Such choices. To be a healer of people or to be a titan of business — or to be both?
When medical student Daniel Aynlender talked earlier this month with Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, about the wisdom of a physician having a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, he was unaware that the day before their conversation, the UNLV administration announced the approval of a joint MD/MBA dual degree program to begin this fall.
“Just a lucky coincidence,” said Aynlender, who is finishing his first year of medical school.
What is not a coincidence, however, is a burgeoning interest by medical students across the country in pursuing an MBA. While the University of Pennsylvania was the first to establish an MD/MBA program in 1971, today about half of the nation’s 143 allopathic schools offer the dual degree. As Atlantic magazine pointed out in an article headlined, “The Rise of the MD/MBA Degree,” more than half of such programs began after the year 2000, with most offering the dual degree in a five-year time period, the time frame also selected by UNLV.
Aynlender, who coupled a science major with a minor in accounting as an undergraduate at UCLA, believes it is important for physicians to have financial and business knowledge. As Kahn talked with Aynlender, he said he was impressed with the student’s desire to better understand the business side of medicine.
Business side of medicine
With the U.S. spending nearly 18 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care, Kahn said he thinks “basic business skills are important to young physicians.” He suggests physicians need to better understand how to manage people, make or interpret financial models, manage strategically, and understand the role of health care venture capital. Today, he argues, many pressing challenges in health care are business problems, especially as the execution of managed care systems and the Affordable Care Act become even more involved.
Over the years, Kahn, who led the charge for the UNLV MD/MBA dual degree program, said physicians have abdicated their leadership roles in health care to those who just have business backgrounds. Profits, he said, too often have become separated from the humanity of health care. “The U.S. needs the humanity in medicine that physicians provide, as well as business principles for the country to become the leader in health care that we want it to be.”
At UNLV, participants in the dual program will do the MBA training after their third-year medical rotations. That third year of patient care involves work experiences that can be brought to the business program, allowing a student to better see how a business background can be helpful to them.
Now or later?
Aynlender is particularly interested in whether it’s best to get a joint MD/MBA degree or to obtain an MBA after practicing as a physician. Before he talked with Kahn, he saw on the dean’s Linkedin page that Kahn received his MBA well after he graduated from medical school.
Kahn, a senior associate dean at the Tulane University School of Medicine before becoming dean at UNLV, told Aynlender that there are a number of positives to working on a dual degree now rather than waiting, as he did. Too often, he said, family and clinical responsibilities make it difficult to go back to school. “Often, you just don’t have time to do it,” he said.
Career opportunities also can blossom with a dual degree, said Kahn, who championed the dual MD/MBA degree at Tulane. “When you look at advertisements for leadership positions in health care, an MD and MBA is often recommended,” he said.
He said physician entrepreneurs are also helped by an MD/MBA. “They develop a technology and then are able to commercialize it...One of my former students developed a technology for obstetric patients. A couple of weeks before he graduated, he was offered several million dollars for his invention. Because Las Vegas is becoming known for innovation, we want to develop medical students who are going to be in medical technology innovation. Having an MBA with an MD puts you in a good position to develop technologies for the future.”
Kahn, who received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (now the Perelman School of Medicine) received his MBA from Tulane in 2010. He said it has really helped him work strategically, particularly when budget cuts are necessary. One example, he said, is that a called-for 5 percent budget cut probably should not be done across the board in medicine. “It may well be that there are some areas that should be cut 100 percent and others not at all. That’s strategic thinking. With an MBA you learn to think in a different way.”
At this point in medical school, Aynlender is thinking about specializing in psychiatry. But he knows that could change, as it often does as medical students rotate in various specialties during their training. He wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to hold a leadership position in health care, perhaps in hospital or clinic administration, where an MBA would be helpful.
Aynlender hasn’t decided yet whether to go for a dual degree or get an MBA later. Adding another year to schooling adds more cost, he pointed out. But scholarships could help with that and what an MBA adds to a career could make it pay for itself, Aynlender said. He also said what could hold him back from pursuing a dual degree is the desire to graduate from medical school with his class.
“I’m trying to convince some of my peers to join the dual program with me so we can graduate together,” he said. “It would be nice to be the first UNLV graduates of the dual degree MD/MBA program.”