Should I get my MD & MBA?


So what exactly do you do with an MD MBA?

The question comes up again and again from everyone I meet, framed in varying tones of curiosity, confusion, and suspicion.

Some appreciate the MD MBA program’s attempt to bridge the gap between two increasingly interdependent disciplines.

Dr. Jim Kim, prior to leaving Harvard to become the President of Dartmouth (and then the President of the World Bank), implored students to pursue the joint degree regardless of what career path they wish to follow. He argued that a year or two spent on learning management will be very useful whether you’re running a lab, a company, or a floor on the medicine service.

Others scoff at what they consider a contamination of medicine. Upon first meeting an attending, a friend of mine was pulled aside and issued a stern warning: don’t bring that MBA stuff in here.

Was it worth it for me?
So after my first year in business school, was it worth it? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Modern medical education is necessarily provincial in scope primarily because there is simply too much material to learn.

The number of the drugs, studies, and clinical entities has grown, and so has the number of hours required to master the basics. So for medical education, relatively little attention is given to increasingly important fields such as healthcare policy and management.

The MBA fills that gap.

During college, I shadowed an oncology surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital who performed a ten-hour surgery on a patient with end-stage cancer. At one point, a resident had nicked the aorta, producing a fountain of blood. Despite the panic that ensued, the attending deftly sutured it close with steady hands. Afterwards, I expressed my amazement at how the procedure unfolded.

He responded dryly, “That procedure cost around $200,000. It bought the patient maybe six more months, a few of which will be spent in painful recovery. Was it worth it? I’m not sure.”

I was taken aback. I had naively assumed that economic considerations shouldn’t enter any good doctor’s calculus.

He continued, “I’m not even sure if I’m doing more good than harm. If the system really worked, that $200,000 would probably be used to save many more lives elsewhere. But I can’t change the system, so I perform my surgery and try not to think about it.”

Business school gives you a framework to think about it.

At the highest level, it teaches you how to allocate resources, whether they be denominated in dollars, talent, or hours.

Where should the $200,000 go?
Would a dollar of investment in a preventative health program today eventually lead to fewer hospital visits in the future, and thereby simultaneously save money for the healthcare system as well as improve patient health?
How should the incentives for the surgeons be adjusted such that they make recommendations to maximize the well-being of all their patients?
How can OR turnover be made operationally more efficient so that each surgery costs less?

Is there a cost to the MD MBA?
Absolutely. In addition to the obvious burden of extra loans and years, I’ve learned that you should just refrain from uttering those three letters on the wards.
I’ve also been told that residency programs may be a little more reserved with your application, fearing that you may run out on them should you join their program.
Though the costs are real, I have found the experience very much worth the sacrifice.

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