The advantages of advanced degrees
However, physicians and nurses traditionally do not receive business or management skills as part of their training. While offerings for master’s degrees in health administration (MHA), medical management (MMM), and business administration (MBA) have become more abundant and are sometimes combined with clinical programs, formal advanced business education isn’t necessarily essential.
The most important qualification, according to executive recruiters and current physician leaders, is experience related to the role for which an individual is applying. “Having an MBA will not get you the job, but it may tip the scales one way or the other,” says Mackey-Ross.
“If I were advising a young aspiring physician executive, I would say absolutely get an MBA, MMM, or MHA,” she adds. “You’ve got a career limit without it, especially if you aspire to being a system CEO.”
Advanced degrees and certifications can also influence physician leader compensation, which rose to a median of $350,000 in 2016, according to a survey published by Cejka Executive Search and the AAPL. As compared to physician leaders with no postgraduate degrees, an MBA earned respondents, on average, 13% more, and a certified physician executive (CPE), a credential offered by the AAPL, on average, earned 4% more, researchers found.
For Vivian Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, CEO of University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City and Dean of the University of Utah since 2011, going to business school in 2005 proved pivotal to her leadership success.
“For me, the MBA was an incredible opportunity to get that training after I had already been doing some administrative work and had increasing responsibility,” she says. “It was just so rewarding to be able to spend time with not only business school faculty but also my classmates who came from many other industries.”
Studying principles of the banking industry, for example, particularly about avoiding long queues, helped Lee get one of the system’s chronically behind-schedule clinics back on track.
For example, in the design of a branch bank, the modeling that simulates numbers of customers and their service needs can be used to design the bank—number of tellers, number of parking spaces, and the like, she explains. Similar software tools are useful in healthcare to model outpatient clinics, she says.
“Additionally, we learned lessons from industry by taking groups of staff to stores like Apple and In-N-Out Burger to study customer satisfaction and customer-centered retail business,” Lee says. Those visits informed the organization’s “exceptional patient experience” initiatives, she adds.
“Many other industries have tackled the problems we’re facing in healthcare,” she notes. In addition to insights gained for managing day-to-day operations, Lee says her MBA courses better prepared her for implementing Lean management, understanding financial incentives, and more.
Likewise, Rubino and Cracolici express similar appreciation for their business coursework.
“Looking back to being offered the CEO position, the foremost thing I wanted was to make sure I had the competence to fulfill those responsibilities, and I think the combination of experience with medical staff leadership, getting my master’s [in medical management], and serving as CMO gave me the confidence and skills to assume those responsibilities,” Rubino says.
Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.