When Chris Spoja, DO, finished his residency in 2009, he went into the U.S. Army, largely drawn by the tuition incentive. His military experience ended up being a lesson on leadership, and Dr. Spoja’s interest was piqued.
“That was kind of on-the-job training,” he says. “Just because you’re wearing a higher rank than somebody else doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be able to effectively motivate them to work within the team and do their job more effectively and help you do your job more effectively.
“That probably was my first time that I was desiring formalized leadership training.”
Dr. Spoja, now 40 and a chief hospitalist in Nampa, Idaho, and regional medical director for Sound Physicians, has made the decision to pursue a Master of Medical Management (MMM) degree—a choice that will mean even crazier hours than he already has now, more hard work, and regular trips from Idaho to Los Angeles. Not exactly a snap to pull off for someone who’s married and has four kids.
But it makes sense for him, because he would like the option of pursuing a chief medical officer position eventually, he says.
“You’re going to get to interact with professors,” he says. “It shows a level of commitment, I think, to leadership.”
A Great Debate
The question of getting an advanced management degree—such as an MMM, a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Public Health (MPH), or a Master of Hospital Administration (MHA)—poses a great dilemma for many hospitalists.
Job experience and exposure to so many facets of hospital operations make hospitalists good candidates for administrative posts.
But that experience, some hospitalists find, is really only enough to place them into a gray area. Hospitalists’ experience and managerial abilities lay the groundwork for moving up the hospital ladder to the C-suite and might pique their interest in doing so; however, the question remains whether that experience alone is enough. And how to go about deciding whether to get an advanced management degree—and then where and how to pursue it—sets up a complex choice with lots of variables.
Key recommendations from educators, career counselors, and physicians who have gone through the decision process include the following:
- Seek advice from those in the positions you seek;
- Use resources like the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE); and
- Hone your leadership skills through in-house programs before embarking on an expensive and time-consuming formal degree.
Advanced degrees can cost as much as $40,000 per year, just for tuition, and can take a year or two to complete. Options range from an on-campus program to online programs to a combination of the two. The choice of which degree to pursue might be difficult for some, ranging from the traditional MBA to the more quality improvement-focused MMM.
Michael Guthrie, MD, MBA, executive-in-residence at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Business, says making the choice requires thorough consideration.
“Here’s something that could cost you $75,000, maybe more, depending on what you pick,” says Dr. Guthrie, a frequent speaker on the topic at SHM annual meetings. Plus, “time, energy, distraction, and time away from family. There are significant issues about cost, not just financial. And you have to really have a sense of what’s the return on investment.”
Those with degrees generally do make more money than those without, according to the 2011 Cejka Executive Search and ACPE Physician Executive Compensation Survey. Physician CEOs with an MBA made $24,000 more in 2011 than those without an advanced degree; CMOs with the degree made $44,000 more.