For busy otolaryngology faculty, higher education isn’t out of reach

For busy otolaryngology faculty higher education isnt out of reachIn the era of health care productivity, it may seem counterintuitive for an organization to encourage its physicians to spend time pursuing another degree — especially one that’s nonclinical. But that’s exactly what’s happening at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Recognizing the value of higher education, leaders within the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery help accommodate faculty who want to obtain an advanced degree.

To that end, several otolaryngologists have earned (or are pursuing) a Master of Business Administration through the Executive MBA program at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

Applying insights from the business world to the health care environment

Head and neck surgical oncologist Nolan Seim, MD, is more than halfway through the 18-month MBA program, which is designed for working professionals.

Participants attend a three-day, in-class component once per month and spend up to 20 hours per week on coursework and group projects. The program also includes a weeklong domestic travel experience (Dr. Seim’s cohort studied in Silicon Valley) and a two-week study abroad course in Spain.

Dr. Seim, who is director of Medical Student Education for the otolaryngology department, says he appreciates how his experience has broadened his perspective.

“Most people think an MBA focuses on finance, but it’s more than that,” he says. “I’m learning how to synthesize information from different sources, how to come up with creative solutions to problems and how to be an effective leader. For me, getting an MBA isn’t about earning a promotion. I want to add value to the clinical experience and, as I take on more leadership responsibilities, make decisions that have downstream benefits for our patients and staff.”

Dr. Seim has already applied what he’s learned in business school to his professional life.

“For a recent class project, I analyzed my outpatient clinic schedule to identify inefficiencies and come up with solutions,” he says. “I completely revamped my clinical template and adjusted patient flow from check-in to check-out, with the goal of delivering more efficient care. We’re still in the process of implementing these changes, but if the results are measurable and positive, it might be something we can emulate in other areas of the department.”

Gaining skills that aren’t taught in medical school

Ricardo Carrau, MD, MBA, director of the Division of Skull Base Surgery, completed his MBA in 2019. He says his exposure to subjects like economics, the psychology of business and lean management principles allows him to see life through a new lens.

“Medical education and training programs provide specific hard skills, such as learning how to perform a particular type of surgery,” he says. “But they don’t teach the softer skills that could make us better physicians and leaders. For example, we need to know how to communicate effectively with patients and understand how certain operational decisions may impact our practice or department. The knowledge and insights I gained from my MBA classes helped fill that gap and has made me a better leader.”

Neurotologist Oliver Adunka, MD, MBA, director of the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Cranial Base Surgery, agrees. He says the MBA program, which he completed in 2022, opened his eyes to the importance of financial acumen, accounting, management and leadership development.

“It’s not enough to just have a seat at the table when business decisions are being made,” he says. “I’ve learned to recognize the complexities that go into decision-making, and the value of other peoples’ perspectives. Otherwise it’s easy to make assumptions.”

Dr. Carrau says he’s also become more open-minded since getting his MBA.

“I’ve become more fact-based in my decision-making instead of relying on perceptions,” he explains. “Even though medicine is very fact-based and data-driven, it’s also compartmentalized. As clinicians, we don’t always have the same level of exposure to the operational side of health care as our executive counterparts.”

An investment that will pay dividends

Dr. Seim, who will graduate in May 2024, says it’s challenging to add master’s courses into an already packed schedule — but the extra time and effort are worth it. He credits his department chair and other leaders for making it easier for him to get his MBA.

“My colleagues have fully supported my pursuit of this degree, even knowing it would take time away from my day job,” he says. “I can put away my phone during class and give our instructor my full attention, knowing clinical coverage is taken care of and our patients are in good hands.”