The first thing my husband said when I told him about MBA school was, “the NBA has a school?” It didn’t help that we first had our conversation about MBA school during the NBA playoffs but really – NBA school? I quickly overcame this moronic start to the conversation by saying “M” as in Michael Jordan – MBA school. He got it from there and every day since. And every day since has led me to this point of reflecting over the past two years. How did I get an MBA? Why did I get an MBA? Was it worth it?
Rewinding the clock to April 2018 brings back many fond memories and some memories I would sooner like to forget. I was 37 years old with a 1-year-old baby and a few months into my full-time job as a transplant nephrologist at a thriving transplant department. The job demands were significant, but the rewards matched the demand. I learned exponentially about transplant nephrology, which I find incredibly gratifying today; however, the learning curve, demand, and stress had me concerned about my long term ability to do this job while maintaining a healthy physical and mental disposition. Out of all of this uncertainty came one certainty: I wanted to possess the ability to pivot to a new job if necessary.
At this time, I began to ponder what had sustained me my entire life: education. In this setting, I excel in the sense of feeling like I’m accomplishing something worthwhile and timeless. Frankly, I think a series of art classes could have helped sustain my spirits during this time. But I began to think back to my childhood and seeing my father turn himself from an employee into an entrepreneur into a serial entrepreneur. This admiration of him led me to believe that I have business in my “blood.” Furthermore, it didn’t take me long to realize that medicine can justifiably be called the practice of business medicine to this day. This was all icing, however. The cake was my hospital agreeing to cover most of my tuition.
I jumped right into the MBA that fall. I started with economics and a few other elective classes with the option to do online ones. The initial semester was so exhilarating. Do you know that feeling of the first day of class? When you’re excited and nervous all at the same time. Well, that feeling lasted until that first midterm. I was a doctor; that’s all I knew. Now here I was foraying into a new world. With the type A personality that most of us possess, I had to ace this midterm. And I did. But at what cost?
I was also working full time in a challenging environment. I had a growing baby and a supportive husband, but I had to sacrifice a lot if I wanted to ace this test. I sacrificed my sleep, quality family time, relaxation. As I continued down this trajectory (of course, I had to finish), I became more burned out, physically and mentally exhausted, and at the end of the 22 months, I had 3 extra letters behind my name. MBA. Was it worth it?
Well, I did end up getting a wonderful job with great work-life balance, but I could have gotten this job even without the MBA. The MBA did empower me to negotiate a higher salary. At the end of finishing the MBA, the following is what I learned.
1. Getting an MBA is not difficult. It’s a time commitment. Granted, mine was not at a top ten B school, but I also wasn’t $100K in the hole.
2. You can learn a lot of the health care-related business through several other avenues that don’t have to include a whole another degree. There are many physician development programs that focus on specific health care business-related topics that may be useful to you as a physician, such as are available on the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL).
3. Don’t ignore yourself, your family, and your health if you do choose to go forward with it, take your time. There’s no rush.
4. If you’re feeling burned out, don’t add more to your plate until you’ve addressed the original burnout.
5. Be prepared to learn a lot of management, strategy, and finance.
6. You likely won’t use more than 50 percent of what they teach you.
7. Have a specific goal in mind when you embark upon that time commitment and investment.
8. Put another way: Know your why.
9. The real education needed is one in mindset. You can do anything you set your mind to, provided you aren’t getting in your own way.
Basically, what I’m saying is to take a deep look into your reasons for wanting to do an MBA. In hindsight, I didn’t really need it, and I could have gone without it, but would I have gotten the competitive new position that I did? I don’t know the answer to that, but I will tell you that getting an MBA was not an antidote to burnout. Rather, it contributed to it. In these uncertain times, when salaries have been cut and being a physician is no longer a secure job with so many physician layoffs, I’m sure many of us are looking to pivot and gain new skill sets. And perhaps an MBA makes sense for you. However, if burnout is your reason for considering an MBA, see if you can cut clinical time or go at it at a slower pace. Am I happy that I got the degree? Yes, I am. I am utilizing it to teach other doctors about business in medicine, especially medical students and trainees. I also gained many leadership skills during the coursework that I can apply in my personal and professional life. May you find the right answer to your questions, and I hope sharing a snippet of my journey helps you.
Manpreet Samra is a nephrologist.