Physician Leaders: Top 10 Reasons to Pursue a Business Degree

An Important Consideration for the Emerging Executive

Family physician, certified physician executive, entrepreneur, writer, blogger, CME surveyor, public health expert, nonprofit board member.

About a year ago, I wrote about the need for a business degree. In my post, I listed Four Reasons to Seek a Business Degree. Since then, I have witnessed some of my colleagues enroll in MBA programs. All healthcare organizations benefit from owners or leaders with knowledge of business principles, including private practices. Is it time for you to pursue a business degree?

I am re-posting the material from my previous article. However, I am adding 6 additional benefits completing a business degree provides.

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More physician leaders have recently acquired an MBA, MHA, MMM or MPH (an MPH is not actually a business degree, but a significant number of physician executives have one). A business or management degree is definitely not a requirement for a career as a physician executive.

There are many successful physician leaders without such a degree. There are numerous physician CEOs, working in hospitals, insurance companies, medical groups and nonprofit organizations who don’t have one.

However, if you have not already graduated from one of the 65 joint MD/MBA programs, then you will likely consider obtaining it or a similar degree after completing residency. Pursuing such a degree is a big commitment. The costs will run into the tens of thousands of dollars. It will require hundreds of hours of study and up to a three-year commitment to complete.

In spite of that, I believe you should seriously consider pursuing a business degree.

Top 10 reasons to Pursue a Business Degree.

1. Differentiate Yourself

You may have taken a leadership role and handled several projects. You demonstrated your ability to lead and manage. Now you are interviewing for a position as a full-time administrator. Frequently, you will find yourself competing with several other qualified candidates.

All things being equal (experience, expertise, communication skills, etc.), the candidate with the degree is more likely to be hired.

2. A Business Degree May Be Required

Sometimes the prospective employer will only list a preference for candidates with a master’s degree in business or healthcare administration.

However, there are systems that require applicants to have a management degree. (In fact, I’ve even seen a few postings list a CPE (Certified Physician Executive) as a preferred qualification.)

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3. Different Perspective and Enhanced Skills

This is really the most important issue. Sure, you may have participated in educational offerings (through specialty societies, the American Association for Physician Leadership, the Advisory Board, the American Hospital Association, or the American College of Healthcare Executives).

But participation and immersion in a management degree program will provide:

  • more in-depth study,
  • ongoing exposure to faculty,
  • development of new skills, and
  • more practice working in teams.

I have witnessed a transformation in colleagues who have completed a business degree. They have better mastery of the business aspects of healthcare. Consequently, they are better managers and leaders. And they display more confidence.

They have learned how to write a business plan and create a pro forma, to understand accounting, finance, marketing, and managing staff. These and other skills will benefit a physician in any enterprise, from the private solo practice, to a large organization.

4. Demonstrate Commitment

When making a shift to a new career, it is sometimes necessary to demonstrate that it is not a passing whim.

This is especially true if you are trying to obtain an administrative position at your home hospital, or in your home town at a new organization. Unfortunately, your peers and prospective employer may need evidence that your interests and skills have evolved in order to take you seriously.

5. New Mastermind Group

Working on an MBA or an MMM will help you develop a network of colleagues with similar goals and interests. These colleagues will often become friends and an ongoing resource for advice and counsel. Some may morph into an ongoing mastermind group of advisors and coaches.

6. Intellectually Stimulating and Inspirational

It’s intellectually challenging and exciting. Engaging in an intense learning environment often rekindles passion for your career. A colleague of mine was inspired to address an important issue in his practice while nearing completion of his MBA, as described in this Medical Economics article.pursue a business degee project management

7. Project Management

Perhaps I could have included under #3. There is definitely a process for organizing and managing a project that is not learned in medical school or residency. However, the ability to execute a project, from business plan (if needed) to specific milestones and metrics is an important skill. The course work involved in pursuing a business degree should deliver this new ability.

8. Strategic Planning

Very few physicians having any idea how to create a strategic plan. It is a critical skill needed to run any sizable organization. A full-blown strategic plan may not be needed for a small physician practice. But any large group or hospital needs regular strategic planning.

Granted, the CMO may not be the one leading it. Sometimes, an outside consultant might be employed to help run a formal strategic plan.

But strategic planning for your own division, or spending time thoughtfully considering strategic issues, is an important part of being a physician executive. A SWOT Analysis (described in When to Use a SWOT Analysis and From SWOT Analysis to Inspired Goal Setting) is often a vital part of preparing a strategic plan and is generally taught in business school.

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9. Career Flexibility

Physicians already have a secure career path. They often have multiple clinical jobs available to them if they’re looking. Obtaining a business degrees provides even more career opportunities, with the ability to seek jobs with a combination of clinical and/or management duties.

10. Compensation

I believe this is the least important reason to pursue an advanced business degree. Granted, seeking an MBA is an investment, so it should have a financial and personal return.

All things being equal, the respected physician with an MBA will earn about $50,000 more per year than without it. Of course, there are exceptions to that, including well-compensated hospital CEOs without a business degree or the physician MBA running a struggling practice receiving poor compensation.

But most primary care physicians who leave clinical medicine and move into a management or executive position will do better financially. The same may not be true for a high volume cardiologist or neurosurgeon moving into full-time administration. Senior level executives at most healthcare organizations are well paid.

Summary

You can readily obtain management experience through certain jobs. You can access CME to obtain additional training in business related disciplines. And you can certainly move into a management position without getting an MBA, MMM or MHA.

However, pursuing an advanced business degree is challenging and rewarding. The intense study enhances the lifelong learning to which we’re all committed. And it provides an opportunity for creating meaningful lifelong relationships.

You should strongly consider pursuing a business degree.


I am very interested in your experiences with this issue.

  • Have you completed a degree program during your quest to pivot from clinical to administrative work?
  • If so, has it been worthwhile?

Comment below or email me at johnjurica@vitalpe.net.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.