Does a physician need an MBA degree?

There’s a great blog post on Harvard Business Review titled, “Does an Entrepreneur Need an MBA?” I’m now enrolled in business school and I’m pursuing an MBA. I don’t consider myself a traditional entrepreneur, but I’ve started a few things here and there. Someday, I may take a big risk and start a “real” company, but for now I’m comfortable bootstrapping my way through a few little ventures.

The author Stephen Greer talks about his perspective on the MBA. He built and sold a company for $250 million. Could a physician do that? As physicians, we often get caught up with formal education and degrees. We may not feel competent to take certain risks and pursue specific ventures if we don’t feel like we have the appropriate knowledge and “training” to pursue such things. After all, that’s our medical mindset. You won’t find many internists performing brain surgery. You won’t find radiologists delivering babies. We appreciate the importance of formal education and training that then prepares us for our specific careers.

I’ve run across a number of successful physician entrepreneurs who don’t have business degrees. Would they be more successful if they had an MBA? Perhaps. But then again, the time it takes to get an MBA could distract one from pursuing certain ambitions. Success in the world of business depends on several factors which include luck and timing. If you don’t have some luck at the right times, you’ll fail. If you start a great business at the wrong time, you’ll fail. So, if you delay your brilliant business idea to pursue an MBA, you may miss that window of opportunity to be successful. Then again, you don’t want to venture into something if you don’t feel like you have the appropriate level of training to be well-equipped for the things you’re likely to face. If you’re willing to take the initiative to learn things on your own, then you probably don’t need an MBA to be a great entrepreneur.

The author of the HBR blog post quotes Dr. John Yang, the dean of the Beijing International MBA program at Beijing University: “In my opinion, entrepreneurship is a matter of the heart, and education is a matter of the brain. It is difficult to teach a heart.” That’s a great quote, isn’t it?

Joseph Kim is a physician-executive who blogs at Non-Clinical Medical Jobs, Careers, and Opportunities.

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  • Michael

    In my opinion, Dr’s who want to practice medicine need to spend more time with patients, studying their charts and medical history, not scrutinizing balance sheets and developing business strategies. As a patient, I dont want my doctor spending time thinking about ROI when in fact, I might have a not so obvious condition that might require an MRI, ignored because the Dr hasnt made the correlation between multiple symptoms – one neurological, the other intestinal.

    If practice is not the goal of the physician, by all means, please become an entrepreneur and explore new ideas and develop better tools in the field of medicine – but consider your benefit may come at the patient’s cost.

    • jsmith

      Hear, hear. I have nothing against businessmen. While creating wealth for themselves they often make life better for others, and this can be a noble life’s work.
      But, at bottom, we doctors should not be businessmen, with a business outlook and business motives. We should be people whose main work is the alleviation of suffering. Business is necessary to what we do but not at its core.
      Dr. Kim seems to think that wealth creation is a higher calling. That’s his right. I think most of the rest of us are somewhat saddened by one of our profession going away.

      • IVF-MD

        Part of what a smart business leader masters is the ability to come up with better ways to doing things, better ways of communicating with staff, better ways of troubleshooting the logistics of a medical practice. These are all things that fall under the realm of business training.

        I am a voracious learner when it comes to these things. I am currently uninterested in investment opportunities etc. I am one of the few RE’s who has no financial interest in any surgery center or embryology lab, despite having been offered many opportunities. I’m not saying this might not change in the future, but as of now, I try my best to stay on top of business innovation with regards to providing medical services and medical education.

        Many of the complaints patients have about a doctor’s services (staff is rude, office is disorganized, fees are too high) are mitigated by proper employee selection and training, proper medical supply logistics and proper waste-cutting efficiencies.

        By having fewer stresses, it frees the doctor’s mind up to focus on the medical tasks at hand.

        True, these things can be delegated to a CEO, but in a one-doctor practice such as my own, I can’t afford and don’t want to pay a CEO. Also, I’ve seen how it is in multi-doctor groups when a CEO runs the show. The doctors are unhappy and many of their beliefs are compromised in deference to the CPA’s bottom line. Instead, in many ways, it’s better for the practitioner to be on top of things himself. We certainly benefit from delegating many non-medical tasks to others, but we are still expected to be the captain of the ship.

  • MeMyselfAndI

    I had a doctor years ago who got his MBA …I saw dramatic improvements and changes in his practice after he got his degree. (Saw the changes, mentioned them, thats when he told me he’d gone to get his MBA and graduated the previous year)
    The changes he made, allowed him to spend MORE time with his patients, give better care and be more proactive with his OWN time, and dedication to family.

    In short, it made him a more efficient physician becuase he had a better understanding of how to manage the business side of medicine.

    (then he realized how much it was costing him and he sold his practice and went to teach for a university …so in the end, it cost me ..except he’s training hundreds of doctor’s over the years to be as good, caring and dedicated as he was)

  • meghmala

    It is difficult to teach a heart.I am agree with our writing.

  • Lauren

    I’ve never met anyone, including physicians, who regret their MBA. But in today’s economic environment, there seems to be a growing push toward educating yourself about business best practices. One website called the Personal MBA has a reading list for people who prefer the self-taught method. The site’s philosophy is you can save yourself $200,000 in debt and still advance your career by reading the books listed.

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