Medical students get opportunity to earn an MBA

Catherine Gambale practices her clinical skills with a standardized patient.

David Hungate

Catherine Gambale, president of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Class of 2016, practices her clinical skills with a “standardized patient,” an individual who has been trained to portray a patient in a medical situation.

Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine have teamed up to develop a program that allows students pursuing a doctorate in medicine to earn a master of business administration at the same time.

Program administrators expect to enroll its first students in the fall of 2016.

“We seek to provide medical students with a comprehensive introduction to the foundations of business,” said Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast. “A basic business education can be particularly valuable for medical students who plan to go into private practice or work as hospital or other health-care administrators.”

“By partnering with the Pamplin College of Business to offer an MBA progam, we continue to increase the attractiveness of our own medical curriculum,” said Cynda Johnson, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, who herself has both degrees. “Students who take advantage of the program will be uniquely qualified as physician thought leaders, as they’ll have a set of skills that will allow them to navigate many challenges in health-care management.”

The program will initially target current and future students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said Parviz Ghandforoush, Pamplin’s associate dean for extended campus graduate programs. For later cohorts, it will seek to recruit prospective students at other medical schools in Virginia and elsewhere.

Pamplin and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will jointly select and supervise students, collaborate on a course schedule, and promote the program.

The students will complete the MBA during their medical studies, Ghandforoush said. “They will take mostly core MBA courses plus a few elective courses in information technology, for a total of 30 credit hours.”

The MBA curriculum comprises courses in accounting and information systems, business information technology, finance, management, and marketing.

Johnson earned her MBA later in her medical career to prepare for taking on academic administrative roles.

“I’ve never regretted it for a second,” Johnson said. “I got more out of earning an MBA than I ever imagined I would. Courses in finance, organizational behavior, and manufacturing efficiency continue to serve me today.”

A key player in making the new program happen from the medical school’s end was Richard Vari, senior dean for academic affairs.

“I’ve very much enjoyed the collaboration I’ve had with Dr. Ghandforoush and the Virginia Tech Graduate School,” Vari said. “The result of our efforts will be a high-quality offering for our students to take advantage of if they wish.”

Five physicians are currently enrolled in Virginia Tech’s professional MBA program, which meets for classes one weekend a month, alternating between Roanoke and Richmond.

“I absolutely wish I had started an MBA sooner,” said Ann Heerens, a partner in Pediatrix Medical Group and an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

“Even partway through the program, I can see how so much of this information is applicable to medicine,” Heerens said. “I would have looked at multiple situations differently, from data analysis to understanding financial statements to recognizing my personal market value.”

Nadin Exantus, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said he is learning “a lot about marketing and how a business works” and “how optimization can relate to health care.” His professors weave health care into class discussions, “and that helps me connect how this would apply in a practical application in medicine.”

John Moore, a pediatrician at Carilion Clinic, said his MBA coursework has been “extremely helpful” in his daily work.

“I look at my professional life differently,” Moore said. “Problems are opportunities for optimization, workflow issues are solved through a spreadsheet prediction, and office conflicts are understood through emotional leadership and solved through path-goal leadership.

“The skills learned through an MBA not only help the smooth running of a clinical practice,” Moore added, “but also open novel doors for careers for physicians.”

Written by Sookhan Ho

MEDICINE TAUGHT MEMORABLY

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has distinguished itself as a unique community of learners who come together in small groups to use problem-based learning with actual patient cases. Watch this video to learn more.