Why Physician MBA Degrees Are Worth the Investment

With kids going back to school later this month, maybe it’s the right time for physicians to consider continuing their education as well. We know what you’re thinking. Doctors already go through enough schooling. But in today’s uncertain health care environment, a physician MBA may be a worthwhile investment.

It used to be that doctors only had to focus on patient care, but as health care reform transforms the economics of medicine, it pays to know a little something about business.

“In a healthcare MBA degree, physicians learn all of the same concepts a regular MBA student would learn, but applied to the healthcare industry,” said Nancy Borkowski, Executive Director of the Health Management Program at Florida International University. “Doctors need to understand processes, so they can learn to run their practices more efficiently.”

FIU began enrolling doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals into its Healthcare MBA program in the fall of 2010. Students can choose between a Saturday morning only course and an online option depending on their schedules.

Similar healthcare MBA programs have begun to emerge all over the U.S., including prestigious universities like Carnegie Mellon, Duke, and Johns Hopkins.

Abraham Nunes is currently a MD/MBA student at The University of Alberta with a focus on the improvement of healthcare accessibility through technological and systems engineering. He sees business principles as an obvious supplement to care delivery.

“Since business training is about learning to measure and enhance value delivery, the business-trained physician can apply those principles to his or her practice and the broader profession,” said Nunes. “We listen to our patients and study the areas in which life quality and longevity is most required (marketing research). We organize methods to engineer that value at a reasonable cost (product development, leadership, management), and we design sustainable methods to deliver those methods to patients (marketing distribution, accounting, operations management, and leadership).”

According to Borkowski, while medical schools focus deeply on patient care, they rarely delve into issues related to the business side of running a practice. This makes healthcare MBA degrees perfect for small practice physicians who don’t have the resources to hire a financial manager.

“Small practice physicians have similar problems to large practices. However, one advantage large practices usually have is a professional administrator, who probably has some form a healthcare MBA,” said Borkowski. “Because small practices don’t have this person, they have to be educated in regards to corporate finances, revenue cycle management, leadership skills and work processes.”

Physicians looking into taking supervisory roles should also consider the advantages of a health-related MBA degree. Not only do these degrees make them better at running the day-to-day operations of the practice setting, but opens the possibility of taking on higher-level administrative roles at large health organizations.

Dr. Michael Stahl, Program Director of the Physician Executive MBA program at the University of Tennessee, see’s physicians MBA as the best route to discover lean healthcare models and techniques for reducing inefficiencies.

“If you think about all the changes going on in healthcare, it’s important for a physician in a leadership role to be equipped with the knowledge to analyze the business side of the enterprise. To do that, skills in financial statement analysis, design, marketing, process improvement and lean healthcare are key.”

Over the past 16 years, UT has taught business strategies to nearly 500 physicians and is considered the leading MBA program exclusively for doctors. The entire course can be completed in 12 months and tuition costs approximately $74,000.

According to Dr. Stahl, since the launch of the Affordable Care Act and other government health IT initiatives, he’s seen a big push by doctors desiring a more tech-driven curriculum.

“We try to focus on the implementation issues relating to what it means to change the culture of an organization through technology. People need to understand the cultural implication of going from a manual handwritten record to an EHR,” said Dr. Stahl.

FIU shares a similar sentiment with UT.

“In our program, we have a course dedicated to health care technology and how to use information management systems. It’s not the technology that’s going to solve our problem. Technology is just a tool that we can use to make better decisions along the way,” said Borkowski.

Borkowski admits that when she talks to clinicians about her school’s MBA program they commonly cite a lack of time. She always responds to them by saying that it’ll never be the right time, but they have to make a commitment toward improvement.

After all, the processes of medicine are changing by the day and no physician wants to be left behind. Experienced healthcare providers must lead the way for change, and a physician MBA may be the key that opens the door to health innovation.

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