Should you get an MBA?

22 May 2019

By Heather Yeo

As I come to the end of my MBA and MS in Healthcare Leadership, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what these degrees mean to me and my career.  The past two years have been very challenging, but they have also been very rewarding and expanded my worldview. As a physician and scientist, I think of myself as continually open to learning and gathering new ideas, and this program offered me the opportunity to strengthen areas of my own career and path.  I have no doubt that having completed this program will help to push my career forward.

I am often asked why I chose to pursue an MBA.  There are many reasons and many skills that I hope to incorporate into my practice and career.

Why did I pursue a MBA?

  1. To get new skills in areas I thought that I lacked, for example accounting and finance.
  2. To build and strengthen skills that I already have, for example improving my leadership/teambuilding skills..
  3. I want to be a healthcare leader and improve the care of my patients on a greater scale.
  4. I wanted to set myself up for future leadership roles.

Why should you consider an MBA?

  1. Physician Leadership is Critical: Medicine is at a crossroads – shifting payment systems and evolving hospital structures are changing the structure of medicine – it is imperative that those with clinical experience are involved in the process.
  2. Leading teams is critical in Medicine and Surgery.  There are best practices for leading effective teams and skills that can be learned in order to be not only good, but great.  Strategic thinking is important both in the OR and in the clinic.
  3. An MBA is helpful for clinicians looking to improve their hospital systems, healthcare, and to become leaders both locally and nationally.

What did I learn from my MBA/MS program?

I learned many things during the program, from balance sheets to cash flows and contingency planning to project management, but there are a few key lessons that I think are worth sharing.

  1. Leadership is much different from management.  Both are important. You can be a good leader and a terrible manager.  Or vice versa. But you can develop skills that help you improve at both!
  2. Teams are key to success, but there must be someone to lead and bring things together.  It is easy to “just do your part,” but harder to work together towards a larger goal. The best teams will work towards a common goal with an inspirational leader.
  3. Everything is negotiable, know what you want and be creative with solutions. I used to be afraid to “negotiate”.  Now I realize that negotiation is really about trying to understand what matters to different people and thinking how trades can be mutually beneficial for everyone.

How am I going to use these degrees?

  1. Skills that I gained from Operations Management and Advanced Strategic planning will help me be a better clinician.  My team is constantly looking to improve patient care, and I am hoping to use some of these skills to make my office more efficient and forward-thinking regarding options for improving patient care.
  2. As a researcher, understanding program management and finance will help me to make the most out of the grants that I receive.  In addition, skills that I have learned about ways to develop and harness creativity to solve problems, will help me be a better academic surgeon.
  3. I hope to continue to grow as a leader in my department.  I now have a tool kit of resources that I can use to help do this, and have a better understanding of the science behind leading teams.

Is an MBA needed to be a leader?

No. Certainly there are many amazing surgeon leaders in our community without MBAs and much can be learned on the job.  I don’t think an MBA is a necessary prerequisite to being a successful surgeon leader. However, I think there are certain skills that an MBA offers that can help us as physicians to think more strategically and creatively about how we do our jobs.  I also think that an MBA offers the opportunity for us to be able to communicate with others who are running healthcare and puts us in a position to make change.

There are many really great leadership programs for physicians and surgeons, these also have value. A few examples are:

1.     The ACS Surgeons as Leaders Course

2.     The SUS Leadership Agility Program

3.     Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM)

4.     The AAMC offers several leadership courses

The program that I did is the Cornell-Johnson Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership.

It was a 2 year part-time program aimed at physicians and healthcare professionals.  Averaging every other weekend with 1-2 months off per summer and 2 “intense’ weeks per year.  I won’t pretend it was easy. I didn’t take any time off, and in fact had a busier clinical volume compared to previous years.

However, there are a number of different options.  There are many different types of programs, part time, full time, online and in person.  My program was entirely in person. If you are interested reach out and talk to the programs, ask about their experience working with surgeons.

Some of the programs aimed at health care providers are listed below:






Heather Yeo, MD, MHS, is Assistant Professor of Surgery and Assistant Professor of Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College and Assistant Attending Surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She is board-certified in general surgery, colon and rectal surgery, and complex general surgical oncology. Dr. Yeo has a Master’s in Health Services Research and is focused on surgical outcomes and quality improvement in Gastrointestinal Cancer Surgery. She is particularly interested using mobile health apps to track patients in the post-operative period.  She has completed a pilot study of an app developed in conjunction with Cornell Tech and is now enrolling to a randomized controlled trial. The app is aimed at decreasing length of stay, decreasing postoperative readmission by improving patient monitoring and complication management and improving return to functional status and overall well-being after surgery. Dr. Yeo has just completed an MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership through the Johnson School of Business and Weill Cornell Medicine and is graduating in 3 weeks. You can find her on twitter at @heatheryeomed.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

One Reply to “Should you get an MBA?”

  1. Dr Yeo- thank you for sharing your experience in this very balanced post. There are many paths to developing leadership skills and many reasons to acquire them. A common one I hear that you listed is to ultimately have a broader scope of influence. Congratulations!

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