Ask A Leader

Physician leadership: How do I move from practicing medicine into an administrative role?

Our advice columnist answers a DO’s question about advancing one’s career and a student’s question about dual-degree programs at COMs.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

When pondering your way forward in medicine—whether you’re a student considering which elective rotations to pursue or a mid-career physician thinking about changing jobs—it’s always a good idea to seek out the guidance of those who have come before you.

I’m here to offer my professional wisdom in this new quarterly column. I’ll answer questions from DOs and students about succeeding in medical school, residency and beyond.

A little about me: I’m the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where I also oversee NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. In my career, I’ve also served as a hospital chief medical officer, emergency department director, residency program director and emergency medicine physician.

I welcome questions from our DO and medical student community about anything related to success in medicine. Please send your questions to I look forward to engaging with you.   

For this month, I am answering a DO’s question about pursuing an administrative leadership role and a student’s question about dual-degree programs at COMs.

“I am thinking about switching careers and moving from being a practicing physician into an administrative role such as vice president for medical affairs at a hospital or physician leader of a larger multispecialty group. Do I need to get an advanced degree to make this happen? What is the best way to start this journey?” –A DO leader-to-be

Thank you for submitting this interesting question. The short answer is “yes,” as the complexity of health care systems has increased, it is important to have additional skills that will help you master your new position successfully. I was part of the “learning on the job” group of health care leaders, but everyone I either hired while moving to new responsibilities in an organization or who took my position after I left an organization either had an MBA or was in the process of obtaining one.

There are multiple reasons for this. Obviously an MBA teaches you important skills needed for health care leadership that are rarely, if ever, part of the medical school curriculum, such as finance, operational issues and leadership skills. It also teaches you the language of your business colleagues.

Just as you communicate in a specific manner with a fellow physician about a patient referral, you’ll find that CFOs and CEOs use terminology that you frequently will not be familiar with. I was fortunate to have worked with great budget directors and CFOs who did not mind explaining the difference between a hospital budget and the hospital’s cash flow, etc., but this is often not the case. You should also be aware that there are other degrees similar to the MBA that can be helpful. Recently, the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) degree has become popular as an administrative degree.

What is the best way to start this journey? The first step is to find out if you really like a more administrative role or if this is a “grass is greener” scenario. How can you best accomplish this? My advice would be to volunteer for committees at your local hospital or get involved in a similar way at a large medical group.

During this process you will also start meeting more hospital administrators, and you can get feedback from them on how they like what they do or, if they are physicians, how they got involved.

I still frequently have physicians reach out to me to get together and discuss their interests and plans.

Once you decide to get an MBA, you will need to look at your personal life circumstances and determine how much time you can devote to this additional responsibility. Look around and compare executive MBAs to traditional curricula. There is also a financial commitment. Maybe your current employer has a program that is offered for free or at least discounted. Take a look at the medical school you graduated from and see if they have an alumni discount. You can also consider AOA Advanced Degrees, a program that offers AOA members discounted tuition on an MBA or MHA.

Obviously attending a prestigious school is always helpful, but I find that this is usually less important with an additional degree. Most of the time, for physicians, having the MBA is the key, not where it is from. I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

“My school offers combined degrees such as DO/MBA. Is it ever worth getting such a dual degree? Would it help me later in my career?” –An academically ambitious medical student

Thank you for submitting this excellent question. My first piece of advice would be to wait and see how you cope with the first few months in medical school. For many, this can be a difficult transition. Until you are comfortable with the workload and your probably new living arrangements, it is best not to worry about anything else.

As a former COM dean, I know that this is often easier said than done, as the excitement of being in medical school can quickly take over. Once you know that you could take on an additional academic program, then you should ask yourself what you see yourself doing in the future. Although the MBA is one of the most popular additional degrees for physicians, there are also other degrees to consider, such as an MPH and MHA. Each has a different emphasis.

MBAs traditionally are obtained by physicians who want to get more involved in administrative roles in hospitals or large multispecialty groups. However, the skills you acquire while getting an MBA will also help you if you decide to start your own private practice.

MPH degrees are often more desired by health departments or if you are planning to work with national or international public health organizations. Should your real passion be research, then a DO/PhD is probably the best choice.

Having an additional degree will always be helpful in your future career, whether you apply the skills you learned to your own practice or you eventually pursue an administrative role. The advantage of getting an extra degree during medical school is that usually the programs are set up to be completed without significant additional time at the school. Obviously there will be added costs, though most of the combined programs are discounted significantly.

Any downside to getting a combined degree? For some, it might be better to wait and get some practice experience before deciding on which degree to add. However, be aware that while it is an additional burden to get a combined degree while in medical school, going back to school once you are in practice is also very difficult.

The next step is probably to speak with the advisor of the dual-degree program you are considering to get more information. Best of luck to you!

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