Most MD-MBA Programs Should Be Terminated

JANUARY 25, 2015
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Doctors love credentials, so it's no surprise that they want "MBA" after their names. Why they do is not clear but there are many potential explanations. Some have to do with historical precedents dating back to antiquity that evolved through the Middle Ages to the present, some have to do with economic benefits differentiating one's qualifications in the mind of patients, and still others have to do with contemporary certification mandates. 

In fact, more than half of US medical schools offer combined degree programs, graduating about 400 MD/MBAs each year. But, do they really contribute value and do the costs justify the benefits? I helped create such a program about 20 years ago and am having second thoughts. MBA programs offer the 4Cs: connections, credibility, credentials and content, in that order of importance, but are they still relevant?

There are many reasons to pull the plug on these programs or radically reform them:

1. We don't know how much value the graduates contribute to the sick care system.

2. The programs are usually not domain specific. Some think that's a good thing, encouraging exposure to how other industries have solved generic problems. Others feel sick-care is so unique that the lessons are not applicable.

3. Medical students are already up their waists in debt, most of which is taxpayer subsidized. Should additional debt be added to their student loans ?

4. Few of the programs address the needs of physician entrepreneurs.

5 There are many substitutes for physician entrepreneurs around the world and US schools are no longer the mecca.

6. Content has become generic and offered for free on the Internet.

7. Connections are easy to make using social media.

8. The MBA is losing credibility, given the large number of places that offer them, particularly those below the first-tier schools.

9. Employers can see through the credentials.

10. Costs continue to escalate and the programs do not accomodate the specific needs of busy clinician students.

New models of physician entrepreneurship and business education and training have appeared in the last 10 years, including specific bioentrepreneurship and innovation courses, certificates and degrees, Professional Science Masters programs, hands-on mentoring and training as part of accelerators, generators and incubators, and MOOCs and mini-MOOCs offfered online for free.

Business schools are eager to feed the hunger of doctors interested in enrolling in MBA programs. They are good students, willing to pay the freight, have the perception of ever increasing value in the degree and contribute diversity to the classes. Sounds like a bubble to me and maybe time to pop.

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