Only a Small Proportion of Physician-MBAs Enter Healthcare Management

Oncology Business News®, July 2016,

Medical students who obtain an MBA are less likely to remain in clinical work, however, and the study results suggest that the business world and its monetary gains are a powerful lure.

There appears to be growing belief in the value that an MBA can bring to a career in medicine. More and more medical school students are taking business courses on the side, and schools have responded by adding significantly more joint MD/MBA programs. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of school programs climbed from 30 to 65, according to a study done by students at Harvard University. Many who finish their medical training also go right back to school to get an MBA through part-time or full-time programs, the study said.

Medical students who obtain an MBA are less likely to remain in clinical work, however, and the study results suggest that the business world and its monetary gains are a powerful lure. “Anecdotally, healthcare professionals often suggest that MBA degrees lead physicians to choose jobs in industries such as consulting, finance, or the pharmaceutical industry, which are more lucrative than those in clinical practice and management,” the authors wrote. Those who have studied internal medicine are the exception to the rule, however. They are significantly more likely to remain clinically active (63.85% vs 42.4%), the study results showed.

The study looked at 206 physician graduates of Harvard Business School who obtained their degrees from 1941 to 2014. There was great diversity in the span of current activities of the group, but the most common career choices were clinical (27.7%), investment banking/finance (27.0%), hospital/provider administration (11.7%), biotech/device/pharmaceutical (10.9%), and entrepreneurship (9.5%). The majority of the MD/MBA graduates entered residency (84%), slightly less than half remained clinically active to some degree (49.3%), and just over one-fourth (27.7%) made clinical work their primary professional role.

Authors of the study argue that MD/MBAs who do not stick with clinical work can play valuable roles in the broader healthcare sector. “Confronting the contemporary challenges facing healthcare delivery— variable clinical quality, high costs, and poor patient experience—will require skilled physician leaders who can seamlessly blend clinical knowledge and management acumen. Many observers have argued that formal management and leadership training for physicians is an important strategy to address this need,” the authors wrote.

The authors described two limitations to the study. The first is that the study involved only students of Harvard Business School and may not be representative of physician-MBAs in general. The second is that physicians may have different reasons for pursuing an MBA today than in the past. “For example, whereas previous generations of physicians may have pursued management training to escape clinical practice, today, others may do so in preparation for positions of clinical leadership or as policy makers.”

Just 11.7% of physician-MBAs hold management positions in provider groups, hospitals, or health systems, according to the study results. The authors said this statistic could be viewed negatively or positively: whereas it suggests that physicians are not, on the whole, finding their way into management, they are filtering into the broader healthcare industry where their clinical insight can make an important difference.


Ljuboja D, Powers BW, Robbins B, Huckman R, Yeshwant K, Jain SH. When doctors go to business school: career choices of physician-MBAs. American Journal of Managed Care website. http://www. Choices-of-Physician-MBAs. Published June 9, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2016.