I made the decision to pursue a dual degree, an MD/MBA, when I was still in high school (MD is Doctor of Medicine, MBA is Master of Business Administration). I had an interest in medicine but I hated the idea of being yet another Indian doctor. How unoriginal. So when my dad introduced me to someone who had done this dual degree, it was my “aha!” moment. As far as I knew, this was something different, could set me apart and no one else I knew was doing it. Perfect!
While my initial reasons for pursuing this career path were pretty superficial, it didn’t take me long to realize how valuable a second degree would be.
Reasons to Obtain an MD/MBA
I like to say that doctors are the dumbest group of smart people out there. We are the only professionals who have given up control of our careers to people who know nothing about what we do: administrators. This decision was made many years ago by physicians so that they could focus on their craft.
Now, we are paying the price. Literally.
We dance to the tune that managers play for us, not quite understanding why certain things are done or why certain policies exist. On more than one occasion, I have heard, or even myself have asked: “why do I have to fill out this form” or “there has to be a better way”, or “I know a better way!”
Hospitals are, at its most basic form, a business. Yet we are never taught about even the most basic business components, let alone how to run one. We have no exposure to accounting and financial topics; we passively gain teamwork and team-building experience during residency, but there are also business leadership concepts and communication strategies that we do not learn.
Healthcare is dynamic and constantly changing. With the Affordable Care Act and whatever congress is trying to accomplish now, changes are occurring, and will be coming, that directly affect how hospitals are managed, how insurance is handled and ultimately how we get paid.
There is clearly a gap between physicians and managers, not just in communication, but in understanding as well, and it needs to be bridged. Doing so requires physician leadership that can be present at the table, engage in administrative discussions, assist in formulating business decisions and be a voice for clinicians.
Why an MD/MBA vs Other Options?
Much of the push back I got as a student was, sadly, from other students. I was regarded as a sell-out for wanting another degree, because, apparently, this meant I wasn’t serious about medicine. In addition to that accusation, I was questioned for not getting an MPH (Masters in Public Health) or MHA (Masters in Healthcare Administration), as those degrees were seen as being more in-line with a medical career.
My response: I wanted a broad understanding of business and finance. In my mind, while those degrees are certainly helpful, they would not help me achieve my goal. I wanted to understand all business, not just healthcare. I wanted all related business topics on my plate, not just public health issues. I wanted to understand consumers as a whole, not just hospital and clinic patient populations. I wanted to understand money making from the perspective of any business, not just medicine.
For me, personally, an MD/MBA means I can work in any hospital, any clinic, or any government or private sector healthcare organization, and I wanted those options.
Benefits of a Dual Degree
A 2011 study by Dr. Amanda Goodall examined the top 100 hospitals, as determined by US News and World Report, and compared their CEO’s. Those with physician based leadership scored 25% higher in hospital quality measurements. While there’s no direct causal relationship identified here, there is support for the idea that leadership without clinical expertise can lead to inferior management abilities in the hospital setting.
Plus, a physician leader has instant credibility with both clinicians and managers, making it easier to bridge that gap between both parties. Managers are more likely to trust someone with some business acumen and physicians are more likely to trust someone who understands the daily clinical issues they face. Having a physician be a part of administrative discussions also helps protect other physicians and related clinical interests.
On a more personal note, an MD/MBA can serve as a point of leverage to advance career goals and move up the managerial chain much faster than would otherwise be possible. If moving up the chain isn’t part of your goal, then just having the knowledge, period, can help you develop a better understanding of why certain decisions are made and at the very least, help you converse intelligently with administrators in a way that is effective and productive.
In today’s climate, where hiring mid-level providers is seen as more cost-effective and MD’s are too expensive, obtaining an MD/MBA dual degree and giving yourself another skill set will make you irreplaceable and even desirable.
How to Obtain a Dual Degree
Just a quick note on how a joint degree program, or dual degree program, works. Many are dual degree programs, meaning you apply for both at the same time, gain acceptance, and then depending on how it’s set up, you either take a break from the school of medicine to enter business school, or you complete business course work side by side OR business school commences during the summer months.
The way I did it is to defer my last year of medical school. So, you keep the first three years of medical school straight through, then take a break to join your business program. I was told that the admissions folks prefer that medical students come to business after 3rd-year medical rotations. Why? Because that entire year of patient care is work experience. You can then bring those experiences with you to the business program, and you’ll get a lot more out of it.
Once a year of business is completed, you come back to medical school to finish out your fourth year. My school had a 1-year business degree program so this was seamless. However, before they became a one year program, they had students do a full year, then finish out business coursework or projects in the second half of their fourth year of medical school. As it stands, not all business classes are required for medical students.
Yet another option is to complete medical school completely, and then get your MBA later. Some university medical centers will pay for a second degree assuming that you take on a leadership position when it’s done. There are also executive MBA programs available as well around the country.
You’ll need to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), complete your applications, personal statements, submit your grades and GPA for undergrad and medical school, and go through an interview process. Then of course, you have your work experience during your 3rd year of medical school to help you out.
Unfortunately, this is another year of graduate school and so there will be a cost associated with it (unless your job is able to pay for you).
There is tuition and financial aid help available, and sometimes scholarships you can apply for. If you’re considering a dual degree, then contact your financial aid office and see what is possible for you, or if there is something available for dual degree students. Your MBA program may also have aid in place to help students avoid having to pay full tuition. So, don’t let the additional cost discourage you from pursuing this avenue.
There is a standard business curriculum that everyone has to take, and then there are electives you take on top of it. You may choose a specialization within your MBA program. For instance, you can have a concentration in management, or finance…whatever interests you. I recommend that you pay attention early on to what you like so that you can sign up for the appropriate courses.
While a dual degree, or a career in leadership, is not for everyone, I believe that physicians owe it to themselves to take back control of their careers. Even without a degree, you can be proactive about paying attention to the business aspects of your jobs, asking questions, obtaining information and empowering yourself with business knowledge so that you don’t get left behind.
Be a boss. (You already are one)