Healthcare Management

When a Doctor Needs an MBA

When a Doctor Needs an MBA
Whether working in a small private practice or mammoth hospital system, doctors must employ skillful management, thoughtful leadership, and clear communication to remain effective. Image from Unsplash
Katy McWhirter profile
Katy McWhirter June 21, 2022

Healthcare is a business as well as a profession; the American healthcare system requires doctors to supplement medical skills with management skills. An MBA can provide the latter.

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For those who decide to put themselves through years of grueling education, take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and come to think of sleep as a possibility rather than a given, saving lives and improving health outcomes often serves as their driving force. In an increasingly complex healthcare system, however, some physicians are finding that life-saving knowledge isn’t enough; they also need to maintain the health of their businesses to maximize impact. Understanding the business of healthcare can be tricky, especially as the industry continues shifting and evolving.

Whether working in a small private practice or mammoth hospital system, doctors must employ skillful management, thoughtful leadership, and clear communication to remain effective. While medical school provides some training, it is often not enough to equip doctors with the skills needed to navigate the business side of the healthcare industry.

Physicians who want to learn more about how medical billing works or pick up tips on personnel management can find stand-alone classes to expand their competencies. For those who want to become engaged and effective healthcare administrators—or executives—an MBA provides essential skills.

How an MBA can help your medical career

While some physicians see an MBA in healthcare administration or healthcare management as their ticket out of clinical roles and into administration, others want to combine their knowledge of medicine with business acumen to become more well-rounded providers. Before diving into a business education, prospective students can learn more about the skills they stand to gain from an Executive MBA program.

Management skills

In 2011, researchers conducted a study to identify whether physician-managed hospitals function more effectively than those run by administrators with no medical experience. Hospitals managed by doctors, such as The Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic—the top two facilities in the country—were shown to produce quality scores approximately 25 percent higher than their competitors.

Building management skills as a clinician provides the unique ability to both understand the complexities of the American health system and meet the challenges of leadership. Throughout an Executive MBA program—such as the one tailored to physicians and offered by The University of Tennessee-Knoxville—students learn how to effectively manage clinical and administrative healthcare professionals and improve processes that benefit employees and patients alike. While studying topics such as accounting, finance, lean operations, quality assessment, customer service, and change management, learners become competent and confident physician executives in the business of medicine.

Leadership skills

Leadership within healthcare organizations takes many forms and requires thoughtful, clear communicators who know how to get the best out of everyone. Physician Executive MBAs provide the training needed to motivate diverse workforces, communicate vision and expectations, and build loyalty. Because physician executives already understand well the medical side of the industry, adding in leadership qualities often provides a sense of credibility and followability that non-physician administrators find harder to gain.

In addition to reviewing case studies throughout the curriculum, The University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s physician Executive MBA includes a leadership development program to hone these skills. Each student receives a Haslam College of Business coach who works with them to create a personalized leadership development plan based on existing strengths and weaknesses. Students also receive access to existing physician leaders in the form of colleagues, professors, and guest speakers, enabling them to see best leadership practices in action.

Technology skills

As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, technology is poised to continue expanding its presence within the medical field. Whether embracing new opportunities for using telehealth and providing more care opportunities or improving patient outcomes by utilizing—and sharing—electronic health records, technology is here to stay.

Health informatics increasingly plays an important role in patient care delivery by bringing together data, diagnostic test results, screenings, and other types of medical information. Completing a physician Executive MBA program provides the information technology skills needed to harness essential tools of modern medical practice. Furthermore, students dive into the implementation and deployment of performance metrics to improve organizational efficiency.

Long-term planning and strategy skills

Most physicians take their work day-by-day, providing patient care and medical services on an as-needed basis. But to manage a private practice or hospital effectively, physician executives must possess a strong understanding of long-term planning and strategy.

As those who complete an MD and MBA know well, running a successful practice or medical facility requires forward thinking. The best physician leadership professionals know that a business must have a long-term plan to succeed and administrators must constantly identify ways of maximizing opportunities. Undertaking coursework in topics such as operations management, strategic thinking, and decision making provides learners with the tools needed to keep their businesses thriving.

Additionally, marketing plays a significant role in maintaining a robust practice. Students learn how to get the word out, differentiate themselves from competitors, leverage social and traditional media platforms, and develop innovative methods of advertising.


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Career advancement: executive roles

Developing skills in areas of financial management, healthcare policy, strategic planning, healthcare administration, entrepreneurship, and business management provides the qualifications needed to take on positions as medical directors and other executive-level roles. Physician leaders possess a unique mix of medical training, clinical experience, and business knowledge, making them extremely valuable to hospitals, clinics, consulting firms, think tanks, universities, and even to themselves as entrepreneurs.

Physicians with a Master of Business Administration may decide to work as a chief medical information officer, overseeing the administration of electronic health records, expanding telehealth opportunities, and instituting health informatics guidelines. Others may seek work as a medical program director at a university, supervising curricular and clinical requirements, hiring fellow physicians to act as educators, and overseeing financial requirements and departmental budgets. Individuals with an interest in biomedical research and pharmaceuticals may decide an executive position with the likes of Pfizer, Moderna, or Eli Lilly best matches their career goals.

As the oldest physician Executive MBA in the world, The University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s program has graduated more than 800 alumni. To date, 70 percent of these professionals work in physician leadership roles. Whether students plan to stay with their current employers or transition their careers after graduating, physician MBAs provide the opportunity to network with established physician leaders and prospective employers alike.

Why an Executive MBA Is a good fit for practicing physicians

Before diving into a physician Executive MBA program, practicing physicians want to understand precisely how the degree will fit in with their existing personal and professional responsibilities. The good news about the partially online MBA offered through The University of Tennessee-Knoxville is that it was designed to fit into existing schedules of busy medical professionals. Taking just 11 months to complete, UTK’s physician Executive MBA requires students to miss only 25 days of work during the entirety of the program for concentrated in-person residency periods. During these innovative sessions, students focus on building business skills while also developing leadership qualities.

Furthermore, the majority of content is delivered online through once-weekly classes, allowing students the opportunities to complete assignments and turn in projects at times that work for them. For the 2022 cohort, classes take place on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. Most students spend between 20 and 25 hours per week working on assignments and completing readings.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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