Higher education

Why these DOs pursued MBAs

A discussion between Gene Tekmyster, DO, and Alyssa Cole, DO, regarding the pros and cons of earning an MBA as a physician.

Physicians pursue additional advanced degrees for various reasons, including leadership development and the desire to be a more competitive job applicant. One of the most popular additional degrees for health care professionals is a Master of Business Administration (MBA), which typically provides physicians with valuable insights into the business of medicine.

In the conversation below, two DOs discuss their motivation for pursuing this additional education. They also offer advice to those considering their own advanced degree(s) in the future.

A little bit about us

Dr. Tekmyster: I am a spine and sports physiatrist at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. My specialty is in the care and prevention of athletic and musculoskeletal injuries with a focus on spine disorders. Apart from my clinical duties, I am very interested in the use of digital technologies for caring for patients and how we as physicians can optimize care using all the tools that are available to us.

Dr. Cole: I am a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician sub-specializing in cancer rehabilitation. I focus on optimizing patients’ function and quality of life. I treat several neurologic and musculoskeletal disorders, often centering around complications related to cancer and cancer-related treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Outside of medicine, I am a content creator on Instagram, a blogger and a member of the Forbes Health Advisory Board as well as the AOA’s Editorial Advisory Board for The DO magazine.

What degrees do we currently hold?

Dr. Tekmyster: DO, MBA and BS in biochemistry.

Dr. Cole: DO, Innovation MBA, BS in biology and BA in classics.

Why did we get another advanced degree in addition to our medical degrees?

Dr. Tekmyster: In my prior role, I was the chief clinical officer for a medium-sized outpatient multispecialty group and wished to obtain the necessary tools, skills and education that would improve my performance in the nonclinical administrative role.

As physicians, we are not taught the business side of medicine, but sound finances are vital to clinical success. If you cannot keep your lights on, it is difficult to provide appropriate care.

Alyssa Cole, DO

Dr. Cole: I’ve always been interested in leadership and entrepreneurship, which aligns with my career goals of entering medical administration and starting my own company. While there are several different types of MBA degrees, I chose to pursue an innovation MBA or iMBA. Earning an MBA was described to me as learning how to do a job whereas earning an iMBA was described as learning how to do a job and finding ways to do it more efficiently.

The coursework taught me not just how to create an effective business plan, but also how to implement changes to optimize efficiency. As a physician, I focus on quality improvement and patient-centered care. Being able to apply my innovative thinking skills both in and outside of my practice just made sense.

How are we currently using our degrees?

Dr. Tekmyster: While I do not specifically use my MBA on a day-to-day basis, the education and skills I gained from the schoolwork are invaluable to my day-to-day work as a practicing physician. For instance, health law, marketing and operating “lean” are all good things to have expertise in.

This allows me to be able to talk to administrators and managers using the vocabulary that they are familiar with in order to optimize clinical efficiencies.

Dr. Cole: My two-year journey to learn all about business administration and innovation has led me to so many incredible opportunities. This includes my partnership with apparel company AmorSui. I worked with AmorSui to create the Alice Hamilton antimicrobial gloves as a way to protect our community amidst the pandemic. My involvement gave me a firsthand experience in product development and business administration.

While getting my iMBA, I learned about corporate citizenship and social responsibility, strategic insights, entrepreneurship, operations management, finance, accounting, economics, marketing and so much more. My goal is to apply my knowledge to health care and the field of cancer rehabilitation in a way that puts patients over profit. I hope to do this by taking on a more administrative role in the future.

Recently, I started my own content creation company called Sage Initiatives LLC to expand my social media outreach and medical advocacy efforts. My MBA prepared me for entrepreneurship, and I am excited to see where this new adventure takes me.

What we wish we knew ahead of time

Gene Tekmyster, DO

Dr. Tekmyster: A degree is not absolutely necessary, but the education is important. Prior to spending quite a bit of money, I wish I was just able to obtain the knowledge on my own without official schooling and I think that would have been sufficient.

There are multiple opportunities that exist for learning outside of the MBA coursework setting where a physician is able to obtain the necessary skills they desire. If a degree seems overwhelming, taking courses that are relevant to your practice may be a better choice for some.

Dr. Cole: I wish I knew earlier that my residency program offered tuition-reimbursement benefits for earning other degrees. I did not enroll until my third year of residency. While I was able to receive partial tuition reimbursement, I wish I had started earlier so I could have taken full advantage of the education incentive.

Additionally, had I known about this benefit earlier, I may have taken other courses as well. However, you must look at your schedule and responsibilities to ensure you can balance your job (especially if you’re in residency) while taking on additional academic responsibilities.

Our advice for others interested in pursuing additional degrees

Dr. Tekmyster: Prior to pursuing a degree, one must have a plan and goals for what they will accomplish or what they will try to do with the education. The letters “MBA” do not mean much if you do not know how you will use the knowledge gained by the schooling. My biggest advice is to figure out what you want and then figure out how you will get there.

Most focus on the road/path, but a goal-oriented approach is best. If you wish to be an administrator, an online degree may not be the best option. If you are in private practice, then taking finance and marketing classes may provide you with the necessary skills without spending a lot of money on a single degree.

Dr. Cole: Earning your MBA, or really any degree, has tons of pros. It is a great way to build yourself professionally and set you apart from others. It can offer new career opportunities, such as management and leadership positions, as well as increase your compensation and pave the way for job promotions.

If you’re interested in starting a business, the MBA degree can equip you with the skills and knowledge you need. If you’re interested in public health and policy change, consider an MPH. I also know a few physicians who have earned their JD and split their time between practicing law and medicine. Still others have gone into research, becoming DO/PhDs or MD/PhDs.

However, one of the major cons to earning an additional degree is the cost, which is why you must evaluate the return on investment. There are ways to circumvent and/or mitigate the expense. I was able to pursue my degree through my residency program, which offered employee tuition reimbursement. See if your employer will help pay for your degree.

Another concern is the time and commitment. I enrolled in a part-time online program. The curriculum was done remotely and easily manageable with my busy hospital schedule. My program was two years long and, for the most part, I took one course per semester. There are others that are shorter or longer, depending on how many courses you want to take and if your program accepts prior undergraduate or graduate course credits.

My best recommendation would be to find your passion both in and outside of medicine. Figure out where these overlap and set your sights on how you can nurture that—is it with a degree? If so, why? For career opportunities, managerial development, leadership building or technical skills?

Now ask yourself which degree will help you do this? MPH, MBA, JD, PhD? Look at the time commitment, how many years of schooling will be required and the cost. Does your medical school or residency program offer this degree? Can you receive tuition reimbursement for this? Weigh pros and cons and if the pros outweigh the cons, go for it!

Related reading:

Taking control of your finances after graduating from med school

The complexity of transitioning from medical school to residency

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