Adding a Business Degree to Your Repertoire

22 Jul 2014
By: Christina Cellini, MD, FACS, FASCRS

We’ve all heard it before – “medicine is a business.”  While it sounds distasteful to some, there is no denying that this is true to a large degree – more so today than ever before.  “Accountable Care Act,” “Value-based purchasing,” “Accountable Care Organizations,” “Pay-for Performance,” the list goes on. 

How many of you truly understand these terms?  How well do you understand that monthly profit/loss statement you receive from your department administrators? Many hospital systems are merging- how well do you understand the implications of this on your practice?
I, like many, started my career out of fellowship assuming that all I needed to understand was how to care for patients and not worry about all that other “stuff.” In my opinion, other people were hired to focus on the “business stuff.”  However, I slowly came to the realization that it is crucial to understand the organizational structure of my institution in order to be able to mold my career into what I want it to be and continue to provide my services in a manner that is most beneficial to my patients as well as to myself.
First, I had to understand the “language of business.” Much like how we are all fluent in medical speak, hospital administrators have a completely different way of analyzing and relaying information. I was fortunate that my university offered a part-time Masters in Medical Management – somewhat like a Masters of Business Administration but geared towards examples in the medical field. The program was 18 months long – a year of night and (long) weekend classes plus a 5-6 month team project culminating in a presentation to hospital administration. The program also offered the opportunity to use the credits towards a full MBA later. Courses included health care marketing, managerial accounting, finance, economics, health care operations and organizational theory and design.
My experience being back in school with a new family and career was interesting to say the least. It definitely helps to have a hands-on spouse who is already used to long hours of work and time away from home. I was also quite nervous about obtaining passing grades having only been immersed in science courses during my educational years without having ever taken a business or finance course. However, I was able to acclimate quickly especially with the help of my classmates who were also employed in various health-care related fields. The experience was invaluable. I learned a new “language” and understanding of organizational processes that affect us daily. This in itself makes me unique as someone who can translate for other colleagues. In addition, the business school model works via a team structure where all assignments and projects are prepared and graded in 4-6 person teams.  While this clashes with our traditional medical training in which tests are graded and performances are evaluated on an individual basis, it gave me the opportunity to work with different personalities and learn to manage diverse teams to produce excellent results.  
I highly recommend looking into your institutions or nearby universities for similar programs. The American College of Physician Executives is a great resource for programs, either live or online.
There is a considerable time commitment with obtaining a Masters degree but the long term benefits are huge whether it’s just to be able to understand and contribute to administrative meetings/conversations or if your goal is to become a physician executive.

Dr. Christina Cellini is an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in the Division of Colorectal Surgery. After obtaining her undergraduate and medical school degrees at Cornell University she trained in general surgery at the NewYork Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Following residency, she completed a fellowship in Colorectal Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis. She recently completed a Masters in Medical Management at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. She lives in Webster, NY with her husband and 2 children and enjoys running and snowshoeing in her free time. Dr. Cellini serves on the AWS communication committee.  

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