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Learning the business of medicine


As part of its “From Courtship to Marriage” series looking at how hospitals and physicians can work together, PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that while most doctors want more involvement in the governance of hospitals, hospital administrators worry that doctors don’t have the leadership training needed to fill those roles.
Graduate medical education core competencies provide a hospital business 101 for medical students, but they’re not enough, said Joanne Conroy, chief medical officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. If students are really interested in being physician leaders, they ‘ll need advanced training, because clinical medicine and hospital administration are essentially two different languages.
“You’ve got to be bilingual to move in between those worlds,” she said. “You understand what people are talking about and what their external pressures are within the world of business, which is very different from the world of clinical medicine.”
There are more than 50 MD/MBA programs in the United States. Enrollment is small; the Association of MD-MBA Programs estimates there are about 500 graduates every year. But students are increasingly aware of the need to have some business background. Some enroll in business programs after completing medical studies.
“Medical students are usually enamored with becoming a doctor and so have little interest in other endeavors, but as their careers mature and medicine becomes more routine, these highly motivated, intensely bright individuals often seek to expand their horizons,” said Paul Langevin, MD, MBA, PhD, director of cardiac anesthesia and perioperative care for Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. “A natural diversion is into the business side of medicine.”
Aman Sharma, an MD/MBA student specializing in ophthalmology, recently graduated from the University of Buffalo, the State University of New York, and his dual degree is paying off before he even formally begins his residency training at Ross Eye Institute. He’s helping to develop quality assurance projects to measure how good the service is at the institute and what can be done to make the patient experience better.
When he interviewed for residency programs, Sharma said he found program directors were interested in his dual degree. “They liked the fact that students are going out there getting more background in business because that’s playing a more and more important role in clinical training these days,” he said.
While Sharma came to be interested in the business aspect of healthcare after he started his medical program, Anthony Paravati, an MD/MBA student specializing in radiation oncology at Dartmouth Medical School, looked for a school with an integrated MD/MBA program.
Whether running a small private practice or being part of a large health system, “you need to be able to understand where to go to solve your problems business-wise, management-wise, personnel-wise,” Paravati said. “I didn’t want to be sort of blind to those decisions and not have a seat at the table.”