New direction: Pelayo de Merlo took an MBA while working as an anaesthesiologist
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“And I was like, ‘An MBA? But that’s not for doctors!’ And he said, ‘Precisely’.”

Pelayo de Merlo, 39, recalls the night five years ago, when his husband-to-be startled him out of complacency. While working as an anaesthesiologist, Mr De Merlo enrolled on an online MBA with IE Business School in Spain. Three years after graduation, he became the managing director of Quirònsalud Hospital, Madrid.

Mr De Merlo’s medical career was thriving, but he felt that something was amiss. “I didn’t see much progression from that point,” he says. “I had reached a ceiling and I wanted new challenges.”

One evening, after the prompt from his fiancé, Mr De Merlo searched for MBA courses on the internet. Buoyed by the prospectus of IE Business School, he called a relative who had moved from being a practising physician to a role in healthcare administration.

Her advice was to take courses and diplomas intended for medical professionals, rather than the MBA approach he was considering. “The things that she was telling me about these medical degrees that she had done were nothing like the things that I had already seen an MBA could provide you with,” says Mr De Merlo. “I wanted to be with people who were not doctors.”

Although IE Business School is located in Madrid, where Mr De Merlo was living, the online course suited his situation much better than full-time campus study. He was able to complete the degree and continue with his career.

But while the online course offered more flexibility than full-time study, it was no more forgiving. Mr De Merlo, who started the course in 2014, found balancing the workload of a physician — including being on call and shift work — with study to be challenging. “During the week I would study for six hours, and at the weekends 12 hours.”

The hard work paid off, however, and Mr De Merlo graduated 18 months later. Today, he holds a dual role at Quirònsalud Hospital. As medical director, he is responsible for all the clinical work in the hospital and, as managing director, he looks after everything from finance and operations to managing security and laundry.

Mr De Merlo is adamant he would not have considered an alternative to online learning. “We live in a digital world and we have to take advantage of not having these physical barriers,” he says.

“If I went to a local school in Madrid, New York or London, I would be obliged to share all this knowledge [only] with the people that were physically there.”

* Madrid’s IE Business School is a partner with the Financial Times in a corporate learning alliance.

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