Sunday, February 21, 2016

What is the best master's program for physicians? by @HealthcareWen

This is a guest post by Wen Dombrowski, MD, MBA

(A follow up previous post about Physicians Evolving Role in Health Care )

I am frequently asked by physician leaders and other clinicians interested in nonclinical responsibilities "What is the best master's program that I should pursue?" I am jotting down some thoughts here in hopes that it will benefit more people beyond those who I coach 1:1. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive guide, but rather food for thought for self-reflection.

My answer about what is "the best" educational program for you always depends on What are your goals: Why do you want to pursue more education? What are you hoping to get out of it? What are your short-term & long-term career and personal goals? What gaps are you hoping to fill? What are you interested in learning about?

For example, there are a myriad of different non-clinical roles that a physician participate in different settings, including:
• Hospitals or Clinics
• Managed care organizations
• Software vendors, medical device companies, pharma
• Your own startup
• Government or public health
• Teaching
• Research

Depending on what roles each individual aspires to, their interests, and personal background -- different individuals will prioritize the following differently:
• Focus on learning about healthcare challenges, healthcare regulations, and managing medical staff
• Focus on learning about non-healthcare business knowledge and skills
• Academic theories about business, technology, people management
• Practical knowledge about business, technology, people management

Choosing a master's program isn't just about the name of the school or the letters that will be on the diploma. How much each program focuses on the above domains depends in part on:
• Who is teaching the courses?
• What is the format of the courses? (e.g. focused on reading textbook, or discussing cases, or hands-on practicum)
• What is the curriculum of required and elective courses?
• Who are the classmates in the courses?

When deciding whether and which educational program to pursue, it will depend on whether you are:
• Motivated by personal curiosity
• Motivated by career ladder
• Motivated by building professional network (with different programs attracting different cohorts)
• Motivated by getting credentials to add to resume (this is seen as a prerequisite stepping stone in some organizations)
• Other influences or pressures

Not all educational programs are created equal. The value you personally derive from a program depends on what are your personal goals, needs, and tradeoffs. Some things to consider when choosing an educational program:
• Length and intensity of program (some people prefer short intense program Vs. spread out over several years)
• Full time or part time
• Tuition costs
• Opportunity costs: What else would you have if you weren't spending your time studying and spending your money on tuition? (For example, aspiring entrepreneurs' time/money might be better spent on building their startup. Or some people want to spend more time with their families, so is the time invested in education worth it? These are personal preferences and decisions.)

An MBA is not the only way to learn nonclinical knowledge and skills:
• Masters programs of interest to physicians includes MBA, MPH, MPP, MS, MHA
• Non-degree courses includes certificate programs, bootcamps, and training workshops (e.g. )
• Online learning through MOOC's, website tutorials, YouTube videos
• Self-directed learning through attending expert conferences, local meetups, and informational interviews

Each of the above options can be explored via searching google and finding current+recent students to talk to about their experiences with each program.

For me personally, I chose to do an MBA after I had a few years of experience and familiarity with the healthcare industry & Medicare regulations; so it didn't make sense for me to do a "healthcare MBA" per se.

I had several personal goals for getting an MBA:
• Learn more about business terminology and concepts, to be able to speak the language of nonclinical peers (e.g. CEO's, finance, operations, marketing)
• Learn what are "best practices" in other industries for what can be translated into healthcare (A few years ago, before the current flurry of activity with ACA healthcare reform, I noticed the 2 major "innovations" discussed in healthcare were lessons from other industries: Toyota Lean & Airplane Pilot Checklists)
• Meet classmates and faculty from different countries to learn about different practices and trends internationally (to see what lessons can be learned to improve healthcare and eldercare in the U.S. and globally)
• I wanted a flexible schedule and format that allowed me to continue working in the rapidly evolving health tech ecosystem
With those personal goals in mind, I researched dozens of programs online and spoke with recent alumni to learn about the strengths and drawbacks of different programs.

I am very happy that I decided to do IE Business School's ( ) Global Executive MBA ( ). It is intense program that emphasizes entrepreneurship and social innovation. We learned from faculty that are top notch global thought leaders and by discussing practical management issues with multi-disciplinary execs from around the world (My classmates included the head of a Spanish bank, HR lead of Dubai airport, finance lead from Google, marketing lead for Unilever in Latin America, and leader of a uranium mine in Kazakhstan). This blended program involved online discussions to accommodate busy global schedules and quarterly in-person intensives in different countries to maximize learning.

In summary, What is the best educational program for you to pursue? It depends on what you want to get out of it. Invest your time in reflecting on what you want, asking people for advice, and learning about which programs are a good fit for you.

Wen Dombrowski, MD, MBA

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