Is an MBA worth it?

May 5, 2006

More and more physicians are getting MBAs. But are there any real benefits to adding that degree to your name?

When Michael Genovesi, a critical care pulmonologist in New Britain, CT, decided in the mid-'90s to go back to school after 20 years in practice, it wasn't to learn about the fall of the Roman Empire or Giotto's early frescoes. It was to study business in the University of Connecticut's Executive MBA program.

"I didn't get the degree in order to change my practice or anything like that," says Genovesi, who says he wants to practice medicine until he retires. "I did it to learn something different."

Increasingly, doctors in training would like to bridge those gaps too. In response, medical schools have begun to beef up their "business of medicine" offerings, according to M. Brownell Anderson, senior associate vice president, division of medical education, at the Association of American Medical Colleges. These days, medical students can choose from scores of different courses, covering topics such as managed healthcare costs, cost containment, and leadership and team skills.

They can also jump on the MBA bandwagon, if they choose. To date, 46 of the nation's allopathic medical schools offer combined MD/MBA degree programs, according to the AAMC. Among colleges of osteopathic medicine, five have DO/MBA programs, which they offer themselves or jointly with another school, says the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

"Students want to be better prepared for the business of medicine-and the combined MD/MBA degree is the most developed manifestation of that fact," says Anderson.

We talked to four doctors who went the MBA route. All have remained in clinical practice, although with varying degrees of restlessness. Three completed their degrees after a decade or more in medical practice. One decided to do it earlier, figuring that to go back to school later would steal precious time from his medical career.

Brian S. Jacobs, internist Indianapolis

Two-thirds into the first year of his residency, Jacobs entered the MBA program at Indiana Wesleyan University, located in Marion, IN. (For other MBA options) "I'd always been interested in healthcare financing, and I wanted to keep my options open," Jacobs says. He started the program in early 1997, and finished it in May 1999, just about a month before completing his residency.

The MBA has proven a powerful force in his professional life. Initially, it gave him the confidence to start his own solo practice, he says, rather than becoming a paid employee. Among other things, it made him a better price negotiator for medical supplies, office space, and the like.