Going Back to School for an MBA — Personal Reflections
As neurosurgeons, life-long learning is in our DNA. We thrive on learning and achieving excellence. The practice of medicine is also changing and we face challenges every day to reduce costs and improve quality. These ever-increasing pressures encourage us to learn more about the business of medicine. Moreover, I remember the saying that: “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” These are some of the elements that have motivated most of us to think about a business degree. But then, who has time to go back to school and deal with 30 to 40 hours of schoolwork every week, including classes and homework? In addition, our unpredictable hours add special complexity to completing class homework on time.
The dynamic nature of health care requires a vigorous learning experience on behalf of surgeons. An MBA degree provides an immense resource to learn about leadership and ethics, conflict resolution and negotiation, strategic planning, operations, finance, and marketing. These courses address the challenges the surgeon faces in a real-world practice.
If one realizes the importance of these soft skills, what does it take to complete an MBA degree? Typically, the course work is about 18 to 21 months in duration and much of the work is done online. There are weekly online live classes as well as 2 to 3 full days in class each month. The homework can be quite time consuming, and on average, 30 hours/week should be allotted to make sure the concepts are well learned. Of course, there are different MBA programs with different requirements, and such details are beyond the scope of this discussion.
It is often necessary for your department to provide allotted time for this endeavor. Many departments understand the importance of an MBA degree for their faculty and how this learning experience can promote professional growth and contributions to their own department. Time management is the key to success. The strategies I used are: 1) prioritize the to-do list, 2) delegate properly, 3) avoid micromanagement, 4) rest effectively and, most importantly, 5) understand that this would be approximately a two-year marathon and sprinting leads to burnout.
The course work is very diverse and some minor sections of the material appear to have minimal relevance to medicine. However, one must definitively learn the materials that have practical applications to the business of medicine. Much of the coursework is case-based and focuses on real-life problems in different industries; most of the concepts can be effectively applied to the health care market.
One of the most important lessons I learned during my two-year MBA journey was time management and efficient learning. These skills are invaluable in life and to any practitioner. During my MBA coursework, each student was assigned an executive coach for one year. This experience was one of the most valuable aspects of the course, and I plan to continue this coaching relationship. I highly recommend that all neurosurgeons work with an executive coach.
Overall, I enjoyed and learned a lot, but also worked very hard. It is somewhat stressful to know that you are sitting in the same room with others who have much more time than you to study the material. However, the knowledge base is quite worth it, and I do believe I am a much better colleague, leader, and surgeon, as well as a better person in many facets of my life because of the experience.
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