I grew up in Brookline, MA but spent a year of high school studying abroad in Zaragoza, Spain. When I came back from my year abroad I was looking for something to do for the summer where I could speak Spanish, and through a family friend ended up volunteering in the Emergency Department of Children’s Hospital Boston on two research studies. I loved the fast-paced environment of the ED and interacting with patients.

Then I went to Wesleyan University and studied history, literature, and philosophy in a program called the College of Letters. It was a great education, but ultimately I realized I wanted to have a career that was more practical and hands-on than theoretical (my husband is an English professor at Boston College, so that’s his domain). After college I worked in a pharmacogenetics lab at Massachusetts General Hospital for two years and spent one year completing a pre-medical post-baccaluareate program before starting at Harvard Medical School.  

The first year of medical school we took a health care policy class - we are one of the few medical schools to have a formal policy course that is required. The class broadened my awareness of issues facing our healthcare system, like escalating costs. I soon realized that this was the issue I wanted to work on in medicine. I didn’t yet know what kind of physician I wanted to be, but I knew that this issue of increasing costs would affect me and my patients regardless of the specialty I ended up choosing.

The best advice I got about pursuing an MD and an MBA was to do it, and to do it while I was still in medical school. As Harvard Medical students, we can do an MBA at HBS in just one extra year instead of two, which makes it an attractive option.

I saw an MBA as a way to learn about the financial side of organizations and about issues that are new to healthcare, but that other industries have dealt with for decades - like customer satisfaction, efficiency, and providing quality service for a reasonable cost. Even though these are some of the biggest issues in medicine today, we don’t learn how to address them in medical school, because fundamentally medical school is geared towards teaching students how to be competent individual clinicians.

On the one hand, this makes sense: there is a lot of clinical medicine to learn, and everyone wants doctors who are excellent clinicians taking care of them. On the other hand, leaders in medicine need more than excellent clinical skills to improve our current healthcare environment: they need clinical insight combined with effective leadership skills and an understanding of the broader healthcare market.

There are many people I look up to who are doing impactful work on healthcare costs. One is Neel Shah, who I have been working with throughout my time in medical school. Neel doesn’t shy away from big problems or big questions, like why the C-section rate has increased by 700% in one generation of women. Right now I’m working on a project with Neel and with Bob Kaplan’s group here at HBS looking at costs in childbirth. It’s been a fantastic way for me to bring my clinical knowledge together with what I’m now learning at HBS.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed so far at HBS is how much emphasis the school puts on cultivating leadership skills, like effectively managing teams, compared to medical school, where there is no formal training around these skills. I think this is really important and part of why MD/MBAs will be well poised to address many of the challenges facing American healthcare. 

I’ve met a lot of medical students who say they want to get an MBA but can’t really pinpoint why me, why this, why now. For people considering an MD/MBA, my advice is to figure out why you want to do it and how you think it will help you reach your long-term goals.