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Do You Need an MBA?  What do you learn in business school anyway?

By Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE, Business, Career and Executive Coach for physicians and clinical leaders;  Founder and Director of Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership

Several newsletters ago, I addressed some  reasons for physicians to consider pursuing an MBA (see "To MBA or NOT to MBA, That is the Question"  at the bottom of this page). Ever wonder how you can get the learning without spending the time or money for the actual credentials?  Here are two good books that provide a good overview of the basic MBA curriculum:  The Ten Day MBA, by Steven Silbiger, and The Physician's Essential MBA, by Michael Stahl and Peter Dean.  

Silbiger wrote his book after completing two years at one of the country's "top ten" business schools. His stated goal was to "cut to the heart of the top MBA programs' subject matter clearly and concisely."  Silbiger's basics fall into nine disciplines:

  • Marketing

  • Ethics

  • Accounting

  • Organizational Behavior

  • Quantitative Analysis

  • Finance

  • Operations

  • Economics

  • Strategy

Stahl and Dean's essentials are based on the University of Tennessee's curriculum for the Physician Executive MBA, a physicians-only program launched in 1998 (I was a member of the inaugural class).  Because the focus of the program is to develop healthcare leadership skills on top of business knowledge, the "essentials" includes these topics:

  • Change and Strategy in the Healthcare Industry

  • Economics of Healthcare Policy

  • Health Policy for the Physician Leader

  • Managing Organizational Design to Lead Change in Health Care Enterprises

  • The Practice of Marketing:  What Every Physician Leader Needs to Know

  • Measuring Business Performance (Finance)

  • Cash Flows, Expansion and the Access to Capital

  • Designing, Managing and Improving Health Care Operations

  • Disease Management:  What Every Physician Leader Needs to Know

  • Strategic Leadership in the Healthcare Industry

  • Business Law and Business Ethics for Physician Leaders

  • Statistics and Decision Making

  • Continuous Quality Improvement

  • Information Technology

If you decide to pursue an MBA, your options are many. First, the traditional 2-year program offered by most Universities will require a full time commitment.  If you don't want to take two years away from your current work, most schools also offer an Executive MBA option, with classes in the evening, weekends, or through distance learning.  

In addition to the University of Tennessee, the University of South Florida also offers a physician-focused curriculum.  University of California in Irvine has a Healthcare Executive MBA, where students meet once a month for 3 days on campus over 22 months. University of Massachusetts now offers an MBA through the American College of Physician Executives. More and more universities are expanding their MBA programs to meet the needs of the physician market.

Another route to acquiring "MBA equivalent" business education is by attending an "executive" business course at your local University.  Many University business schools have a 9 month "Executive Management" program, usually meeting once a week for 3 hours, and covering the essentials.  Students generally are off the hook for any serious homework and the Certificate awarded at the conclusion of the program is still worthwhile to include in your resume if that's important to you.

Ultimately, the route you choose to expand your business skills will be based on cost, time, the impact on your family, your professional and business focus, and whether or not the "MBA" credential is imperative for your career movement.  

MBA may be overkill---and conversely, may be inadequate

An MBA program may offer you a "big picture" view of business, operations and leadership---the language, theory and principles. This is not necessarily going to be the "be all, end all" of business training, such that, voila: you're an experienced businessman. Far from it.

Perhaps it's equivalent to doing the first 2 years of Medical school, and getting the theory and vocabulary.

Conversely, an MBA may be overkill for most physicians.

Most importantly though, MBA programs don't necessarily help you in applying these principles to YOUR actual business and life.

For example, I have had several physician clients who have MBA's and who have then come to me for the "how to" nitty-gritty of navigating and succeeding in their leadership or business role. In other words, having the theory was just one component to gaining clarity about their professional direction, and about how to handle critical situations with a subordinate, a project, a marketing plan etc. One-on-one coaching helps them apply the theory directly to their situation.

You may want to look at the alternatives to an MBA, depending on what your own personal and professional goals are. For example, one goal may be to improve your acumen as an investor. An MBA program will teach you the underlying principles of cash flow calculations, rate of return calculations etc. You can also get this same knowledge from a short course in college or a distance education course. AND none of these courses (MBA or otherwise) will provide you "insight" about what industry is going to be the "hot one."

Consider also that if you are practicing physician and your goal is to optimize your practice income, professional fulfillment and business growth, an MBA program or even an executive management program may not provide you with tools and strategies you need.  An additional strategy to consider is to engage the services of a business or executive coach well versed in healthcare AND physicians.  Indeed I have found that many of my physician clients who have an MBA appreciate the focused business strategizing and personal leadership development that only one-on-one executive coaching can provide them.

 

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To MBA or Not to MBA, That is the Question 

At one point or another you will wonder whether you want to get an MBA—either as a pre-requisite to making a career transition, optimizing your clinical practice, growing your medical business or  moving up in your current medical management career path. You may have read with envy how MBA students from top schools are being snapped up at $110K to start by both blue chip companies and start-ups.  Could this happen to you, and at twice the salary, if you attended Wharton? 

I'll share with you the real "scoop" on the value of an MBA for non-physicians versus physicians.

The scoop for Non-physicians:

The vast majority of MBA students either in full time or executive MBA programs have been in a business setting at least 3 to 6 years. They have been working in the “business context” for a while and understand the progression from junior to senior executive. And yes, there are lines of recruiters vying for the latest crop of MBA graduates.  These graduates will be harvested and placed in junior positions within corporations, consulting firms or financial institutions.  It is expected they will both produce and continue to advance on the job for the next 20 + years.  

The scoop for Physicians:

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about physicians who earn an MBA. Physicians entering MBA programs after five to ten years in clinical practice (and after three to seven years of post-doctoral training) are not viewed by recruiters as the same strain as their non-clinical, and generally younger, classmates.  

Here are some reasons why recruiters look askance at new “MD, MBAs”:  

  • 1) physicians don’t have experience in business (running your own practice doesn’t count), 

  • 2) physicians aren’t team players, 

  • 3) physicians won’t join a company as a junior member, or 

  • 4) physicians have unrealistic expectations about base salaries.  These are generalizations, I know, but more often true than not. 

So why should you consider an MBA? 

There are at least three good reasons for you to pursue an MBA:  

  • 1) for the business skills education, 

  • 2) to learn the business world language, and 

  • 3) to connect with other students who can broaden your business knowledge, perspective and opportunities.  

For physicians in medical management careers, the most important reason is that having an MBA is an expectation if you want to move up to your next opportunity. 

For all physicians, your ability to enter the business world--whether in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, information technology, and numerous other fields--depends more on your specific accomplishments that demonstrate business acumen or ability to solve specific business problems.  The MBA is not your ticket. 

Once you are clear about what you want from your MBA experience, then you will know which programs to consider and how much to invest.  But first, understand your true motivations and be realistic about the outcome.   

For practicing physicians wanting to improve their business operations, getting a business degree may be the wrong strategy.  A business course in a community college will provide an adequate foundation.  Then supplement that some focused professional development assistance from a business coach.

What I find in working with my many physician clients who have and MBA degree is that what stumps them is the APPLICATION of business concepts to their actual work environment.  As a coach, I help my clients not only to understand and apply  key business principles, but also to become excellent business managers. 

If you have specific business or leadership issues, consider enrolling the services of an executive coach who understands healthcare business AND physicians is a smarter strategy.  I invite you to learn more about our coaches and executive coaching programs.

by Francine R. Gaillour, MD, Business, Career and Executive Coach for physicians and clinical leaders;  Director of Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership

P.S.  I received my MBA from the University of Tennessee Physician Executive MBA Program in 1998, after spending over five years as a technology senior executive.  Because I knew what I wanted to achieve from the program, it turned out to be a great experience.  Beyond the MBA, I have continued to develop my  business and management skills through the executive coach training that I've completed.  If you're serious about success, the learning never stops!

If you are contemplating hiring a coach, Contact me to arrange introductory meeting. 

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Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
15600 NE 8th Street, Suite B1-173
Bellevue, WA  98008
(206) 686-4205
www.PhysicianLeadership.com 

Francine R. Gaillour, MD   ©2006 Ki Health, Inc.