The 4 C's of the MBA: Worth the price?


Physicians are used to getting credentials, so it's no surprise that those who are interested in the business of healthcare and medicine consider getting MBAs. However, before you invest the time, effort and money enrolling in an MBA program, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is your goal? Most physicians who get MBAs do it because they have career aspirations in health services administration or public policy or think that getting a business degree will confer some survival advantage in the rapidly changing world of healthcare. A few are interested in biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship. My view is that most MBA programs, including those offered as part of combined MD/MBA programs at over 75 U.S. medical schools are general management programs offering core business courses and electives. A few have a focus on entrepreneurship and even fewer are designed to meet bio-innovation and entrepreneurship learning objectives. None will teach you how to run a practice. If that is your goal, take a practice management course.

2. What are you paying for? MBA programs offer the four C's -- connections, credibility, credentials and content -- in that order. Research indicates that the success of graduates from top-tier B schools has as much to do with connections to classmates and the caliber of the networks as the information you learn.

3. Should entrepreneurs get an MBA? One school of thought claims that if you are a truly motivated entrepreneur, you should spend your time and effort just creating a company and learn from the "school of hard knocks." What's more, the entrepreneurial culture has made heroes of college dropouts and the media has made celebrities of startup heroes who just jump into the fray without formal business training. The other side claims that entrepreneurship can be learned; that the knowledge, skills and abilities gleaned contribute to success; and that entrepreneurship has grown as a legitimate academic domain.

4. Is education enough for physician entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs, regardless of their background or area of focus, need much more than just education. They need mentors, networks, experience and access to money, too. If you decide to "grab an MBA," be sure you are part of a program that offers all of the other elements.

5. What are the alternatives to an MBA for physician entrepreneurs? Accelerators, generators, actuators and incubators, particularly for digital health geeks, are the new MBAs, designed to rapidly launch and fund digital health startups by providing condensed education, hands-on training and mentoring. In addition, several global biomedical innovation and entrepreneurship programs have emerged specifically designed to teach graduate level scientists, engineers, business students and health professionals how to get an idea to market or work with industry. Finally, Professional Science Masters programs are offering hybrid science-business education in over 100 sites throughout the United States.

Graduate-level business education is not for everyone. While getting your ticket punched might be appealing, take a look in the mirror before submitting your application and ask yourself the tough questions. While more education almost never hurts, the cost/benefit might not make sense.