HealthFebruary 07, 2020

Business training for physicians navigating a new era in healthcare

By: Megan D. Williams
Here’s what business training for physicians means in a changing healthcare environment.

Physicians have been getting business degrees for years, but business training for physicians may be more important now than ever before.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, data from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that the number of students earning the dual MD/MBA degree has doubled in the last 10 years. Their motivation could be the opportunity the dual degree gives them to pursue health-related entrepreneurial ventures, but that’s just the beginning. Thanks to forces like consumerization and fast-evolving technology, healthcare is changing, and business skills will be necessary for physicians across the board.

Why today’s medical careers require business skills

The need for business training for physicians goes far beyond traditional practice management. After all, physicians selling their independent practices to larger groups is increasingly common—the American Medical Association reports that 2016 was the first year employed physicians outnumbered physician owners. While this might seem to mean there’s less need for doctors to understand the basics of running a practice, doctors now have multiple reasons to step into the world of business.

Physicians often shift to administrative paths later in their careers, taking on leadership positions such as chairmanship of a clinical department or chief medical officer of a hospital. These are positions that involve working with crossfunctional teams and require a business-oriented understanding of organizational behavior. Beyond that, the advent of value-based care and new compensation models has meant new demands for physicians but also opened up opportunities for new career paths.

The consumerization of healthcare has given patients alternatives to traditional care, such as urgent care clinics, retail medicine and telemedicine options. Doctors must learn to find their place within these developments. And while electronic health records (EHRs) have pushed many doctors to steer new physicians away from medicine—Healthcare Finance reported that 70% of physicians wouldn’t recommend that their children or other family members pursue their profession—they are part of the new reality of healthcare. Having an understanding of business needs can help with navigating that new reality.

All of this amounts to an environment where doctors with business skills will be at a particular advantage. The following skills are particularly helpful:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Organizational leadership
  • Understanding of the intersection of technology, medicine and business
  • Competence in revenue cycle processes and technology
  • Entrepreneurial vision and skill
  • Marketing to patients/patient retention
  • Mergers and acquisitions

Ultimately, the age where physicianship was a discipline focused solely on clinical needs has passed. The modern physician will be a hybrid of multiple disciplines, with business being one of the most critical to survival and career success.

Where doctors build their skills

The career outlook for physicians is changing quickly, and doctors who want to keep up have multiple options.

Traditional programs

Degrees in health administration have been around for decades and are available from the baccalaureate to the doctoral level. For established physicians interested in a business focus, a traditional MBA or even an MBA in health management are options.

Alternative education

If you aren’t open to working on another degree just yet, you’ll find diverse, on-demand options from across the field.

Medscape’s Physician Business Academy, for example, is focused on providing flexible education for practicing physicians, with topics ranging from negotiating with insurers to using EHRs to finding the right physician job.

In addition, the American Association for Physician Leadership offers a mix of certification programs, continuing medical education courses, live institutes and advanced degrees that support business training for physicians.

Informal resources

If you’re simply looking to keep up with business topics from a physician perspective, Physicians Practice is a staple for many, and White Coat Investor offers a wealth of content that can support your personal finance and career goals.

On the job

Additionally, consider checking with your group or hospital affiliations to find out if there are any opportunities to collaborate with administration or participate in technology initiatives to improve your business knowledge through frontline experience.

While business skills were an option for doctors in the past, institutions like the New England Journal of Medicine are now suggesting a fourth-year rotation to help new physicians develop business competence. Business skills will likely become as common as pursuing education in public health. Going forward, expect to see business training thought of as a key skill that sets successful physicians apart and keeps them prepared for the many changes coming down the healthcare pipeline.

Megan D. Williams