A place for business in medical school

A recent article in the New York Times business section discusses an increase in the number of doctors getting M.B.A.’s in addition to their M.D. degree. In fact, there have even been many new programs that combine getting both of these degrees together. The article emphasizes the importance of seeing that “healing is an art, medicine is a profession and health care is a business.” However, is adding more degrees, increasing student load debt and spending more years at educational institutions the best way to get doctors to be fit for the business aspect of health care?

I think it is completely true that the medical profession entails much more than just medicine and healing, and with the right education and mindset, doctors can become entrepreneurs who can make great differences to improve health. Doctors have a perspective that allows them to develop solutions to many problems that other people would never be able to establish. Whether doctors use this different perspective to become physician-scientists, enter health care IT or any other aspect of medicine, having basic knowledge in business can be exceptionally important. Unfortunately, many physicians or doctors-in-training never have had exposure to the basic guidance that would allow them to create proper business plans to make their solutions come to life or take the reins of business related careers in the health care industry or even the skills to develop convincing pitches to attract investors. At the same time, many of these doctors who could make great differences in health care do not see spending more time and money getting an additional degree worth it, and some even consider it as a risk they are not willing to take.

An effective and very feasible solution to educating future physicians with the business skills they need to inspire their entrepreneurial minds would be to incorporate a compact and basic business course throughout the first few years of medical school.

Like most other medical schools, our medical school already has elective classes where we meet once a week to discuss issues in health care. These classes are very important to understanding the profession we will soon be practicing. However, business is also a major player in health care and should be addressed within these classes. Simply adding a one hour class that meets every month to discuss basic business skills that apply to the medical profession can easily be implemented at many medical colleges. These classes could teach medical students the basics to get any of their future ideas off the floor. These are the ideas that will help mold and change the health care of the future and we should be working to nurture them in any way possible.

For some future physicians, these new skills may be what make their practice more successful, and for others, these courses may make the idea of getting an M.B.A., which once did not seem worth it, much more favorable. In either case, giving med students simple medically related business lessons throughout medical school can be fundamental and should be implemented by all medical schools.

Jay Agarwal is a medical student.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.marcus.ca Jonathan Marcus

    Interesting post.  I am a physician and entrepreneur.  I like the idea of exposing doctors to business principle for the reasons you say.  However getting an MBA is a total waste of time at least around the time of medical school.  Young doctors-to-be don’t have the life experience to gain enough from an MBA at that time.  And even getting an MBA later in one’s career probably wouldn’t make sense because MBAs teach learners to be employees.  An MBA does not teach one how to be an entrepreneur.

  • Anonymous

    My work is that of an educator.  I work in an art museum and recently have started a program which brings in students who are studying to be doctors, nurses and physical therapists.  The idea is that collaborative looking and discussing works of art will help these students hone their “soft skills” and give them a better understanding of other one another’s area of interest; more empathy, by using active listening, and deeper looking.  I agree that students who are earning their medical degrees are too young and inexperienced to understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.  I also believe that cultivating skills that bring them closer to their patients and colleagues is of greater significance.

  • Anonymous

    I am a surgeon, entrepreneur, and a current MBA student. To a certain extent, Dr.Marcus is correct: you cannot teach one to be an entrepreneur. But for those MDs, like myself, who have the entrepreneurial spirit, an MBA can be a catalyst to entering a risky entrepreneurial environment. For many of us, focusing 10+ years on medical training has created a “blind spot” in our business knowledge. While we have great ideas, the ability to implement these ideas can be foreign. The MBA provides a structured approach to the “anatomy” of business, so that we can “operate” in a business environment. Whether you use the MBA to be an “employee” or an entrepeneur is up to the individual. For a subset of MDs, its not a “total waste of time” as Dr.Marcus suggests, but a complementary skill set to an aspiring physician-entrepreneur.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.marcus.ca Jonathan Marcus

      I agree with what you say above.  I didn’t say that an MBA is a waste of time in all cases, but a waste very early in life co-incident with medical school.  I see that you got your MBA after 10 years of experience.  Also I didn’t say that you can’t teach entrepreneurial skills, but an MBA program is not the ideal place to learn them.  I got much of my experience from mentors who I sought out.  It’s a fact that the vast majority of MBA grads go work for someone else, but there are some programs focussed on entrepreneurial skills.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Koniver/100001463176810 Craig Koniver

    Thanks for your perspective. I am a physician and entrepeneur and I consult with other doctors about how to bring more value, meaning and reimbursement to their own practices. I don’t think physicians need more degrees, I think they need help in the real world figuring out businesses work and how to do so by following their passions of health and healing. Unfortunately, the majority of advice that doctors get is that they either have to get an MBA or just go work for someone else. The reality is that a doctor can run their own practice and be very successful without having to go through more education. The real world of life provides plenty of experience for doctors.

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