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Why doctors are joining MBA programs

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md/mbaAt this point in your career, you’ve likely worked with someone who has obtained an MBA during or after completing their medical education.

As previously detailed in an issue of The Atlantic , the MD/MBA is one of the fastest-growing degree programs with the number of joint programs growing from 6 to 65 in the past 20 years. Current estimates indicate nearly 500 students participating in joint programs each year with an even higher number of practicing physicians going back to school to obtain this degree.

Moreover, I suspect that this trend will only increase as physicians become more aware of a need to possess strong leadership skills and to broaden their abilities beyond clinical medicine.

So what are the benefits of obtaining an MBA? For many, the first perceived benefit is that of a higher salary. Indeed, it has been shown that hospital administrators and physicians with administrative responsibilities can earn more than their strictly clinical peers. Still, while this is true, my experience has taught me that there are many more benefits to obtaining this degree—and that it’s well worth the added financial investment.

Improved Leadership Skills

As physicians, we are often called upon to be the leaders of multidisciplinary clinical teams, community health initiatives, and hospital committees. However, we receive very little training in the matter. Most of us tend to model our own leadership strategies on the leaders that we have been exposed to throughout medical school and residency without giving much (if any) consideration to motivational theory. Participation in an MBA program is a great opportunity to enhance these skills.

One of the first courses of my MBA program was “Leading Individuals & Teams.” As the name suggests, the basis of the course was learning to become a successful leader and the various strategies one could employ to do so. For me, this course taught me to become more empathetic and to place myself in the position of the other members on my team: what motivates them, what are their goals in any particular situation, how might my actions be affecting them? By learning to evaluate an issue from the perspective of others, I have become a better leader and have seen significant improvements when assuming this role in both a clinical and corporate setting.

This is not an anecdotal belief but rather, one that is supported by research. One study showed that students enrolled in a joint MD/MBA program had a higher tolerance of ambiguity compared to their non-MBA peers. Tolerance of ambiguity is a crucial leadership skill especially in the field of clinical care. Not only are MBA programs making physicians better leaders, they are creating better clinicians as well. 

Improved Teamwork

Medicine is a team sport, yet so much of our training is an individual endeavor. As physicians we learn to trust our own instinct, to take full ownership of each patient, and to function independently. What does every resident crave? Autonomy.

Thus, it was no surprise that I initially struggled with the large volume of collaborative assignments in my MBA program. However, working through these struggles has been an invaluable experience for my professional development.

I have learned that you can take responsibility and ownership of an idea while still involving others to become more efficient and productive. Additionally, I have learned to appreciate the opinions of those around me and to utilize them to challenge my own beliefs; even my best ideas can be made better by constructive analysis from those with different viewpoints than my own. Other skills that I have learned include conflict resolution, communication, and the ability to trust those around me. I believe that these skills will only help me become a better physician and executive. 

New Opportunities

One very popular topic on physician blogs is that of physician burnout, which is a very real thing. More than ever, physicians are opting to leave clinical practice for opportunities outside of patient care. Furthermore, many medical students are finishing their fourth year unsure if a clinical career is the right decision for them. As such, many medical students and practicing physicians choose to pursue an MBA as a form of insurance plan or as a way of diversifying their career.

When I first decided to obtain my MBA, I felt that it would largely open doors to hospital leadership positions, medical insurance companies, or the pharmaceutical industry. However, I quickly learned that there are seemingly endless amounts of opportunities for physicians outside of clinical practice, especially for those with an MBA on their resume. Whether working for a hedge fund, venture capital group, or health tech startup, the sky is the limit.

Personally, I have already capitalized on several opportunities related to my MBA. I have gained experience working as a senior physician consultant for HealthGrades, provided freelance medical chart review for several medical malpractice cases, served as a market analyst for a medical device firm, and am currently the co-director of tutor training and medical education for Med School Tutors. An MBA can open an endless amount of doors. It’s up to you to capitalize on them. 

Improved Creativity

Personally, I have always admired my more creative peers. For me, becoming a physician was an activity in left brain development. Medical training teaches us to become analytic, to strive for the same outcome with each patient, and to embrace evidence-based treatment plans. Go into a hospital and you’ll find a countless amount of treatment algorithms guiding clinical decision making from a patient’s presentation to their ultimate discharge. Walk into an operating room and you will see a highly trained surgeon attempting to perform the same operation, utilizing the same steps, maximizing the efficiency of their motions, and leading to the optimal clinical outcome. Medicine is a very rigid field. Training in an MBA program can help you become a more fluid and creative individual.

Business school taught me to embrace creativity and to, when appropriate, look for new solutions to old problems. One of the first books that I read for class was Creativity, Inc. , a book detailing the rise of Pixar and how it encourages creativity and professional growth amongst its employees. For me, this text helped me to embrace the creative process and caused me to push myself harder in pursuit of novel solutions and ideas. Beyond being exposed to new ideas and case studies of truly original people (I highly recommend the book, Originals ), just being around so many creative minds each day has helped my own growth immensely.

Now, when I encounter a clinical problem, I find myself asking, “How many different ways could I solve this?” or, “Is this the best way to solve this?”. These questions force me to challenge my own knowledge and beliefs and help me to constantly push myself to become a more innovative person. For me, solving problems has become more about recognizing a problem and leading change in that direction.

In closing, an MD/MBA is a highly valuable combination and one that will likely see its value rise in the coming decade. In addition to the increased opportunities it may provide you, I believe that it will make you a better clinician for your patients—and a better leader for those around you.

Dr. Christopher Carrubba

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Dr. Christopher Carrubba

Dr. Christopher Carrubba

USMLE Tutor & Senior Contributing Editor

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MD / MBA Dual Degree

MD/MBA Dual Degree – Daytime MBA

Doctor of Medicine / MBA

Health care and business are increasingly interconnected. Whether your goal is to become a clinical practitioner or help manage anything from a hospital to a biotech company, knowing the financial incentives in each industry in tandem with the flow of money in health care is fundamental to understanding today’s health care system. Those with strong medical and business knowledge will be better prepared to lead teams forward, challenge the status quo, and create an impact that goes beyond the bottom line. With Duke University’s Medical Center and Research Triangle Park, both located in Durham, you’ll have access to some of the most cutting-edge research and business opportunities to both challenge and inspire you.

About Duke’s MD/MBA

Length:
  • 5 years
Expertise in:
  • Management
  • Research
  • Education
  • Care Delivery

Admissions

Admissions Information

  • Students typically apply to Fuqua during their second year at the School of Medicine.
  • Indicate your interest in a joint degree upon admission to the School of Medicine.
  • Admission to one school does not guarantee admission to the other.

Application Fast Facts

  • Separate applications required: 
    • Apply here for Fuqua or review application instructions .
    • Apply here for the School of Medicine or review the admissions process .

 

Program Format

The program was developed to keep MD/MBA graduates within the health care field and to create future physician-executives. Unlike many MD/MBA degree programs, the Duke program does not require you to give up clinical practice in order to complete your business coursework. The emphasis is not on one discipline or the other, but preparing you to become a leader in both.

The MD/MBA degree program also has a first-of-its-kind, MBA-like rotational residency, called Duke’s Management and Leadership Pathway. Over 15–18 months, you get rigorous clinical exposure along with mentorship and rotational opportunities in management to develop critical leadership skills in all facets of medicine, including care delivery, research, and education.

Schedule

Year 1: Medicine

Year 2: Medicine

Year 3: Medicine + Fuqua core + Health Sector Management courses

Year 4: Medicine + Fuqua electives + thesis

Year 5: Medicine + Fuqua electives

Fuqua’s Health Sector Management (HSM) Concentration

Focus on the entire health care ecosystem and gain a deeper appreciation of the dynamics between policymakers, providers, insurers, device manufacturers, health information systems, and bio-pharmaceutical companies. You’ll master a spectrum of skills that will enable you to effect change for the better. Created in 1999, the program now ranks among the top health industry business school concentrations in the world. In addition to HSM, you will have the option to complete one additional concentration  or certificate at Fuqua.

Day-to-Day Schedule

  • Fuqua courses are usually held on a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday schedule.
  • The Medical School’s courses are usually held on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule.

The Medical School and Fuqua follow different academic calendars and semester schedules. Fuqua semesters are divided into two terms each. When scheduling a semester-long Medical School course, be sure to consider both of Fuqua’s terms so that there will not be a conflict.

Cost & Financial Aid

Tuition Rate

  • The first 2 years of tuition are paid to the School of Medicine.
  • The next 3 years of tuition (seven semesters) are a blended rate, split between Fuqua and the School of Medicine.

Fuqua Financial Aid and Merit Scholarships

  • All admitted applicants are considered for scholarship, and Merit scholars are selected by the Merit Scholarship Committee.
  • Scholarship selection criteria include:
    • Prior academic achievement
    • Demonstrated leadership qualities
    • Level of community involvement
    • Extracurricular activities
    • Professional accomplishments
  • Awards are made independent of eligibility for loans and work-study employment.
  • Merit-based scholarships range from partial to full tuition and are awarded for the 2-year duration of the MBA program so that you can plan for the entire cost of your education.
  • If selected to be a scholarship recipient, admitted students will receive notification of the award with their letter of admission.
  • Fuqua has a variety of student loan programs that are available to both domestic and international students.
  • Every applicant is eligible to apply for a combination of federal and alternative student loans to meet their cost of tuition, fees, books, and related living expenses.
  • Learn more about Fuqua’s financial aid programs and scholarships .

School of Medicine Financial Aid and Scholarships

  • Financial aid will be processed through the School of Medicine.
  • Explore the School of Medicine’s merit-based scholarships .
  • Learn about the School of Medicine’s student loan programs .
Careers

As an MD/MBA student, you have the full spectrum of both medical and business careers available to you. Those who choose not to practice medicine often go on to careers in consulting, banking, life sciences, administration, or policy.

Those who opt to begin their post-graduation careers in business can take advantage of on-campus interviewing and recruiting options through Fuqua’s Career Management Center (CMC), while those who intend to practice medicine can find a residency with the help of the School of Medicine’s Match program.

Residencies

A residency isn’t just an option as an MD/MBA student—it is strongly encouraged. You can choose from a range of clinical residencies or opt to participate in the Management and Leadership Pathway for Residents (MLP-R). The first program of its kind in the United States, the MLP-R lets trainees work on high-priority initiatives across the Duke University Health System and the Schools of Medicine and Nursing in functions such as:

  • Health system management and operations
  • Financial management and planning
  • Quality improvement and safety
  • Informatics
  • Technology transfer
  • Global strategy and business development
  • Research enterprise management
  • Clinical service enterprise management
  • Supply chain management

The MLP-R is geared toward helping residents complete their requirements for clinical practice and ABMS board eligibility (and where applicable, specialty board certification). It also lets residents participate in project-driven modules designed to solve problems within their clinical Department and Duke Medicine. Throughout the combined training program, clinical rotations and management modules are aligned. For example, a trainee may participate in a clinical rotation in nephrology and then complete a management rotation aimed at increasing outpatient dialysis services.

My Career

Making An Impact in Health Care With An MBA

Outside of Fuqua building
See why one Duke medical student chose to also pursue his MBA and how he feels both degrees will help him in his future career.
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