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Why a Business Savvy Doctor with a MD-MBA Degree is in Demand

Doctors with MBA degrees enjoy an edge when it comes to hospital administration and becoming leaders of large health-related organizations.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   25-01-2016

"It's a good sign that more and more doctors are adding the MBA degree to their resume at a time when many of healthcare's greatest challenges are business problems," said Dr Mohan Chellappa, President, Global Ventures, Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

A surgeon by profession, Dr Chellappa is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and of the American College of Surgeons, in addition to holding a business degree. He pioneered laparoscopic gastrointestinal surgery in Asia and trained many surgeons in new laparoscopic techniques.

Dr. Chellappa says a business degree broadened his horizons as he established Johns Hopkins Medicine's clinical, management and enterprise development initiatives globally. Johns Hopkins University has served as the model for American medical schools since its founding in 1893 and Dr Chellappa is passionate about spreading the reach of the school's academic programs. In addition, he is also the CEO of Amcare Labs, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins and works in the business of establishing reference lab facilities in non-US markets.

"Many senior doctors reach a point where they move into an administrative position. If you are a doctor running a hospital or a healthcare company it's helpful to have a MBA. The business training helps you when you are put in front of a huge budget, dealing with contract negotiations, and thinking in terms of cost reductions and efficiencies," said Dr Chellappa.

Physician CEOs running hospitals and medical enterprises outperform those with non-medical leadership, reported a 2011 study by Amanda H Goodall from the Institute for the Study of Labor.

“Just like you wouldn’t want a school principal to never have taught, you don’t want the person leading your hospital to never have taken care of a patient,” quipped Vinod Nambudiri, a graduate of Harvard’s joint MD-MBA program.

Rise of MD-MBA Programs

Business training for doctors has been growing since the late-1990s when the University of California, Irvine, became one of the first medical schools to offer a joint MD-MBA program, as well as a healthcare executive MBA. Now there are about 65 medical schools in the U.S. that offer MD-MBA programs.

All of these dual degree programs are experiencing growth in demand as people have realized that healthcare is a recession-proof industry. Medical education is a four-year endeavor, but a dual MD-MBA program typically takes five years, experts say. Both the Yale and Harvard MD-MBA Programs are structured to be completed in five academic years.

Students with these degrees often have a wide range of job options. Some may go into pharmaceuticals and help market drugs; others may go into hospital administration or the administration of large group medical practices, manage wellness centers, develop and market medical devices or lead medical organizations.

Career Mobility

According to Maria Chandler, the head of the University of California, Irvine’s joint degree program and president of the Association of MD-MBA Programs, the degree combination “fast tracks” graduates up the career ladder. The current U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, holds both degrees, and has founded multiple organizations, and is only 37 years old.

Murthy made history as the youngest U.S Surgeon General and the first of Indian descent. His father was a family practitioner in Miami and, as a young boy, Murthy would spend time in his father’s clinic. It was how he developed a love for medicine and science. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital physician did his undergrad at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude in three years. He didn’t stop there. Murthy got a combined medical and business degree from Yale.

Clearly, an MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA in Health Care Management from Yale School of Management, where he was a recipient of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans burnished his credentials.

"Doctors with business degrees will have a leg up on other physicians when it comes time for those senior and mid-career moves," says Veeranna Merla, faculty member at the Columbia University Medical Center, in New York.

Top Earners

According to a New York Times analysis, the biggest bucks are currently earned not through the delivery of care, but from overseeing the business of medicine. The NYT estimates the average annual salary for a hospital administrator is $237,000 compared with an average of $185,000 for a clinical physician. Armed with a dual degree, a CEO of a medical insurance firm can earn as much as $584,000 on average while a hospital CEO gets paid roughly $386,000.


Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.



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