When Dr. Paul Levy became a heart surgeon, he thought that was enough. He’d worked hard, making it through medical school and internship and fellowships. During the next 25 years, he rose to the top of his profession as one of the senior members of the New Mexico Heart Institute, named the number-one cardiac surgeon in Albuquerque in 2010 by Albuquerque The Magazine.
But by 2009, the world of medicine was changing rapidly. What had always been enough for Levy wasn’t anymore. “I’ve been in a patient’s chest for 20 to 25 years,” Levy says. “That’s where I’ve had my head. I know I can do this job, but I realized one day it was time for me to expand my horizons. I really need to know more about what’s going on.”
Levy signed up for the University of Tennessee’s Physician Executive MBA program, or PEMBA. In doing so, he joined a growing number of physicians who’ve decided to pursue an advanced degree, like an MBA or JD, in addition to their medical diploma.
Why another degree?
The reasons physicians pursue additional degrees vary. Many, like Levy, pursue degrees as a response to the current medical climate. “You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on in health care to stay in business these days,” Levy says. “There are a lot of doctors who are frustrated. There are a lot of doctors moving toward business degrees. They’re concerned about their profession.”
Some want to expand their career options. Dr. Mike Ward, who is currently completing a two-year operations research fellowship and pursuing a master’s in quantitative analysis through the University of Cincinnati, received his M.D. and his MBA from Emory University.
“The MBA brings diversity and opportunity,” he says. “It lets individuals know what you’re interested in and capable of doing.” Ward, one of the founders of the National Association of MD/MBA Students, thinks an MBA on a physician CV opens doors for more leadership roles in clinical medicine, as well as administrative and academic positions.
Opportunities for M.D./MBA and M.D./JD
Mike Stahl, Ph.D., program director of the University of Tennessee’s Physician Executive MBA program, reports that many doctors who enroll in the PEMBA program go on to use those skills in a number of jobs, including heading up large medical practices or medical groups, chairing executive committees, as department chairs at hospitals, chief medical officers, chief operating officers, or working with pharmaceutical or health insurance companies. “The commonality is physicians leading others in the delivery of quality health care,” Stahl says.
Dr. Jerome Thompson, otolaryngology department chair and professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine, had an established medical practice when he returned to UCLA to pursue his MBA. “I continued to practice medicine and opportunities came up for me within medicine,” he says. “I became an associate chief medical officer and then an associate dean as a result of my MBA.”
Though a business degree may open up new opportunities within medicine, Dr. Allan McLeod, who in addition to his D.O. has an MBA and a law degree, feels most physicians who pursue law degrees face a choice.
“People realize that if you get a medical degree and a law degree, you’re really going to end up only practicing one of the two,” he says. “There are very few people who practice both. You have to make a choice to stay in law or stay in medicine.”