Coming to Grips with the Basics of Business

By Kaitlin Gunter
Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nearly two in five medical residents report having little grasp of the basic tenets of business, according to a study by Merritt Hawkins, a Dallas-based physician search and consulting firm. Over half of those surveyed say they received no business training in medical school.

That has significant implications as factors ranging from ACOs to the ACA reshape the business of medicine. While opinions vary on precisely when residents and other clinicians should acquire basic business know-how, experts view it as crucial for navigating the modern medical landscape.

A Matter of Timing

An article in Academic Medicine noted there were six joint MD/MBA programs in the United States in 1993. A 2015 article in the same journal put the number at greater than 60.

Susannah Gawor, Director of Business of Medicine MBA for the Graduate Business Programs in Medicine at Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, says physicians benefit most when they have gained years of experience practicing medicine before funneling that real-world knowledge through a theoretical framework provided by a formal business education.

That framework, while valuable, cannot match the “two-part experience” of applying theory to practice, Gawor says, and admission to the Kelley Business of Medicine MBA program requires an MD or DO and three years of medical experience post-residency.

Participants in Yale University’s joint MD/MBA program may enroll whether they are medical students or established healthcare professionals.

“While it’s great to get [an MBA] at any point, we believe ... you should be allowed to get it when it’s right for you,” says Howard Paul Forman, MD, MBA, Professor of Radiology, Public Health and Economic Management at Yale. “We do not think that our students who do it as an MD and MBA jointly are at a significant disadvantage because they already had at least one year working the floors, and most of that year [they work] 60- to 80-hour weeks.”

Tools of the Trade

Business aptitude for physicians does not necessarily have to come through degree programs, Dr. Forman says, adding that there are many ways to acquire this knowledge base.

However, certain tools are critical for those navigating career choices. Beyond learning the basics of negotiation, malpractice insurance and noncompete clauses, medical professionals need other skills, says Kurt Mosley, Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Merritt Hawkins. Those include effectively evaluating practice opportunities and building a CV that highlights clinicians’ skills while clarifying what they are looking for in a practice — such as good billing processes or nursing support.

Medical students have long intuited the need to understand business concepts, Gawor says, but they are often less clear on the specific skill set they should pursue. That makes well-tailored business school and medical school programs especially valuable.

“There’s an opportunity to really customize the knowledge to be applicable to what medical students need to know,” Gawor says.