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What Medical School Didn’t Teach Me, I Learned in Business School

John Chang, MBA '09, reflects on the ROI of his Ross EMBA.

As I sat at the airport gate awaiting my last flight from Michigan to my home in Pennsylvania, I appreciated that for the first time in a long while I wasn’t preoccupied with finishing a homework assignment. The free time allowed me to reflect on the incredible learning experience and personal growth that began more than two years earlier when I decided to pursue an Executive MBA (EMBA) at Ross. The return on my investment surpassed even my initial expectations going into the program.

The Exam

At age 37, I came to the difficult realization that the personal satisfaction I gained from clinical medicine had eroded over time to the point where the “good days” were outnumbered by the bad. My fundamental motivation to become a physician was to help people in a meaningful way. But as a practicing ENT surgeon, my sense of accomplishment and desire to make a positive impact in my patients’ lives seemed to be diminished by bureaucratic paperwork, reduced reimbursement, loss of autonomy to make appropriate decisions, and sometimes even the patients themselves. At its core, medicine had become less of a profession and more of a business. Since medical school had offered me no training in the business of healthcare, I was unprepared for the mounting frustrations of clinical practice and the decline in personal career satisfaction.

My decision to pursue an MBA initially was prompted by a contentious business meeting with administrators. The outcome of the meeting was a decision to decrease patient encounter times in order to improve practice volume and revenue. As a clinician, this decision threatened an already difficult balance between quality of care and economic sustainability. Was the answer to lower reimbursements, to see more patients? I questioned whether I could reconcile the tension of providing quality healthcare in the face of less time and more paperwork. Would this further demoralize my sense of accomplishment and the impact for my patients? I realized that I lacked the business knowledge to make a sophisticated argument against this decision to the administrators of my healthcare group.

Doctor’s Orders

I felt an MBA was necessary to acquire the business acumen and understanding to survive in my clinical practice. I also saw an MBA, if applied properly, as one potential path to transitioning into a non-clinical career. What I didn’t anticipate was how profoundly it would ultimately change my thinking about myself and my career path.

Upon entering the Ross EMBA Program, I applied the same discipline and work ethic that allowed me to excel in medical school and surgical residency. However, I soon realized individual performance was only a small fraction of what was necessary to perform in the team-based environment at Ross. As a divisional leader of my department, I believed I already was well-versed in teamwork because I worked in various teams and clinical groups. The EMBA Program redefined what teamwork really meant by compelling me to work with other equally matched, highly seasoned executives from a diverse spectrum of industries. I learned a valuable lesson through such team dynamics: Even when I’m right, I can be wrong. This often is a difficult concept for some physicians, since medical culture favors a highly structured hierarchy and promotes positional authority over collaboration.

The Prescription

A particular strength of the Ross EMBA Program is its emphasis on leadership development. Through applying various leadership frameworks, I established a stronger bond with my office staff and facilitated an egalitarian, team-based approach among the physicians in my group. I gained great personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment through encouraging the growth of my employees and colleagues. To my surprise, this rivaled the level of personal satisfaction I felt in helping patients improve their medical health. I realized my calling in life may not be limited to helping people only in my capacity as a physician, but also as a leader helping others grow and prosper. Leading others allowed me to fulfill my fundamental desire to help people in a meaningful way. Up until that point in my career, I felt the only way to achieve this was through my role as a physician.

The EMBA Program also prompted me to engage in disciplined self-reflection. Critically assessing and exploring my strengths and weaknesses helped me appreciate where I needed to apply my energy to improve my leadership skills. It was difficult for me to learn to curb my perfectionist tendencies in order to seek a more harmonious balance. By virtue of making changes to my behavior at work, I couldn’t help but apply the same leadership and teamwork concepts to my home life as well. My spouse and I became an even stronger team through better communication and collaboration. Through it all, I clarified my priorities and made decisive changes to align both my personal and professional lives with those goals.

The ROI

As I boarded my flight and took my seat on the plane, I was enthusiastic about what laid ahead for my career. Medical school taught me a great deal about medicine, but my MBA helped me gain a new perspective on myself and how I provide value for those with whom I interact. Ironically, the most valuable lessons I learned were not about balance sheets and interest rates, but about me.

My MBA also helped me land my dream job with WellPoint Inc., the largest healthcare benefits company in the United States. Armed with my newfound perspective, I have entered a special program that grooms high-potential physician candidates with business backgrounds for senior leadership positions. The competition for this coveted position was quite intense, and I considered myself a long-shot candidate. I realize now just how much my Ross experience was the critical factor in my good fortune of getting this golden opportunity. I owe a great sense of gratitude to my classmates and the Ross faculty for pushing me, shaping me, and teaching me what it really means to be a team player and a leader.

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