By any measure, the education required to become a doctor is daunting: a 4-year undergraduate degree, 4 years in medical school, and 3-7 years of residency. The business of medicine is so complex, however, that many MDs are taking their education one step further.
In 2013, both Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD, and Vamsi Narra, MD, enrolled in Olin’s Executive MBA program. The goal? Gain a holistic understanding of the practice of medicine by mastering the business of medicine.
In her role as Director of the Clinical Advisory Group at BJC HealthCare’s Center for Clinical Excellence, Namazie-Kummer must regularly navigate new policies from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“There’s a mix of our integration of the clinical aspects of medicine and policy and the business aspects,” says Namazie-Kummer. “How do we deliver healthcare that is sustainable and high quality? Sustainability is critical for us.”
Narra, Professor of Radiology, Senior Vice Chair of Imaging Informatics and New Business Development, and Chief of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, emphasized that understanding medicine as a business helps elevate its humanitarian goals: “As a physician, I am primarily trained in terms of taking care of patients, but having that business knowledge and being in the trenches, you see how you can contribute to the effort to get a better system in place.”
The business of medicine
Like any other business, medical practice requires a good understanding of where money goes and where it comes from. Narra said, “There is procurement and there are processes. You need to have a system to run the show (operations), quality and safety checks, a way to collect the revenue, and to negotiate contracts with the insurance payers or whoever else it may be.”
However, as a lifelong science student, Narra had not had much exposure to core business subjects like finance and accounting. Luckily, Olin’s EMBA program is rich with courses that explore the core aspects of business.
“Having an understanding of cost accounting gives me a sense of what to look into and what not. I don’t expect to be an expert in that area, because that’s not my area of expertise,” said Narra. “But when that is put in front of me, I can at least interpret those numbers and ask the questions so I can get more answers.”
Strategic planning and problem-solving
Namazie-Kummer expressed a similar appreciation for the EMBA’s breadth of studies. She saw the challenges in healthcare as business challenges—and wanted to learn how to tackle them.
“Broadening my understanding of the world of business and how the various aspects of strategic planning and operations come together, was just foundational in helping me better understand and appreciate some of the problems that we face in healthcare on a regular basis. Understanding the pieces has helped me effectively problem solve.”
For Namazie-Kummer and Narra, one of the most valuable aspects of the EMBA program was the focus on teamwork and effective management.
“You need to know every step of the way how to manage people,” says Narra. “Everyone is well meaning, but you have to figure out what the incentives are, how people react, what is human nature, and how can one become susceptible to the other kinds of information that is being thrown at them.”
When Narra talks to other MDs about pursuing the degree, he emphasizes the management aspect—and its additional time requirements. “For you to be an effective leader, you still need to maintain your core competencies. You still need to maintain your connection to your core team,” he said. “Even though I cut down on my clinical time, I still need to have my clinical time so I can understand the problems and challenges my teammates are facing. When you look at the situation overall, a physician leader actually has a lot busier schedule than a non-physician leader.”
Namazie-Kummer says the ability to manage and solve problems as a team, leveraging each member’s strengths, is critical to healthcare: “We can’t solve problems in medicine without operating as multi-disciplinary groups of people—not just doctors.”
Why MDs should consider an Executive MBA
Namazie-Kummer advises other MDs to keep an open mind about the EMBA if they decide to do it. “You can apply the skills you learn through an EMBA in so many different respects—you don’t have to just focus on something like finance. Remember that there are leadership skills and interpersonal interactions and group dynamics and strategy and so many other pieces that are as important as any one economic concept.”
“I realized as we finished the MBA,” Narra said, “that there’s not a single course that I did not find useful.”