MBA/MD Program Trains Physicians for a Complex Healthcare Sector

Vivek H. Murthy ’03, MD ’03

When Vivek H. Murthy ’03, MD ’03 was sworn in as Surgeon General of the United States on April 22, he became the most visible graduate of Yale’s MBA-MD joint-degree program (and the only one to make a joint appearance with Elmo). Offered by the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Medicine, the joint-degree program was created 17 years ago to address the challenges and opportunities that physicians face in an increasingly complex healthcare sector.

“You can’t overestimate the value of business skills today,” says Howard Forman, director of the MBA/MD program and Professor of Public Health, Radiology, and Management. “More than ever, physicians-to-be need the type of skills that will enable them to deliver both care and cost reduction to large populations.”

Former joint-degree students have distinguished themselves in leadership roles throughout the healthcare sector—as practicing physicians, private-sector executive officers, investment professionals, research scientists, pioneers in medical education, and heads of nonprofit organizations.

“You can be a leader in a lot of different ways in healthcare,” Forman says. “Our students tend to be the ones who recognize this and want the skills necessary to play a vital role in creating positive change.”

Murthy is one of 46 graduates the program has produced. He is co-founder and president of Doctors for America, an organization that works to ensure access to affordable, high-quality healthcare. Prior to beginning his stint as Surgeon General, he was also a hospitalist attending physician and instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Before enrolling in the MBA/MD program, Murthy co-founded VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit organization devoted to HIV/AIDS education in India and the U.S.

“His focus was on improving public health domestically and globally,” Forman says. “This is really the next natural next step, for him to play a true leadership role being the nation’s doctor.”

Prof. Howard Forman and a group of early graduates of the Yale MBA/MD program, meeting with Senator Joseph Lieberman in Washington, D.C., in 2002. From left: Howard Forman, Vivek Murthy '03, Scott Berkowitz '03, Vicente Diaz '05, Lieberman, Jesse James '05, John Koo '03, Daniel Saket '03, Aaron Covey '02, David Larson '02. Photo courtesy of Howard Forman.

Because healthcare needs leaders who can address today’s complex care delivery and fiscal issues, business skills have become a natural adjunct to medical skills, Forman says. Program graduates agree.

“Doctors have long ignored the business side of medicine, much to our detriment,” says Michael Sherling ’02, MD ’02. A dermatologist, Sherling is also co-founder and chief medical officer at Modernizing Medicine, a medical technology company that develops specialty-specific electronic health records systems for physicians.

“As health care dollars become more scarce and reimbursement shifts from volume-based to value-based medicine, it’s incumbent upon us to not only learn about the business side, but to become leaders in the healthcare industry,” Sherling says. “If doctors enhance their training with an MBA, they will be able to bring their medical expertise to bear on some of the biggest issues we face in healthcare today.”

Anup Patel ’09, MD ’09, a resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital, says that he was drawn to the joint-degree program after co-founding Cents of Relief, an organization that empowers victims of human trafficking.

More than ever, physicians-to-be need the type of skills that will enable them to deliver both care and cost reduction to large populations.

“I quickly realized the numerous benefits derived from possessing a business degree in the medical world,” Patel says. “Many health policy and global health committees welcome MBA/MDs because of their ability to understand the medical and economics implications of optimizing healthcare delivery.”

Patel credits his business skills with helping him take leadership roles on the American Society of Plastic Surgery Board of Directors and on the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Editorial Board. He also says that his SOM classmates provide an invaluable link to the worlds of consulting and finance: “The benefits of the joint degree and the Yale connection really are priceless.”