Why Doctors Need An MBA
A business degree can broaden career opportunities for doctors
A growing number of doctors are applying to MBA programs to gain a business education and improve their managerial skills. But how does having an MBA affect their career?
Doctors choose to enrol in business school for many reasons. Some of them are asked to take on managerial responsibilities within the hospital. A recent study published on the Social Science and Medicine journal finds that hospitals positioned higher in the US News and World Report‘s Best Hospitals ranking are disproportionately led by physicians, not by professional managers.
Other doctors want to keep working in the healthcare sector but in a different role, for example working as consultants in pharmaceutical firms. Therefore they need to gain management skills and business expertise to use along their medical knowledge.
We talked to three physicians to find out more about the reasons they decided to go to business school and how they benefited from an MBA.
Tim Peachey – NHS medical director
Dr. Tim Peachey is Divisional Medical Director at the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, running eight clinical directorates with a budget of around £100 million
Trained in Anaesthesia and Intensive care, Tim is currently completing the Distance Learning MBA program at Warwick Business School: “The most valuable thing about doing an MBA is that it has a very diverse curriculum”, he says, pointing to subjects like operation management, strategic planning, and people management as being especially useful.
“But the most important things I have learnt are in finance and accountancy: for a doctor involved in the management of an NHS hospital it is essential to have a good understanding of accountancy.
“Otherwise it can be quite difficult to follow what the finance director is saying and why. You need to speak their language, and explain clinical things to them in terms that make both financial and clinical sense. Before the MBA, I felt I wasn’t fully conversant”.
When he started looking at the various MBA programs in 2006, his priorities were “reasonable cost and a very high degree of flexibility”. Warwick matched his requirements: the first year of its Distance Learning MBA program is exclusively based on distance learning, while the second and third year include one-week modules on campus.
“Warwick Business School also has a well known name and a very good reputation”, he says.
In his career, Tim has come across about eight doctors with an MBA degree, and he says he knows four doctors who are currently enrolled in MBA programs.
“But the most interesting thing is that doctors coming out of their training now are more and more interested in going into management, and therefore consider doing an MBA”, he adds.
Dr. Syed Jafri – Surgeon and Imperial College Business School MBA
Dr. Syed Jafri was a surgeon before he completed the full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School in 2007. He is now working in a multinational healthcare company, where he has both clinical and managerial responsibilities. On the one hand, he is involved in the support of clinical clients and product development; on the other, he explores business opportunities and sits on a number of committees to decide where the company should invest.
He decided to do an MBA because he wanted to have more responsibilities and explore different areas of his job: “When you’re a doctor you concentrate in a specific area, but you forget that there is an entire world outside it. Twenty years ago doctors could afford to be just doctors, but now the managerial side of our job impacts on every other aspect of it”, he explains.
Syed was searching for a one-year program because he wanted to re-enter the market really quickly. Imperial College Business School was both close and convenient: “I visited the school and found that people were open, warm and academically capable. The MBA director was extremely positive but also realistic about what the MBA could do to my career”, he says.
“Imperial also is a scientific and technologically sympathetic school. Many other schools are tailored for people who work or want to work in investment banking or management consulting: at Imperial, this was not the only option”.
What are the benefits of an MBA? “The MBA allows you to study different aspects of business in a very short period of time. Not that many courses allow you to learn so many things within one year. You may not be an expert in finance, or in strategy, or in human resources and organizations, but you know enough to know what to ask and to spot when people are making wrong guesses”.
Syed knows five or six doctors who earned an MBA, and at least double that number who are planning to do it: “A lot of it has to do with the fact that doctors have to be involved in management”, he explains.
Dr. Seemit Dhage – Management Consultant – Health, for a leading management consulting firm
Dr. Seemit Dhage worked as a surgeon for the NHS for five years and earned an MBA from Nottingham University Business School in 2007, before starting his career in management consulting.
He covers health in a leading management consulting firm, after having been a senior consultant for other two firms.
Initially, he decided to do an MBA to acquire some management skills as a doctor: “About five years ago, people in the NHS were discussing whether doctors should manage the service: I thought it was a good opportunity, and decided I needed to equip myself with management skills”, he explains.
“The intention was to go back to medicine after the MBA, but then I got interested in management consulting, and ended up switching career”.
“This practice is really common in the US where doctors often come out of medical school with an MD and an MBA. In the rest of the world, this is more unusual.”
As a management consultant, he worked for both the public and private sector. He did projects for the NHS, evaluating the performance of hospitals and how it could be improved. In the private sector he worked mainly on pharmaceutical medical devices, doing projects on market entry and product positioning.
For Seemit, the private and public sectors are very different. “The fundamentals of management consulting are the same, but the pressure demands are higher in the private sector.”
He says that doing an MBA was “quite essential” because it taught him how to think out of the box: “The MBA is not just a degree, but an actual learning process. With group sessions, projects, and the skills you acquire, you start thinking in a way that is not linked to your profession”.
For doctors who want to get into management consulting, he recommends a general MBA and not a health-focused one: “when I’m talking with management consultants, I want to be able to think like them”, he says.
However, five years of experience as a doctor definitely helped him: “I could prove I already knew my industry really well”.
As a doctor, Seemit was involved in emergency cases: he was used to long hours, and being in pressurised situations. Did that change with his new role? “The long hours are still there, but the pressure is much less”, he says, adding that he brought his work ethic and dedication to management consulting. “Interacting with people made me conscious about my responsibilities”.
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