Healthcare is changing and physicians and hospital systems must quickly adapt in order to remain solvent in these challenging economic times. No longer is it adequate to be the best clinician, best surgeon or the most brilliant diagnostician. Now, more than ever, physicians must have a thorough understanding of business and economics. Many practicing physicians are finding out that entrepreneurial thinking and a shrewd business approach to everyday medicine is the answer to improving patient care all while preserving the bottom line of the hospital or practice.
Recently, the University of Indiana began offering an Business of Medicine MBA program to practicing physicians. This program is quite unique in that it is specifically designed for clinicians who are in practice and want to return to school without interfering with their “day job”. Many medical schools and business schools are now offering combined degrees to medical students already and these are becoming more popular. At Wake Forest University where I went to medical school, a combined MD-MBA was offered back in the 1990s. However, the Indiana program for practicing physicians is the first of its kind. Accounting for the busy schedule of a practicing physician, the program combines both online course work with “resident weekends” where classroom interaction and group work are facilitated. The program’s first class will begin in September 2013 and will be a two year journey. The program will focus on some of the traditional MBA topics but will have an emphasis on several healthcare themes including collaboration, innovation, analytics, transformation, optimization and sustainability. The goal of the degree program is to produce a new type of physician executive who is able to provide leadership and guidance in this volatile time of healthcare reform.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my division chief and “business of medicine” mentor Dr Cam Patterson has been instrumental in the growth of the Cardiovascular Center through his physician executive leadership. As a new incoming division chief several years ago, Dr Patterson realized the importance of business training in managing a large system such as that at UNC. He enrolled in the MBA program at our institution and through his studies there was able to discover his remarkable talent for physician-executive leadership and entrepreurial thinking. Although he inherited a division in need of significant overhaul, Dr Patterson was able to quickly build what has become a financially sound heart center that continues to serve the people of the state of North Carolina. As we continue to move into uncharted waters in healthcare reform, it is essential that we continue to prepare ourselves to respond to the economic and administrative challenges that are looming on the horizon. Examples such as Dr Patterson provide insight into the importance of having a more in depth understanding of the business of medicine.
Business of Medicine MBA programs such as the one being pioneered at the University of Indiana are essential to the success of physicians going forward into the coming years. Certainly it is important to train young medical students in business and provide opportunity for combined degree programs. However, the current physician workforce must also evolve in order to remain in a position to provide excellent patient care and remain financially sound. Programs that focus on the working physician will allow for continued production in practice while learning skills that will be essential to success in the future. Combining online coursework with weekend “MBA residencies” allows for both professional interaction and more productive learning among Physician-students. Now, more than ever, the business of medicine has become as important as a thorough understanding of human anatomy. We must all prepare ourselves to become the physician executives. Physicians, rather than politicians, must lead the way in healthcare reform and Business of Medicine MBA training may help more physicians obtain a seat at the negotiating table in Washington as reform continues to evolve.