Women in Business — Laura Rife, doctor and MBA student

Business and medicine are male-dominated but give capable women real chances, says the physician

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Laura Rife is a doctor studying on the blended learning Business of Medicine MBA at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US. She has a degree in chemistry and Spanish as well as her medicine qualification from Indiana University Medical School.

In her spare time, Dr Rife is a beekeeper and enjoys calligraphy and photography. She is also interested in apitherapy — the medical use of honey bee products — and aims to find ways to reinvent care delivery models to improve care delivery for both the patients and the physicians who treat them.

1. Who are your business influences?

I do not have many business influences yet. Most have come from reading: Michael Porter, Peter Drucker, Jack Welch, Stephen Covey. It is difficult to find time to develop business contacts and relationships while working as a full-time physician in a suburban hospital service.

2. What are your best and worst business decisions?

The best was to enrol in business school. At the age of 43, redefining my career is possible but my ability to weather setbacks or failures may be compressed due to my age and commitments to my community and family.

My worst is my excessive sentiment towards my first car, a 1999 Subaru Outback. I love that car. I still have it. However, I have spent more money keeping it running and on the road in the last five years than any sane business person should. As a doctor, I should have been able to recognise a futile effort but I haven’t been able to “call the code” on Ruby.

3. Why did you choose to study for an MBA?

I recognised the Kelley MBA as an excellent opportunity to expand my world while staying in a framework of my chosen field of expertise. I felt that a physician-only programme creates a particularly open forum where physicians can speak freely and learn about the business of healthcare without fear of alienating staff or administrators.

A trade-off is that we are not exposed to students from other industries such as engineering. However, the professors have gone to great lengths to get us the exposure we need to be business leaders in our profession after graduation.

4. What impact has it made so far on your career?

Medicine can command all of your time and cause your thinking to be quite insular. Business school reawakened a sense of potential of what I could accomplish. My scope of vision is now much larger than my office, the walls of my hospital or even healthcare in its current iteration. I no longer worry about a glass ceiling, I worry whether or not I have enough time to accomplish all of the things I now want to pursue when I graduate!

5. What are the gender dynamics like in medicine?

Business and medicine are still male-dominated worlds but intelligent, capable women likely have the greatest opportunities here, if they are confident in their self-worth and brave enough to ask for the things their merit deserves.

6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

Be truthful, open and honest. Some men are not aware that their behaviour may be offensive or oppressive. However, once they are aware, and if the behaviour does not change, follow this phrase: If you permit it, you promote it.

7. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?

Embrace who you are as a woman. Do not try to be “one of the guys” — you never will be. Do not spend excessive energy trying to break down the doors, create new ones and be open to unexpected sources of help. Some of my best ideas come from areas far removed from my current industry.

Women have historically not treated one another well. We should leverage the strengths of our gender and build one another up instead of destroying each other from within.

8. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

What you do is important but do not let it define you. It is easy to lose who you are or to equate your success with your past accomplishments. Do not fall prey to this.

9. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?

Social worker and suffragette Jane Addams, who focused on building a sense of community, safety, sanitation and educational opportunities for the masses; businesswoman Estée Lauder, a strong female leader with grit and vision; and artist Leonardo da Vinci, the perfect amalgam of creativity, passion and endless curiosity.

10. Which business deals do you wish you could have been a part of?

I would have loved to have been a part of a game-changing start-up, like Google in its infancy.

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