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Why I’m doing an MD/MBA

After finishing three years in medical school, I recently moved over to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I decided to pursue an MBA in addition to my MD and will graduate two years from now with both degrees.

I’m not alone. There are 11 MD/MBA candidates in my business school class, including nine from Stanford. Our cohort is part of a small but growing trend towards doctors obtaining business training. The number of MD/MBA programs has increased by nearly 1,000 percent in the last two decades with an estimated 500 students currently enrolled in those programs.

MD/MBAs go on to a variety of career paths, including clinical roles, hospital administration, and entrepreneurship, among others. In my case, I intend to go to residency and practice medicine. Given that I won’t explicitly be in a “business” position, I’m often asked why I decided to do the MBA. Three reasons stand out.

1. Developing a new perspective

Medical schools provide excellent training on how to recognize and manage disease, but students graduate with little knowledge of the health-care system. That knowledge is critical to effective patient care. It’s important to learn about the latest technological advances in medicine, but physicians must ultimately advise their patients in the context of cost, access, and limited resources. I want to develop a mindset that acknowledges the realities of health care.

In addition, business school teaches students how to approach decisions in the absence of evidence. Class discussions frequently revolve around ambiguous choices and the frameworks used to analyze them.

By contrast, medical school is heavily oriented towards evidence-based conclusions. Classes impart proven information and we’re evaluated on how well we know established guidelines. Although this is a vital principle, sometimes high-quality data doesn't exist; for instance, in determining how to approach preventive care, chronic disease, or end-of-life decisions. Such situations occasionally leave doctors paralyzed by indecision. Business school imparts a way of thinking designed to embrace those challenges.

2. Acquiring skills

Doctors often overlook the academic side of an MBA, dismissing the coursework as largely irrelevant to medicine. It’s certainly a different style of learning, but I expect to learn techniques that will translate back to a clinical setting.

This includes analytical skills through finance and operations training, statistics, and Excel modeling, which can directly improve patient care (for example, in evaluating the likelihood of different surgical outcomes) or drive quality improvement at a broader level. As early as residency, physicians can apply these tools to efforts ranging from improving workflow to recommending investments in new technologies.

Beyond technical skills, the MBA offers leadership training with an emphasis on communication and interpersonal relationships. It almost goes without saying that doctors need these soft skills, especially as medicine moves towards more team-based care.

3. Building bridges

Finally, I believe the MBA will be a valuable credential moving forward. Policymakers, administrators, and physicians often don't see eye to eye about a problem and don't work together on solving it. Doctors then feel unheard when major systems decisions are made, leaving them disillusioned and distrustful of non-clinical leadership.

As an MD/MBA, I want to start bridging that gap. Getting a dual degree is not only a way to learn new information, but to learn how to convey that information to different stakeholders. In doing so, I hope to facilitate communication that can lead to better solutions.

Granted, it’s possible to accomplish all three of these goals and more without getting an MBA. In fact, I’m optimistic that features of business training will eventually be incorporated into medical school. But in the meantime, I’m excited to experience a new environment and pursue opportunities that will help shape my career.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Akhilesh Pathipati is a fourth-year MD/MBA student at Stanford. He is interested in issues in health care delivery.

Photo by Natalie White/Stanford Graduate School of Business

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