AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Return to the Classroom for a Seat in the Boardroom: Mid-career Business Education as a Practicing Neurosurgeon

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

The chance to return to formal education, despite having completed residency nine years before, was an opportunity which I knew would not easily dovetail into my practice.  As a senior physician in Navy Medicine, I had held increasing positions of responsibility across the military healthcare enterprise, but I knew that I was lacking many of the fundamental skills which were relevant to our staffing and resourcing for wartime casualty critical skills development. 

The opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2015, when a pending influx of six neurological junior staff amongst the Navy’s 14 neurosurgeons needed assignments to maximize their clinical experience, professional development and oral board collection portfolios. My interest in pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration came to fruition. I pivoted my practice with an application to the Naval Postgraduate Executive MBA program.  With its distance-learning curriculum, I attended classes one day per week in a classroom setting with instructors or through VTC links. The distance MBA program appropriately balanced my otherwise science-based education in medicine. Attending classes, away from the typical Medical Corps routine fortified relationships over the course of study. Members of my class came from a variety of government and armed service backgrounds, including aviation, special, surface and submarine warfare as well as federal law enforcement.

The value of the in-class experience for the Executive MBA program came from interacting with classmates with diverse backgrounds outside of medicine, and within the context of the individual course content. Thus, fortifying meaningful relationships for collaboration within an environment of transparency as government employees. Similar to some team development concepts discussed in Ray Dalio’s book Principles: Life and Work,1 a culture of both idea meritocracy and radical transparency were fostered in the program to facilitate synergetic learning through engagement in small groups. The vocabulary and leadership dynamics taken from the two year experience fundamentally changed my approach and perspective to nearly every challenge I faced in the medical center as we strove to maintain our critical edge to be prepared for our military medical mission.

The secondary effect of undertaking this path was identifying other physicians who had similar interests. When I was the academic program chair at the Neurosurgical Society of America annual meeting, I was able to dedicate academic discussion towards the pursuit of business degrees by neurosurgeons. This “Business” section has become a breakout from the traditional program and a catalyst for discussion of how neurosurgeons deliver care within the business of medicine. Since the implementation of this section, the list of neurosurgeon MBA graduates and candidates is growing, affecting our ability to be leaders in the business of medicine.

I am a military service member. This work was prepared as part of my official duties. Title 17 U.S.C. 105 provides that “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.” Title 17 U.S.C. 101 defines a United States Government work as a work prepared by a military service member or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.


1. Dalio, R. (2017). Principles: Life and Work. New York: Simon and Schuster


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