February 23, 2017

Why more docs want an MBA with their MD

Daily Briefing

To better navigate the changing health care profession, some aspiring doctors are studying business in addition to medicine.

The health care industry has changed significantly in the past two decades. Doctors today are adopting EHRs and learning more about the cost of care and the degrees available to them reflect those changes. A 2016 report from Harvard Business School shows the number of joint MD/MBA programs has more than doubled since 2000, when there were fewer than 30 joint MD/MBA-degree programs.

Trend reflects shift from 'art of medicine' to 'business of medicine'

According to Harvard Business School professor Rob Huckman, there's a shift in the health care industry from the art of medicine to the business of medicine.

"There is a greater interest in thinking about topics like process improvement and how we increase working in teams together so they can solve problems faster," Huckman said. He added that health care is becoming more like manufacturing—meaning there is growing interest in reliable, safer, and lower-cost care.

Ideally, the dually educated professionals will be able to detect inefficiencies, develop new practices, and shake up "business as usual" to drive the country toward higher quality care at lower costs, Dan Gorenstein reports for Marketplace.

Kevin Schulman, who ran the MD/MBA program at Duke University, said the country is ripe for change, noting that up to $1 trillion annually is wasted. "We're not talking about small changes in the marketplace," Schulman said. "We're talking about the importance of a pretty fundamental change in health care over the next 5 to 10 years."

MD-MBA graduates in practice

In the 2016 report, researchers at Harvard Business School assessed the clinical and professional activities of 206 physicians who graduated from Harvard's MBA program between 1941 and 2014.

The researchers found that such graduates were most commonly employed in:

  • Clinical practice (27.7 percent);
  • Investment banking/finance (27 percent);
  • Hospital/provider administration (11.7 percent);
  • Biotech/device/pharmaceutical (10.9 percent); and
  • Entrepreneurship (9.5 percent).

Overall, the report found that 84 percent of physician-MBA graduates went into a residency program. About half (49.3 percent) of physician-MBA graduates said they were still clinically active in some capacity, but slightly more than quarter (27.7 percent) cited clinical medicine as their primary occupation. According to the report, physicians who obtained an MBA reduced their clinical activity over the course of their careers (Gorenstein, Marketplace, 2/15; Finnegan, FierceHealthcare, 2/15; Ljboja, American Journal of Managed Care, 6/9/16).

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