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Why are More Hospital Executives Pursuing M-degrees?

Karen M. Cheung, October 23, 2009

It seems today that the C-suite of hospitals and medical facilities is filled with an alphabet soup of M-degrees: Master's of business administration (MBA), master's of medical management (MMM), master's of public health (MPH), and master's of health administration (MHA).

More physician executives are currently pursing post-graduate business degrees, according to a new report, 2009 Physician Executive Compensation Survey, from Cejka Search, a healthcare executive and physician search organization, and the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE).

"There is a marked differentiation of physician [executives] that have MBAs and those that don't," said Lois Dister, executive vice president and managing director of Cejka Search in St. Louis about this year's report based on 2008 data.

Currently, one-third of physician executives (33%) possess an MBA, MMM, MPH, or MHA, according to the report. Based on a survey of more than 2,000 members of the ACPE, researchers found the following data:

  • 53% of physician executive respondents have an MBA

  • 28% have an MMM

  • 13% have an MPH

  • 6% have an MHA

They most often fill the roles of medical director, chief medical officers, division chiefs and department chairs, and vice presidents of medical affairs.

Advanced career options
Why do physicians spend the extra time and money for advanced business and management degrees? For many, it's a pathway to advancing their career.

"More and more, I'm hearing that a master's or post-graduate business degree is required," said Dister.

Although a growing number of physicians are taking the helm as CEOs, it's rare that these physicians do it without formal financial education. The M-degree is becoming the prerequisite to becoming a CEO or another high level leader.

Some physicians ask themselves the question, "Is an MD enough these days?" Unlike the practice of medicine, which requires formal education and a diploma as the stamp of approval, there's no such degree requirement for physician executives—yet.

"I used to say that experience trumps an MBA. Now, it's changed. Now, for most of my clients that are true physician executives—a top leadership role in a healthcare organization, like a chief medical officer, chief medical information officer, CEO, or chief operating officer—it's a ticket to enter into the game. You can't even be interviewed without it. It's a qualification," said Dister.

The old model is dying. While physicians used to learn business skills on the job, doctors are today learning about practice management in the classroom.

"If you go back in time, [people] got this training through the school of hard knocks. People picked up these skills the hard way with on-the-job training, either teaching themselves or having a mentor," said Jonathan H. Burroughs, MD, MBA, FACPE, CMSL, senior consultant at the Greeley Company in Marblehead, MA.

"There's really a better way of doing it now because we can systemically get that education before we go into the board room or the C-suite," he said.

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