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Sharmila Makhija is an EMBA graduate of the University of Emory’s Goizueta Business School in the US, a degree she completed while working as the director of gynaecologic oncology at the university’s school of medicine – where she still works. She is also a surgeon, operating on women.

Dr Makhija grew up in the US state of Alabama, where she studied for her medical degree. Her first job was as an assistant professor at Magee Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh. She then moved to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, before joining Emory.

She enjoys photography, swimming, cooking and playing the piano.

Dr Makhija will be available to answer your questions in a live web chat on Thursday 17th November, 2011, between 15.00-16.00 GMT. Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day.

1. When did you know you wanted to study for an EMBA?

During my tenure at UAB, I quickly realised that although physicians are trained to be compassionate and caring clinicians, we know very little about how to manage a team efficiently or build a realistic budget. So when I moved to Emory, as the director of the division of gynaecologic oncology and had to manage a team with various backgrounds and expertise, I decided to enrol in their EMBA programme.

2. Do you have a studying routine?

I had to learn a new studying routine for my EMBA classes. I was much more disciplined with scheduling time at weekends and evenings because my work has to come first since it involves patient care. And I had to take into account my classmates’ schedules, especially as some of them lived in other countries, like Mexico and Venezuela. I also had to miss one Thanksgiving dinner, to take an accounting final, which was quite difficult to do.

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

This was from one of my mentors, who said that once you have made a decision, you should act as if you are a racehorse with side blinders on. Essentially: keep looking forward and ignore all the distractions that may deter you from achieving your goals. I use a modified version of this advice because in life things come along that may make you re-examine your goals and you have to be able to reassess whether the path you are on is still in sync with who you are now.

4. Who is your ideal professor?

Fareed Zakaria. His ability to assess a situation and provide depth and clear understanding, without bias is incredible. When I don’t have a full grasp of what is going on in this world, I just turn to him to find out his assessment. The Post-American World is an incredibly insightful book that I recommend to everyone. I would love to be able to have coffee with him and just ask him questions!

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my training in the field of gynaecologic oncology. It is predominantly a male-dominated field, even though all of our patients are women. My training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was simply outstanding, from my clinical/research mentors to the nurses who taught me to be compassionate. It made me much more aware of what is truly important in life.

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

I currently work primarily with all men (surgeons) and get along with them fine. If we do have any issues, my personality is to be direct and that seems to work well for them. I don’t expect them to read my mind and they appreciate that from me - most of the time!

7. What advice would you give to women in business?

I believe we hold ourselves to a higher standard and are more critical of ourselves and other women. It is alright to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them. Most importantly, we need to help all of our junior colleagues, not only women but men too. I often tell my junior male colleagues that they need to be aware of what troubles women and to be more sensitive to certain issues.

8. What inspires you?

I am inspired by people who give without any expectations of gaining anything in return.

9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would have enrolled in an EMBA programme about five years ago. I feel I would have been better equipped to handle all of the budget cuts that we were faced with as a result of the 2008 recession. More important issues would have been on my radar that I could have been able to keep in mind and address sooner.

10. What is your plan B?

Oncologists have a 50 per cent burn out rate, which is likely to be due to the depressing nature of our work. And as much as I truly love taking care of my patients, I am concerned that this burnout will happen to me as well. As a result, I am looking towards a position that will allow me some clinical contact with patients and increase my administrative responsibilities, such as becoming dean of a medical school or chief executive of a hospital system.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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