Saturday, September 21, 2013

To MBA, or not to MBA

This topic has come up a LOT in the recent weeks amongst #DPTstudents: Should I get an MBA? These are my thoughts as to the reasons, advantages, and career paths which a leveraged MBA could provide.

First, a little history. Harvard was the birthplace of the world's first MBA program in 1908. It's an old degree; recognized, proven, respected. The content in an MBA can be quite extensive - see link. In my mind, I see the content in an MBA to be the study of human behaviors in regards to flow & function of money, services, products, operations, organizations, and perceived value at various levels of social circumstances.

In the end, an MBA is another degree - it confers no license and guarantees only that your mind has been (once again) trained, honed, and shaped specifically for the discipline of making money and administrating business flow.

So then, why is it such a big deal? Why does it seem that at various levels of career paths, upper management is dominated by those who have completed their MBA programs? At the same time, why is it that there are individuals who are filthy rich who seem to have no formal business training at all? And also, how does this fit in with "my goals" as a physical therapist (or physician, or nurse, or entrepreneur, etc.)?

Let's Break It Down!

If you are interested in quickly moving in directions of:

  • A corporation
  • A health system
  • A hospital administration structure
  • Formal business training in economics, finance, marketing, supply chain / operations, information systems, human resources, healthcare administration
Then you should pursue an MBA. Most corporate structures, health systems, and hospitals have the utmost respect for formalized credentials, not necessarily demonstrated acumen or success. These organizations are highly risk adverse and don't like taking chances on wild cards. Additionally, such structures are usually very slow moving and tend to run behind the cutting edge as a safety mechanism - simply put, they don't want to be the first one to test the waters.

Specifically in the health system and hospital structure, physician and nurses dominate the command tree. In fact, the culture in these arenas typically prescribe that unless you are a physician or a nurse, your "understanding" and "ability" to demonstrates success in upper management is negligible - even with a doctorate in physical therapy! The only way one can "prove" the ability is with another advanced degree, typically a masters in business, healthcare administration, or public health.

An MBA trains the mind to process information in a systematic fashion in terms of administrating flow of business, finance, supply, human factors, large scheme operations, and market behaviors. It creates a language which most corporations, health systems, and hospitals appreciate and value.

However, an MBA does not necessarily teach you how to open up your own clinic. It certainly requires more grit than an academic degree to become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Not to MBA:
If your thoughts run more to becoming more self made, then the MBA degree may not be the right one for you. If your passions are more aligned with:
  • Private practice
  • Entrepreneurial pursuits
  • "I care more about clinical excellence"
  • Or, if you wish to remain at the lead/supervisor or operational manager's level on the command tree
If these are true, then there is really no need for you to seek an MBA. To be successful in the above, situations will force you to rely upon creativity, innovation, ingenuity, and the "spark." The creation of a business (ie. a clinic, online service, product, or specialty education) draws more from learning the right content from the right people - and - having the right mentors, stakeholders, and investors.

While an MBA will teach you all of these things, is it really worth it? Most graduate students already have enough debt, do you really want to go through this again? Is this really worth the debt profile you will further accrue just to learn content you can easily ask your peers and mentors for?

Remember, the MBA credential is one which is respected by corporations and organizations. Investors already have strong business sense; they are interested in the profitability of you - your ideas/products/service/skills, and, your work ethic.

In a nutshell, if you are interested in acute care, acute rehab, the skill settings, or health systems - and - you wish to rise up the chain of command... become a CEO of a hospital perhaps - you will need an MBA. However, if your dream is to own your own clinic... nay, own a chain of your own clinics and publish the next best book on how to rehab a young athlete, you need to work on YOU, not another degree.

I do have to say one thing, however: the content I have learned and the mental training I've received from my MBA program thus far have been some of the most enlightening and useful experiences. In fact, I feel that I've learned more from this program about "life" than was gleaned from attaining my DPT. For myself, going through the MBA program has been completely life changing.

So then, the question remains: To MBA, or not to MBA. What will your choice be?