Home Blog MD, MBA


December 2007

How many letters should a hospitalist have after “MD” or “DO” if he or she wants a leadership position in medicine? More to the point, should three of those letters be “MBA”? This strikes me as an interesting question for discussion, in part because I am halfway through an MBA program at George Washington University.

I was motivated to pursue an MBA for a number of reasons. First of all, I believe that it’s very likely that hospitalists will be the future CEOs and VPs of hospitals. (Many already serve in VPMA positions.) Perhaps we are selected by default–after all, given the current state of the field of medicine, we may be the only physicians who want to work in hospitals. Still, those of us interested in leadership ought to be strategically positioning ourselves for such a role, and obtaining an MBA is one way to do so.

Second, the MBA degree allows for career flexibility beyond the arena of hospital leadership and administration. To be sure, I did not spend seven years of training so I could leave medicine. But it is never a bad idea to have options, and to be poised to seize opportunities when they arise, especially if they involve a new field or aspect of medical practice or the health care industry.

Third, the Internet has made pursuing an MBA far easier for busy physicians who doesn’t have time for a traditional degree program. A friend of mine who is an ER physician is currently getting an MBA online through Penn State, while another physician I know is doing the same at Indiana University. My own program requires 10 hours per week on average, and I have found that by concentrating on the work over my weekends, I can complete the requirements without too much trouble.

A final reason, and a big one–it is enjoyable, even fun. Indeed, I have enjoyed having a “hobby” outside of (but not unrelated to) medicine.

All of us find ourselves at some point feeling locked into our professional field, so we forget that there are opportunities to learn beyond CME conferences. For me, working on an MBA has been akin to learning a new language, one with its own particular set of concepts and ways of thinking. This has given me perspective onto a whole new horizon of thought and practice. If nothing else, it can’t be a bad thing to be fluent in the language spoken by the people in charge of one’s paycheck!

So is it worth it? To my mind, an MBA is a “soft degree.” By that, I mean that I am not necessarily learning a vocation as I would if I was pursing an engineering degree, a mechanic’s license or, of course, an MD. So, I think of it in terms of cost-benefit analysis, financial but also intellectual and professional returns.

An MBA is not cheap and can easily run as high as 75K. Some employers subsidize the getting an MBA (mine included, for which I am immensely grateful), and this makes the decision to undertake a program much easier. Any hospitalist currently working in an administrative rank should be encouraged to ask his or her employer about such a subsidy. It goes without saying that the benefits of the degree are mutual.

Are there options, aside from the MBA, for hospitalists interested in leadership and administration? Yes, and among them is SHM’s leadership academy. (Click here for information on the February 2008 sessions.) Based on my own experience, I heartily recommend this three-day program. While the course won’t teach you the language of an MBA, this crash course in leadership, negotiation skills and strategies is time very well spent.

There is, of course, another path: Instead of worrying about an advanced degree, we can simply further our career in hospital leadership by, well, leading. Many hospitalists are already doing just that, so their experience may well trump the usefulness of an MBA add-on.

I’ll close with a question: When all is said and done, is the MBA worth it? Call me in 10 years to find out.