Physicians spend a considerable portion of medical school, residency training and fellowship on clinical training and become proficient in their specialties. Throughout the training process, there is little to no guidance on the business side of medicine. With the evolution of the healthcare and focus on fiscal management and economics, maintaining a medical practice whether an independent practice or hospital employment, is a challenge. Although experience is often the best teacher, there are glaring gaps in aspects such as finance, marketing and business analytics.
To adapt to the evolving healthcare profession, aspiring doctors and practicing physicians are increasingly studying business and medicine concomitantly. In a 2016 report, Ljuboja et al.  reported the number of joint MD/MBA programs doubling over the past two decades. Physicians are increasingly being appointed to managerial and leadership positions within hospitals and private practices. In a 2011 study, Goodall et al.  reported that hospitals with higher ranks in the US News and World Report’s Best Hospitals are substantially physician led and continue to outperform compared to administrative managers. Physicians are progressively involved in consulting roles in pharmaceuticals and industry vendor companies and knowledge in management, marketing and business in addition to medical and surgical knowledge has demonstrated to be crucial.
Although the positives of obtaining an MBA, even after years into practice, appear appealing from afar, physicians who have obtained the degree admit the associated challenges. Studying for an MBA requires additional time spent away from clinical medicine, medical research and personal life. Furthermore, there is a notable cost associated with business programs in addition to the overwhelming accrued debt from student loans. Finally, obtaining a business degree does not automatically ensure future management or capital success. All of these aspects were thoroughly considered before I decided to pursue an MBA. Coming from an extensive science and medical background, I found myself close to graduating residency without having any business understanding or having taken a finance, accounting or marketing class.
To gain further insight about decision of pursuing an MBA as an orthopedic surgeon, speaking with Alex Vaccaro, MD, PhD, MBA seemed like a logical choice. As a practicing and high volume orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Vaccaro is the Richard H. Rothman Chair of Orthopedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the president of the prestigious Rothman Institute. He completed and earned his online MBA degree at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in 2015, 22 years after being in clinical practice. Below is a transcribed conversation with Dr. Vaccaro:
Why did you choose to pursue an MBA and why an online MBA?
Dr. Vaccaro: I choose to get an MBA because of my lack of professional business training. In order to speak the same language of business administrators and understand the basic elements of accounting, finance, economics, operations etc., an MBA was the most logical pathway. I choose an online MBA because of its convenience due to my time constraints.
What is it like to go to business school after Medical School, especially for those that have limited business knowledge?
Dr. Vaccaro It is an awaking experience. For some reason, physicians have the misconception that because they have done well in a scientific learning environment that they should easily pick up various elements of accounting, finance, economics and operations. This is really not the case. These are interesting topics that need to be mastered in order to be an effective business leader. I found the experience to be challenging but rewarding.
In your opinion, do most MD/MBA’s leave clinical medicine eventually?
Dr. Vaccaro: I hope that is not the case. Physicians who continue to maintain their practice can use the principles learned in their business training to their advantage in helping their groups or enterprise be more successful in such a competitive environment as medicine. I believe you are a much more effective leader among your peers if you continue to practice as you are boots on the ground and can empathize with the issues faced by physicians on a daily basis.
How and why has this new duel degree become so popular so fast?
Dr. Vaccaro: The dual degree has become so popular because physicians truly are experiencing a transformational medical environment with new payment paradigms such ad MIPS and APM. Physicians should have an understanding of the true cost of their care and better means in minimizing variance and waste in their practices. This is coupled with the fact that the cost of providing medical care is increasing so an understanding of business and how to be much more efficient is vital to a physician’s livelihood.
What advice do you have for applicants considering an MD/MBA?
Dr. Vaccaro: I think getting an MBA is attainable at any level of one’s career being an Intern, Resident, Fellow or Practitioner. There is never a great time to dedicate the time and effort that needs to be successful in obtaining a degree but if you choose the program that fits your lifestyle such as I did with an online MBA program and commit yourself to its completion, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice that you have to put in to complete the process.
The new wave of dually qualified physicians (MD/MBA) is significantly on the rise without signs of slowing down. Obtaining an MBA degree will be the stepping stone and will provide the tools for an illustrious career.
- Ljuboja D, Powers BW, Robbins B, Huckman R, Yeshwant K, Jain SH. When doctors go to business school: career shoices of physician-MBAs. Am J Manag Care. 2016;22(6):e196-8.
- Goodall AH. Physician-leaders and hospital performance: is there an association?. Soc Sci Med. 2011;73(4):535-539.