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.

Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD

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.”

Vamsi Narra, MD

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.”

Leadership development

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.”

Two MD/MBA students, Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari, have joined Olin

The newest MBA class represents a range of backgrounds and experience—from business, science, the humanities, and military backgrounds (including a nuclear submarine captain). Enter Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari: both students in Washington University’s rigorous MBA and medical school programs. What’s it like to juggle the workload of two such demanding degrees? Washington University MD/MBA students Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari provide some insight into this unique post-grad experience. Be sure to check out Part One of our Q&A Series.

How will an MBA help you in future practice? Conversely, how will an MD help you in your business ventures?

Ramin: It is far too common a misconception that the concepts covered in an MBA program are limited to traditional business ventures like finance, accounting, operations, or marketing.

The policy implications of economics and healthcare management are striking and of huge importance to the practice of medicine.

In my career, I hope to advise health policy decisions on a state and national level alongside a clinical practice, and having the insight on how and why we pay for healthcare the way we do is indispensable. I’m interested in understanding the ways in which policy can create incentives to both drive healthcare providers to control costs, as well as drive patients to take a stake in preventative health. Economic fundamentals are essential to that framework. Furthermore, the leadership training that comes from such a program is hugely valuable for my ability to lead interdisciplinary, increasingly complex medical teams as a future surgeon. My medical training, on the other hand, provides a very unique insight to bring to the table for these discussions. As a future practitioner, I will understand the clinical implications of policy changes, and hope to contribute that viewpoint to the table at which these discussions occur.

Taleef: The MBA will help me understand the business side of medicine. With all the changes coming to healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, I hope the MBA gives me the tools needed to adapt to this shifting landscape so that I may provide patients with the best possible care, while also reducing the costs associated with it. On the other hand, I hope to use my MD to help hospitals make business decisions that positively impact patients. Unfortunately, when the focus is on the bottom-line, healthcare providers and patients are neglected, and the quality of care that is delivered can be hindered. In this way, I hope to use the MD/MBA to help solve the complex problems that exist in the hospital and deliver affordable healthcare to patients without compromising the quality they receive.

What do you think are the greatest business challenges facing healthcare?

Ramin: What are we doing so differently in the United States that causes us to spend nearly 20% of our GDP on healthcare, while receiving no mortality benefit? What are the activities that we engage in that are not adding value? How can we innovate reimbursement models to incentivize quality care while curbing exorbitant cost? How do we incentivize patients to invest in preventative healthcare? What is the best way to ensure that all Americans have access to quality healthcare without sacrificing the values that define our country? I don’t have answers to these complex questions, but I hope to use the principles gained at Olin to be part of the long conversation ahead.

Taleef: The greatest business challenge is finding a way to pay for the increasing costs associated with healthcare. Healthcare costs in the US continue to grow at a rate faster than that of inflation. Furthermore, we are living longer than ever, and with more individuals entering the healthcare system under the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare industry must find unique solutions to pay for otherwise expensive services.

What should students think about before pursuing a MD/MBA?

Ramin: As with any decision, this one should be strategic. What is important in your life? Tough as it can be, try to pinpoint as specifically as you can what you are trying to achieve. If the dual degree fits into that plan, go for it. But it’s important to have a plan going in, because the front-end investment is heavy.

Taleef: The first question students must ask is how the dual degree will benefit their career. It is important to know this because the cost, in terms of time and money, associated with both degrees is significant. However, if it will advance a student’s career in the direction they desire then the investment is obviously worth it. Thus, students should have a general idea of how they plan to use the dual degree before pursuing it full-time.

How are the disciplines of medicine and business related? How are they unrelated?

Ramin: They are both heavily focused on problem formulation and the development of frameworks to solve those problems. They are both involved in taking theoretical and scientific principles and applying them to ever complex practical scenarios. They differ in their fundamental end-goals, however, in that the practical application of business is generally geared to maximization of profits, while medicine attempts to maximize health. It is for this reason that I will maintain the argument that medicine is not a business and cannot be treated as such, which I believe is important for any MD/MBA student to remember.

Taleef: Both medicine and business require a great deal of critical thinking. I find it striking how similar the two disciplines are in formulating problems. The aims of the two disciplines, however, are different. In medicine, the goal is always to maximize a patient’s health, while business is often concerned with metrics such as market share or maximizing profits. This is not to say that the aims of business and medicine cannot align, but the very nature of both lend themselves to achieving different goals.

What skills do you need to succeed as a joint MD/MBA student?

Ramin: It is important to remain organized and diligent, as completing two difficult degrees will test your time management skills and your persistence. It is important to stay motivated and be able to think about the long term. Skills in interacting with people, communication or otherwise, will take you far in both fields. And it’s crucial to be able to make time to have fun outside of school and work.

Taleef: Being coachable and having a strong work ethic. The ability to incorporate feedback and work diligently every day to get better are skills required to be successful in any endeavor one undertakes and obtaining an MD/MBA is no different.

Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari are both MBA candidates at Olin Business School. 

Two MD/MBA students, Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari, have joined Olin

The newest MBA class represents a range of backgrounds and experience—from business, science, the humanities, and military backgrounds (including a nuclear submarine captain). Enter Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari: both students in Washington University’s rigorous MBA and medical school programs. What’s it like to juggle the workload of two such demanding degrees? Washington University MD/MBA students Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari provide some insight into this unique post-grad experience:

What kind of coursework can students expect when earning a MD/MBA at WashU?

Taleef: The MD coursework is broken into two pre-clinical years and two clinical years. The first two years are lecture-based with an emphasis on learning the fundamentals of medicine. The third year is dedicated to applying those basics in the hospital through a number of core rotations ranging from surgery to internal medicine to psychiatry. The final year is a fully elective year in which students can sharpen their skills in the hospital before focusing their training to their specialty of choice as residents. The MBA, on the other hand, uses the first semester to focus on the fundamentals of business. The remaining semesters are elective, and students can choose which area of business they would like to focus on. The elective time allows students to explore coursework such as healthcare management, which is a particular interest of mine.

What is it like to be an MD/MBA student?

Ramin: It’s been really exciting to add a brand new dimension to the didactic and rotational studies I’ve done the last three years in medical school. Being able to understand the background procedures involved in the complex “supply-web” of health care is invaluable, and I’m enjoying the exposure to all its pieces.

Taleef: Being an MD/MBA student is thrilling because it combines two things I love very much: business and medicine. The dual degree, however, can be difficult to balance at times. Going from creating a differential diagnosis for a patient to making financial projections for a company can often seem like a struggle, but in an era of increasing cost and a changing healthcare landscape, I believe it is an important skill to have. Additionally, the ability to learn from intelligent students from both schools, and their different perspectives, has helped me grow as an individual and as a leader.

What does your academic schedule look like over the next few years?

Ramin: I have completed the first three years of medical school without interruption, taking the same courses and rotations as the rest of the class. I am now taking a full, one-year leave of absence to complete the first year of business school. This fall, I am completing Olin’s core curriculum. For half of Winter Break, I will be taking a rotation in head and neck surgery. The Spring semester will be again just business school courses (this time, electives). Over the summer, I return to medical school to complete sub-internships in a chosen specialty for four months. After that, I will be taking a mix of medical school rotations and business school courses to complete the 36 required weeks of final-year medical school rotations along with the 51 units of MBA coursework.

Taleef: I have completed three years of medical school thus far and am taking a year off to focus on business school. Next year, I will be back in the hospital to finish up my final year of medical school while also fulfilling any remaining requirements for the business school. The total time required for the dual degree is 5 years.

What do you hope to do after earning both degrees?

Taleef: After earning both degrees, I plan to begin training as a surgeon. Later on in my career, I hope to use my experience as a practicing surgeon and my business degree to impact the hospital I work in from an administrative standpoint. I also hope to utilize my business degree to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors that positively impact the operating room, whether in the way of new surgical tools or medical innovations that improve patient outcomes. Lastly, if the opportunity presents itself, I would love to start my own hospital and find new ways of providing high quality healthcare at low costs.

Assuming you have any, what do you do in your free time?

Ramin: I definitely still try to enjoy myself! My roommate offered to teach me to play the guitar, so I took him up on it and have recently been working on that. I really like to cook when I can, but full disclosure: I’m still terrible at it. I’m also a bit of a movie buff.

Taleef: I did not have much free time in medical school last year, but I’ve been spending a decent amount of time this year hitting the gym and working out. It’s nice to have more free time dedicated to taking care of my own health, something I neglected to do in medical school. Additionally, I’ve been trying to learn how to code using Lynda, an online tutorial website that Olin Business School provides to all of its students. It’s a nice change of pace from my time in the medical school; however, I miss the hospital immensely.

Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari are both MBA candidates at Olin Business School. Stay tuned for part 2 of our Q&A series. 

Two MD/MBA students, Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari, have joined Olin

The entering MBA class of 2018 features two students who are concurrently enrolled in the MD program at WashU. While a formal joint degree agreement does not yet exist between the Medical School and Olin, dedicated students like Taleef Khan and Ramin Lalezari can successfully balance the demands of both programs.

Taleef and Ramin will spend 2016-17 academic year focused on the MBA curriculum, before returning to the Med School campus to complete their studies in medicine (while mixing in any remaining b-school coursework along the way to the completion of both degrees).

Taleef and Ramin have been enthusiastic during their first weeks as MBA students, recently writing to me:

“Ramin and I wanted to thank you and everyone in the office for an unbelievable orientation week. From all the free food to the incredibly educational lectures, this has been a great kick-off to our year at the business school. We are really looking forward to the year ahead.

Additionally, we would love to help out on the recruitment end of the “unofficial” dual degree. We will continue to send more med students your way. In the meantime, we wanted to share a picture with you; it’s already one of my favorites. Please let us know if there are any other ways we can help, we’d be more than happy to do so. “

We want to welcome Talif and Ramin to the Olin community. It is great to have you here with us.

You might think that a WashU Medical School resident in neurosurgery who assists in teaching an anatomy course for nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, and mentors medical students interested in brain surgery, might not have time to pursue an Executive MBA degree. But then you don’t know Kathleen McCoy.

The 31 year old  McCoy who runs marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons in her spare time, just completed the rigorous 20-month Executive MBA program at Olin and was featured on the Poets & Quants website as one of the Best and Brightest of the Class of 2016. Here are a few excerpts from the P&Q profile:

Katie-McCoy-Washington-“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” My department had a presentation from the executive leadership of the hospital on the changing face of medicine and the financial impact that new health care legislation would have on the delivery of health care. I knew that I wanted to get involved in this realm, trying to maximize the quality of health care for our patients in a fiscally responsible manner, something that an MBA would help me achieve.

Favorite MBA Courses? Macroeconomics, Business Analytics, Negotiations.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Washington University’s executive MBA program has a reputation for excellence and its graduates have a track record of success. I spoke with multiple alumni of the program and was impressed with the quality of the executive education as well as the importance placed on the development of leadership skills.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? The biggest lesson that I learned is the importance of not only the “hard skills” of finance, strategy, etc., but also the importance of the “soft skills” of leadership, including emotional intelligence. These interpersonal skills are equally as important, if not more so, for success as a leader.

What was the hardest part of business school? Two words: time management.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? There are no tricks or shortcuts. Work hard but efficiently, make time for family, and don’t forget to occasionally take time out for yourself.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program?  Don’t be afraid to try something new! I had very limited knowledge of what the world of business entailed upon entering the executive MBA program, and I encountered many skeptics who did not see the value of a physician getting an MBA.

The program has opened my eyes to innumerable opportunities that allow me to continue practicing medicine while bridging the gap between health care practitioners and the business world in the ever-changing world of health care.

What are your long-term professional goals? I want to establish and maintain a busy neurosurgical practice, while also getting involved in hospital administration in an effort to bridge the gap between health care professionals and the business of medicine. My hope is to maximize the value of health care delivered to our patients with a focus on quality improvement balanced with cost management.

Link to Kathleen McCoy’s complete profile on Poets & Quants.