MD/MBA Interviews

In this section, we will be profiling and interviewing MD/MBAs to highlight the variety of roles, professions, and career paths the dual-degree allowed these successful men and women to pursue.

Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA

Medical Director, ED Observation Unit, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Medical Director, BWH Urgent Care Center at Foxborough
Clinical Instructor, Harvard Medical School

Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
PartnersHealthCare
  • Can you describe your background?[+]
    I manage two units, research, teach, work about 10 clinical shifts a month, and have 3 kids. All in all, it keeps me stimulated - no two days look exactly the same.
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, I studied biology and economics. I considered full-time research, but decided that I wanted to explore clinical medicine. As a result, I decided to pursue an MD/MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to do an Emergency Medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

            After I completed residency in 2009, I stayed on the faculty of the Brigham as Medical Director of the ED Observation Unit, a dedicated 10-bed unit where patients can spend up to 24 hours being observed and treated. Shortly thereafter, I was tapped to lead the clinical planning for a brand new Urgent Care Center in Foxborough, MA, of which I am now the Medical Director.

            At any given time, I’m juggling 12-15 different projects in my portfolio. I manage two units, research, teach, work about 10 clinical shifts a month, and have 3 kids. All in all, it keeps me stimulated - no two days look exactly the same.
  • Why did you decide to pursue an MD/MBA?[+]
            My first shadowing experience in medicine was during the peak of the HMO-wave in 1996, and I saw first-hand the sense of helplessness physicians felt. This motivated me to understand more about the healthcare system; especially healthcare finance, an interest that led me to eventually pursue and MD/MBA.
  • What types of people, in your opinion, pursue the MD/MBA?[+]
    At some point you need to say “no” to certain paths to progress down others. It’s really hard, because we’re used to saying “yes.”
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            Although I don’t think that there is any ‘cookie cutter’ MD/MBA stereotype, I think those who decide to pursue the degree are creative thinkers who enjoy problem solving. They are interested in understanding all elements of the problem, which may involve acquiring knowledge that is atypical for clinicians. For example, learning about accounting, strategy, marketing and operations all help me be better at my job as medical director.

            I also think that those who pursue the dual-degree tend to maximize their opportunities and try to keep all their options open. However, at some point you need to say “no” to certain paths to progress down others. It’s really hard, because we’re used to saying “yes.”

            I think students are analogous to undifferentiated stem cells. Once you graduate and transition into your career, you’ll have to differentiate and specialize not only clinically but non-clinically to maximize your functionality and succeed.
  • How important is having a “brand-name” MBA for an MD?[+]
            It depends. Unlike the MD, there is much greater variation in MBA programs and in certain industries it does matter. Based upon my experience at Wharton, some of the more competitive industries such as Investment Banking and Consulting view a “brand-name” degree as very important – after all, they cultivate an image of having the "best and brightest" and their clients expect to see impressive names on the resumés.

            That being said, if you plan on staying primarily within the clinical world or working outside of those very competitive banking and consulting firms, I don’t think where you went to business school will matter anywhere close to as much compared to what you have accomplished and how you interview.
  • Did you consider delaying the MBA until after residency?[+]
            I did. I knew I wouldn’t have as much work experience when I entered business school and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to use my business toolkit during residency. I was also worried that my network, one of the greatest business school assets, would deteriorate during my residency years.

            In the end, I decided to pursue both the MD and MBA together, because I realized that going back to school full-time for 2 years later in life would not be easy given family and other commitments. I’m grateful that I was able to study at Wharton, and I think my degree has already been a tremendous help to both allow me opportunities and enable me to make the most of them.
  • How has the MBA affected your career?[+]
    Just having an MBA gives access and credibility – it can get you in the door and help you land the interview. But it is the experience and what you’ve done with your skills that really allows you to excel.
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            Just having an MBA gives access and credibility – it can get you in the door and help you land the interview. But it is the experience and what you’ve done with your skills that really allows you to excel.

            After residency, I stayed on the faculty at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I think my business background and the fact that I was a ‘known quantity’ afforded me the opportunity to become the Director of the ED Observation Unit right away. A few years later, I was tapped to lead the clinical planning for a brand new Urgent Care Center in Foxborough, MA.

            Your time is only as valuable as you make it, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to involve myself in teaching, clinical work, research, and management at such an early stage in my career. Working in the administration of an academic medical center is a great fit for me.
  • How did the MBA play into your choice of Emergency Medicine as a specialty?[+]
    In my others rotations, I found myself waiting for the clock to hit 5:00pm. But that wasn’t the case with Emergency Medicine
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            It did not, and should not. You have to love what you’re going to do, and I fell in love with Emergency Medicine during my sub-internships and as President of the EM student group at Penn.

            In my others rotations, I found myself waiting for the clock to hit 5:00pm. But that wasn’t the case with EM - I loved having the first shot at diagnosing a patient, and enjoy the ability to have an exciting day at work and then be able to go home and be with my family or focus on non-clinical work.

            Of course I do miss the longitudinal relationship with patients; for example, none of my patients send me ‘thank you’ cookies on Christmas. The criticism of decisions from “Monday Morning quarterbacks" also comes with working in Emergency Medicine. But that comes with the territory - I love my job and I know I'm making the best decisions I can considering the available information and circumstances; I wouldn't last long if I let that criticism bother me.
  • Would you have been able to leverage your MBA as well as a surgeon?[+]
            I think it would have been much harder to be involved with as many non-clinical projects as I am had I chosen surgery. You can’t quickly respond to calls or e-mails in the OR, and you’ve got to maintain clinic hours and post-op coverage if you want to perform surgeries. In short, it’s hard to be a part time surgeon. That being said, it's not impossible and you can find examples of surgeons with the combined degree who have found a way to make it work for them.
  • Did you ever consider going into business and not pursuing a Residency?[+]
    I thought to myself, meeting with a CEO of a Pharmaceutical company in the afternoon as a consultant would be much more interesting than disimpacting a bowel at 3:00AM as an intern…
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            I had an amazing experience at McKinsey & Company, a leading management consulting firm during my time in business school, and I considered accepting a full-time offer to work with them instead of residency training.

            McKinsey allowed me to work with some of the smartest people around, and I was intoxicated by the culture of constant self-evaluation, innovation, and problem-solving skill set development. The salary certainly wouldn’t hurt and, I thought to myself, meeting with a CEO of a Pharmaceutical company in the afternoon as a consultant would be much more interesting than disimpacting a bowel at 3:00AM as an intern.

            But at the end of the day, my overwhelming desire to treat patients and be a clinician prevailed, and I went on to complete an Emergency Medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals in Boston, MA.
  • What kind of feedback did the MBA elicit in residency interviews?[+]
    At the end of the day, residency programs want to know that you are completely committed to clinical medicine.
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            The feedback I got was varied, which I believe is a product of each institution’s leadership. I suggest narrowing down your field to programs that “get it,” and focusing on those top players. Harvard has a non-traditional environment, where the leaders are open to diversifying and innovating. They seemed to “get it,” and viewed my unique background as an opportunity rather than a risk.

            That being said, there are some institutions out there that “didn’t get it.” And my suspicion is that I was coming on the heels of MD/MBAs who left clinical medicine and negatively colored the institution’s view of dual-degree holders.

            At the end of the day, residency programs want to know that you are completely committed to clinical medicine. They want to know you will show up on time, that you’re excited to become a great doctor, and that you will represent their program well. And if they can answer those 3 questions with a resounding “yes,” your MBA background should be a bonus.
  • How were you able to utilize your business skills during Residency?[+]
            My MBA allowed me to pursue QA projects during my residency. I started a hand hygiene program in the ED, which was quite successful and is now emulated in hospitals across the country. I was also able to apply my unique background to research, publishing a paper that looked at ED Observations patients through the lens of an options analysis.
  • What specific skills that you frequently use did you gain from the MBA?[+]
    Much more importantly, however, are the “softer,” leadership-focused skills I developed.
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
            I think the MBA afforded me a variety of “hard” and “soft” skills. The “harder,” more technical skills that I apply in my clinical work include public speaking and the ability to more professionally communicate with my colleagues by using data and PowerPoint. The MBA has made me a more articulate and polished communicator.

            Non-clinically, the technical skills I learned in business school include accounting and reading financial statements. This allows me to feel comfortable taking a deeper dive into the numbers and asking the tough questions in my administrative and management roles. I have also found that my coursework in strategy, operations and marketing has been very helpful in my administrative roles.

            Much more importantly, however, are the “softer,” leadership-focused skills I developed. They’re not as ‘sexy’ as Excel modeling, but they allow me to get more out of my colleagues, to become an effective leader, and to negotiate my way up the chain of command.
  • Can you give us a specific example of how you apply business skills to medicine?[+]
            Overall, I enjoy being able to apply the tools widely used in the business world to medicine.

            Specifically, I was very excited when I was tapped to lead the clinical planning for a new Urgent Care Center in Foxborough, MA. It was a rare opportunity to get involved in a brand new project, so I was involved in the entire design process. I had to plan staffing levels, manage costs, and ensure quality and patient satisfaction. I was accountable for the success or failure of the center, and gained valuable operations experience. And today, I’m happy to announce that our center is thriving, seeing over 1000 patients a month. We are a model of efficiency in the Partners Healthcare system, and we are achieving very high patient satisfaction scores. We have exceeded expectations by almost every measure.
  • What advice would you give current MD/MBA students?[+]
    1) A decade ago (and earlier), MD/MBAs were trailblazers. But the degree has become more common in recent years, and so you should not do it just because you think it will help you with a job offer. You should do it for the right reasons, or else your work will suffer, and so will your career. Is there a genuine interest in the coursework of business school? Are these skills essential to the career you envision? Are there alternative ways to acquire those skills? These are all questions an applicant should be considering.

    It is hard to have a career that involves 50% clinical medicine and 50% business. Ideally, your career will be more like a “80/20,” it’s your job to decide which one you want that 80% to be.
    Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA
    2) Follow your passion - find what excites you and gets you up in the morning. If that aligns with an MBA, then do it! If it doesn’t, don’t.

    3) One of the most valuable asset the MBA provides you with is your network, so make sure you cultivate those relationships. It can get hard during residency and fellowship, but its imperative you pay a lot of attention to maintaining that network. Most full-time clinicians don't understand the importance of meeting new people and sharing ideas; some of the greatest opportunities in your career will come from these relationships.

    4) It is hard to have a career that involves 50% clinical medicine and 50% business. Ideally, your career will be more like a “80/20,” it’s your job to decide which one you want that 80% to be.

    5) You will look at problems in a different way than your peers, and that is where you can really add value. It is more powerful to learn how to problem solve like a leader than to acquire discrete skills.
To read more about Christopher W. Baugh, MD, MBA, you can view his Harvard Catalyst profile, read his chapter in the Physicians' Pathways to Non-Traditional Careers and Leadership Opportunities book, which can also be purchased via Springer Publishing
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