healthcare providers, those who run their own practices may struggle to keep up with the full-time responsibilities of healthcare management. Doctors who want to understand both clinical practice and business administration may find that a physician Executive MBA program helps them bridge the gap between primary care and care management—or even open new doors to executive positions.
What sort of careers for physicians with MBAs are available? This article explores and also discusses:
Physicians traditionally devote all their energies to completing an M.D., though some schools offer MD/MBA dual degree programs that teach medical and business skills simultaneously. Those who already completed their medical educations but now want to learn about business administration can pursue a physician Executive MBA like the one offered at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK).
Delivered as a hybrid degree combining online learning with four one-week residencies at the Knoxville campus, UTK's MBA is tailored to physicians and can be completed in just 11 months. It's specifically designed for working medical practitioners who want to continue their practice while earning a degree, so MBA students miss only 25 days of work throughout the entire program. The part-time calendar is rigorous but manageable. Enrollees typically enter with between 7 and 20 years experience practicing medicine.
As the longest-running MBA devoted specifically to physicians, UTK's program provides tried and tested coursework covering accounting, finance, economics, quality improvement, lean operations, change management, customer value, strategy, and business planning. UTK uses case studies from healthcare and clinical settings to help learners gain relevant skills and knowledge.
Prior to graduating, every student completes an organizational action project that leverages their current employer. These projects function similarly to theses but allow learners to identify and solve issues in their healthcare organizations. Furthermore, every student participates in a leadership development program to build skills in collaboration, communication, and delegation. Every learner partners with a coach from the Haslam College of Business to identify their weaknesses and strengths and build a personalized experience.
UTK's program accepts approximately 40 students per year, creating a close-knit community of fellow practitioners with similar end goals. To date, the program has graduated more than 800 alumni – 70 percent of whom currently work in physician leadership positions.
Whether physicians earn their MBA simultaneously with an M.D. or pursue the degree after working in clinical roles, MBAs shape the professional outcomes of these learners. While physicians who specialized in internal medicine are more likely to stay active in clinician settings (about 64 percent do), the majority of MD/MBA program graduates (about 57 percent) shift their focus into business administration positions.
For physicians who anticipate a career change after earning an MBA, the good news is that they can choose from a variety of industries and sectors. We consider some of the MBA jobs available below to provide a clearer sense of where these programs can take alumni.
Transitioning to healthcare management positions in hospitals, clinics, or practices appeals to many physicians with MBAs because they already understand the environment and likely possess many professional contacts. Some physicians may decide to continue to practice medicine while taking on managerial duties, while others may decide to move out of medical care and focus on administrative functions.
Dr. Edward Nejat discovered he wanted to straddle the line between patient care and hospital administration and earned an MBA from Cornell University after completing M.D. requirements. Today, Dr. Nejat works as an infertility specialist in Manhattan at a boutique practice. In addition to seeing patients, Nejat collaborates closely with the practice's medical director to manage processes related to employee recruitment, finances, marketing, and negotiation.
Dr. Josue Leon worked as a physician for a decade before deciding he wanted a fuller understanding of management and financial decisions. He enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania's EMBA program, using his newly gained knowledge to become more involved in practice management. Even while still in school, Dr. Leon was able to address a critical managerial crisis at his practice with the skills learned in his EMBA.
While earning an MBA provides business management skills, it can also lead to innovation in healthcare services. Dr. Mohammed Shams completed an MBA at the University of Connecticut in 2018 and applied his learning to forge new care methods at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With hospital beds at a premium, Dr. Shams instituted the COVID at Home Intensive Program for younger patients with more favorable prognoses, allowing them to convalesce remotely with supplemental oxygen and close physician monitoring. "Before I got my MBA, I would have been skittish to do something like this," Dr. Shams observed.
Administrative roles within pharmaceuticals and biotechnology provide a natural segue for many, as do roles focused on the business responsibilities included in medical device development, production, and distribution.
Dr. Theresa Foo, a doctor who completed an EMBA for physicians via Brandeis University, used her newfound skillsets and knowledge to transfer into an administrative role with Pfizer Vaccines. After working in clinical settings for some time, she decided the time was right to return to higher education. She now serves as Vaccines Medical Director. In addition to managing internal team processes, she is also tasked with providing medical and scientific data to advisory committees and increasing vaccine knowledge.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Ciulla was ready for a new challenge after spending much of his career as a retina specialist. After completing the Physician MBA program at Indiana University, Cuilla realized he could combine his decades of knowledge about retina care with skills gained in an MBA. Today Dr. Ciulla works for Clearside Biomedical, Inc. as the chief medical and chief development officer. In these roles, he works to move emerging therapies for retinal issues from the trial stage onto the market.
Not all physicians have the time, resources, or interest to pursue an MBA. That said, many still see the benefits of business knowledge—as do countless clinics, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other startups and established healthcare organizations. In these cases, physicians with MBAs can cater their experience and knowledge to helping others via consulting services.
While completing his executive MBA for physicians at Brandeis University, Dr. Michael Tang used his in-class consulting project to look at ways of integrating a managerial approach to behavioral health initiatives at his current employer. The project proved so successful that Dr. Tang received funding to expand the consulting initiative to other Massachusetts-based health centers.
Physicians with MBAs can also follow more traditional consulting paths, including taking up roles at some of the biggest consulting firms in the country. Powerhouse firm McKinsey & Company has more than 150 physicians working in managerial consulting roles to produce institutional change. Dr. Pooja Kumar found that, while she enjoyed working in Azerbaijan and Zambia on public health crises, her time could be better spent consulting hospitals and public health organizations on systemic change implementation rather than individual patient care.
For some physicians, combining business knowledge with existing medical education creates an opportunity to strike out on their own. Those who decide to pursue the entrepreneurial route can follow many different paths based on clinical and research interests, service gaps, and emerging technologies.
For Dr. Snigdha Gorana, attending INSEAD to earn an MBA provided the skills needed to harness advanced business knowledge and improve patient outcomes both medically and financially. Today she has launched several different healthcare businesses focused on supporting healthcare education and elderly patients in India.
In the case of Dr. Praveen Rajanahalli, earning an MBA from Indiana University made it possible to prevent the burnout he felt so frequently as a physician by launching a startup. Supro Direct functions as a first-of-its-kind primary care clinic where patients pay an annual membership for unlimited care. After conducting a series of blood tests and screenings on new patients, Rajanahalli and his staff are better positioned than traditional clinics and hospitals to provide preventative services, a result of improved managerial processes.
For doctors considering next steps in their career path, earning a physician Executive MBA provides the right mix of skills acquisition and open doors to executive roles. Not every student who pursues this degree plans to become a hospital CEO; many simply want to explore entrepreneurial opportunities or gain a better understanding of the financials within their practices. Physicians who know they want to move their careers into the business side of things may also consider an MBA in healthcare administration or healthcare management. Regardless of the choice made, earning one of these qualifications can lead to higher-paying executive roles after graduation.
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