Healthy interest in education

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Being a doctor isn’t what it used to be.

In addition to caring for patients, doctors today have myriad responsibilities that have little to do with what they learned in medical school. They need to know how to motivate a big and diverse staff, how to manage competition, how to deal with legal counsel, how to balance budgets, and how to make tough marketing decisions.

Many business schools have recognised this, and in recent years have launched healthcare-focused MBAs and joint MBA/MD degree programmes. Other schools, however, have taken a slightly different tack by offering doctors shorter, more specialised courses on business, leadership, and management. These programmes are generally for doctors who plan to launch administrative careers in medicine, or to work in the field of healthcare policy.

In addition to a joint MD/MBA, the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University offers a programme in conjunction with Ross Heart Hospital in Columbus for doctors in a range of fields and disciplines. The programme – which contains courses that cover areas such as finance, marketing and management – lasts about seven months and typically has about 20 students per session.

Roy Lewicki, the academic director of the programme at Fisher College of Business, says those who take the course are able to “leapfrog ahead in their careers”. He says the purpose of the programme is “to get professional staff to think more strategically about their business and enhance the quality of patient care.

“In the increasingly complicated world of healthcare, MDs need to learn more than their technical speciality. And in a world where people have more choices, the more a hospital can do to increase the quality of its patient care, and patient satisfaction, the more successful it will be as an organisation.”

Mr Lewicki says the programme is extremely popular with participants precisely because it is not a traditional, MBA programme. They like the idea that the courses are shorter, the finance aspects less demanding, and that the content is tailored to doctors who work in hospitals, rather than to business people who work for big companies.

“As an MD you may not need a lot of things a basic MBA provides: you may not need all the maths and accounting to be able to talk to the finance folks about costs or fundraising,” says Mr Lewicki.

Also, he says: “Medical school is punishing enough without tacking 12 or 24 extra months on to that.”

The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School runs a relatively new, executive-development programme specifically for doctors. The open-enrolment course mainly focuses on marketing, strategy, finance, and management.

Allison Adams, of Kenan-Flagler, says the school attracts doctors to its standard MBA course, as well. “The doctors we tend to attract to our degree programme often have an idea of a business they want to launch or a different direction they want to go in, whereas the doctors who enrol in our non-degree programme tend to want courses on leadership and management,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota is in talks with the Mayo Clinic to start a mini-MBA for practising physicians. The course, which will be rolled out in 2008 with about 100 students per session, will focus mainly on areas such as strategy, marketing, market research, and managerial accounting.

“Physicians are trained first and foremost to care for people, and the goal of the programme is to complete the [doctors’] professional education,” says Steve Parente, director of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute at Carlson. “These are people with super specialised skills, and this programme gives them new skills to reach people more broadly.”

Mr Parente says the programme should attract doctors who are keen to enter into business, as well as those who wish to become more effective practitioners. “There are physicians who just want to be more efficient in their practices, but there are other folks who want the skills and knowledge to be able to engage much more fully with the medical industry,” he says.

Other schools, however, are gearing their programmes toward doctors and other healthcare professionals in different ways. The ESCP-EAP, European School of Management, which has campuses in Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid and Turin, is an example.

The school has run a programme for three years in Turin and one year in London, which is not solely for doctors, though they do comprise the biggest profession in the course, according to David Sola, associate professor of strategy at ESCP-EAP, and dean of its London campus.

“The faculty and my colleagues find it very challenging to work with doctors,” he says. “They are well-trained, very capable people. There’s a lot of brain-power there.”

Prof Sola says that doctors he has worked with in the past have tended to be very comfortable working in the case method. “If you think about it, medical school is case based too. If this happens, what would I do? Looking at symptoms, looking at the data, and then making a decision. In general they are much more autocratic. They take a very top down approach.”

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