Value of MBA for surgeons

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Feb 19, 2016
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Curious about the value of an MBA for surgeons. In my mind, the physicians who can make the most of an MBA degree are those who can seemlessly transition to administration (or who can simultaneously work in administration during active practice). This would include internal medicine, psych, ED, and primary care physicians. These specialties are constantly managing lots of patients who have diverse care needs in multiple confusing healthcare systems. It seems natural that they would benefit from an MBA degree which they could parlay into making management decisions about the healthcare system within which they work.

On the other hand, surgeons are very narrowly focused on completing surgeries. They have much less diverse patient populations and the majority of their time is spent either in the OR or managing post-op complications. They live in a world in which you "eat what you kill," and so they need to spend more time hunting for patients and managing them, so to speak. The one area in which surgeons could benefit from MBA training is in learning how to manage their ORs or surgical departments better. But do you really need an MBA to do that? Couldn't you just read a book or take some executive leadership courses?

What do you all think? Any good examples of how surgeons specifically can get good value from an MBA? I like the idea of an MBA but not sure its worth my time and money.

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Honestly, the way I see it, if you are sure you want to transition to admin in your career, you should consider an MBA. If you are thinking about it but unsure, then i don't really see the value because its not uncommon to do an eMBA or a MHA even as a mid career surgeon. The traditional MBA might not really teach you enough and most of the network you build will not be in healthcare anyways. The only other reason to do it is if you are truly interested in working in the intersection between health and business. In that case, you should consider it, but like you said, it would be harder to have a full time career as a surgeon and do anything more than serving as an occasional consultant and for that you really don't need an MBA anyways.
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No, surgeons don't need an MBA to do what you've described. That said, getting an MBA can be a great way to learn the material and skills that help to be a great leader and manager. I really don't think physicians can go wrong with getting an MBA if they're interested in a business aspect of healthcare. The major drawbacks are that it can be expensive, while simultaneously taking time away from your main work that would otherwise be generating income.

There are even executive MBA programs geared specifically toward physicians.
Tagging on to this thread. What career paths can a doc reasonably expect once they get an MBA? I’m in EM and have a sense that the field won’t be so great for much longer. But I’m also very interested in business and like the idea of an MBA, just not so sure of where itwould actually lead
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I'm not a surgeon but we could use more free standing, direct pay surgery centers so there's a role there for entrepreneurial surgeons where an
MBA would likely be very helpful.
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Surgeons are naturally situated to being able to assume leadership roles in hospital and health systems if they show an interest, since their specialties (as a group) intersect much of the hospitals resources, including having a direct activity in one of the most important revenue and profit streams of any hospital (the ORs). They typically have both inpatient and outpatient experience, and understand the need for referral bases that often are closely aligned with the needs of a hospital. Given this, it is not uncommon to see surgeons in the role of Chief of Staff, Chief Medical Officer, Quality director, etc. although admittedly still not as common as seeing someone from EM, Anesthesia, or IM, I would guess.

As you surmised, the biggest problem for surgeons taking on those roles is giving up time actually operating on patients. Stopping operating altogether is a fairly quick one way ticket to never getting back in the operating room, and part-time surgical practices can quickly morph into just having multiple full time jobs, unless part of a large surgical group that can cover for the time spent on admin duties. In this scenario, it is more similar to an academic surgeon. The final issue is that busy surgeons tend to also be well compensated, making it expensive for the hospital to hire them as an administrator, as there are others that would do the job for less money (assuming the surgeon wants to maintain their current income level which is often higher than the salary for non C-level admin work, relative to an IM person who might find that the offered pay is the same or slightly better in director level admin work.)

This now being said, I have seen surgeons succeed without an MBA, and I have seen surgeons feel like the lack of an MBA has stunted their ability to move up. My standard advice is that, until you can see a direct line between getting an MBA and achieving a career goal in the short term, you can put off getting an MBA. At that point, paying for an MBA to make the next career move can pay off. If it is just an evolution of your current value as a clinician, who has some admin duties, if they want you bad enough, and an MBA would be needed for the job, the likelihood is that you can negotiate for them to pay for an executive MBA as part of your job package
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