The increasingly sophisticated nature of running a health care operation is inspiring more physicians to pursue advanced financial training, along with their medical degree.
With a focus on cutting costs and delivering value, hospitals need physician leaders who are as comfortable balancing the books as they are bandaging a broken bone. Doctors are obliging, signing up for dual-degree programs or enrolling in business schools.
"We've encouraged doctors in the industry to make sure that they've got a sharp pencil from a business acumen perspective," says Donna Padilla, vice president of executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. "Because if they're going to move into these broader roles — and we're seeing a lot of physician CEOs now, or desire to have them — they've got to be able to speak thoughtfully to their board, to their CFO colleague, to their hospital CEO about the business, ROI, cost analysis, all of those pieces that the medical degree doesn't really give them."
Universities are following suit, with offerings that make for a more well-rounded doctor. Joint M.D./MBA programs emerged in the late 1990s, and now more than 50 percent of medical schools reportedly offer them.
The Mayo Medical School campus in Tempe, Ariz., recently gave medical students the chance to simultaneously earn their MBA at Arizona State University. The first students will graduate in the spring. Michele Halyard, M.D., vice dean of the Mayo-Arizona campus, says the goal is to produce doctors who can help lead transformation in the health care field.
But Benjamin Chu, M.D., executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan and chairman of the American Hospital Association, worries that putting young doctors through MBA programs too early might do more harm than good. It can be hard enough to remember everything in medical school training, let alone adding extra coursework to the mix. He also worries some physicians may end up in other professions, such as venture capitalism, further depleting an already too-scarce pool of new physicians.
Chu, though, does see value in instilling physician leaders with a business background. Kaiser sends its doctors to an executive leadership program at Harvard tailored specifically to clinical management. There, they learn core business skills, all in a more practical, case-based fashion.
Whichever way you get there, clinical input on the business side is key to accountable, integrated care, Chu says. "If you go and talk to a lot of health care administrators in hospitals, there really is a recognition of the need to get more physicians, nurses and other clinical people integrated in the business side of health care," he says.