5 reasons I pursued an executive MBA and how it has helped me so far.

13 Mar 2023

Heather Yeo, MD, MHS, MBA, MS

Having recently (2019) completed an executive masters in business administration (MBA) program, I often get asked about why I pursued one in the first place, if I would recommend doing one, and how it has helped me so far. 

While there are many reasons for doing an MBA as a health professional, for me the decision was primarily focused on where I wanted my career to go and what I thought would be important to me, as I matured as a surgical attending.   The top 5 reasons I pursued an executive MBA are:

  1.       I wanted to set myself up for success. As a woman in academic medicine, I know that a future in leadership is challenging as most recent data show that Full Professors of Surgery who are women make up only 5 % of the workforce. I felt that by getting and MBA I could help direct my skills towards leadership. Knowing that someday I hope to be a chair/chief, I felt like pursuing an MBA would help me for that and would show that I had the training I need to do the job well.
  2.       I wanted to learn new financial skills. A career in academic medicine is full of education and learning, however, it is short on the basics of financial management and accounting. In fact “money” is something that we shy away from talking about.  However, in the higher levels of surgical leadership knowledge in finance is essential, and often only learned on the job. Understanding hospital financial structure and management of accounts is not something we typically learn.
  3.       I wanted to learn proven techniques in negotiation, leadership and teamwork. As surgeons we are all leaders and have experiences working in teams, however, there are proven strategies that are used in many other professions and could be translated to medicine.
  4.       I wanted to branch outside of my comfort zone. One of the best things in medicine is that it is a career of constant learning, however, it is all within our comfort zone.  Several areas where I did not feel strong were in management, finance (already discussed), negotiations, marketing, strategy, and leadership.
  5.       I wanted to build a network of colleagues with different experiences. I am a strong believer that we can learn from other specialties and professions how to make ours better.  Being part of an MBA cohort was important to me.  I now have close colleagues across the country, in different specialties that have helped me to move my career forward.

What does it entail? 

An MBA program can be done in many different formats, weekends, evening, online and in person.  For my life weekend scheduling was the best as I could plan calls around it.  Usually they can last anywhere from 1-3 years depending on how much time is spent weekly in the program.  

So should you do an MBA?

An MBA won’t be right for everyone.  The time commitment was hard on my family and hard on me.  My work colleagues had to schedule my calls around my classes and picked up some of the load on my ‘intensive” weeks.  In addition, MBAs are expensive, and many of us already have debt.  While an MBA teaches technique, best methods, and skills, still much leadership must be learned on the job and from experience.

Despite all of these challenges, an MBA has been valuable for me.  It has taught me a number of financial skills that I hope to continue to develop. I have gained an amazing group of colleagues and friends from my MBA cohort.  I have learned successful negotiation techniques.  And I have a learned key strategies to help run successful teams.  

Choosing a program:

I attended the Cornell Johnson Dual MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership. https://www.johnson.cornell.edu/programs/emba/healthcare-leadership/

This program was right for me for several reasons.

  1.       It was focused on physician and healthcare leadership with over half of my class being physicians (this was essential for me because I wanted to build my network). Other members in my class were healthcare focused, but all different areas, so I learned about a lot of other health focused professions.
  2.       It was mostly on weekends, with two children at home, I didn’t want to loose every night with them and so an evening schedule worked best for me.
  3.       It was in person, essential I think for networking and learning for me.
  4.       It was taught by both business and healthcare faculty.  That diversity helped in terms of mentorship and experience.  Learning from both was important to me.

Look around and find a program that fits you.

Other well-known executive MBA programs include:

Northwestern Kellogg School of Management – https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/programs/executive-mba.aspx

Harvard School of Business – https://www.hbs.edu/mba/Pages/default.aspx

University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Managment- https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/programs/executive-mba.aspx

Duke Fuqua School of Business – https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/

Columbia University School of Business – https://execed.business.columbia.edu

Overall, executive MBA programs can be instrumental in setting you up for success and moving your career forward, but it they are hard work in an already busy profession, so make sure you have the buy in of your family, colleagues, and yourself.

And good luck!

Heather Yeo, MD, MHS, MBA, MS is Associate Professor of Surgery and Associate Professor of Health Care Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College and Associate 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 Healthcare Leadership and an MBA and is focused on surgical outcomes, workforce diversity, tech advances in medicine, and quality improvement in Gastrointestinal Cancer Surgery.

Dr. Yeo is interested in the psychosocial factors that go into surgical decision making and how they influence outcomes in patients.  She is currently funded as a Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator for a randomized trial of an app that Dr. Yeo developed compared to the standard of care. Dr. Yeo believes that new technologies and apps are going to change the future of medicine.

Dr. Yeo has studied disparities in surgical training and the impact of race and gender on attrition and training. Dr. Yeo has worked extensively with trainees and medical students.  She works with residents and medical students to teach them study design, implementation, and career development.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *