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Management and Medicine: Dual degree program equips physicians with key leadership skills

February 21, 2023

As many regions across Canada grapple with how to deliver health care to the people who need it, Jackie Tsang (MD/MBA ’23) is learning how to improve care at the systems- and patient-levels.

Jackie Tsang, MD/MBA ’23

“COVID strained the health-care system and made visible the problems that have always existed, particularly for vulnerable communities and their access to care. The idea of developing skills to help champion systems-level change appealed to me,” says Tsang, a final-year medical student and member of the first student cohort in the University of Toronto’s combined MD/MBA program.

The program, offered by the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Rotman School of Management, allows learners to finish a combined degree in just five years. Completing both degrees separately would take an additional year.

Students begin their management studies after completing the first three years of medical school, then integrate back to the remainder of the clinical portion of the MD Program. The final year of the joint program balances medical and management studies.

To some, the idea of an MBA conjures up images of people and corporations focused on profits, not patients. But Seetha Radhakrishnan, the MD Program’s year-four clerkship director, says the professional degree is more nuanced and highly relevant to people in medicine.

“Leadership, problem solving, change management and persuasion — these kinds of skills are integral to the way we function as physicians, particularly in resource strained environments,” says Radhakrishnan, who is also an assistant professor of paediatrics at Temerty Medicine and a nephrologist at The Hospital for Sick Children.

“When our learners become practising physicians, be it in a hospital or in a community office, they do not practice in isolation but rather in teams where they will often be in leadership roles,” Radhakrishnan says.

“Some of my most critical learning has been around managing relationships and working effectively with others. Those lessons will be relevant in my clinical work as well as any leadership positions I may take on in the future.”

—Jackie Tsang, MD/MBA ’23

In addition to core courses and electives, Rotman also offers students in the program opportunities for experiential learning through the Creative Destruction Lab and the Rotman Onboard Fellowship, to name a few.

Michael Lee (MD/MBA ’24) says his learning was also bolstered through the variety of student clubs open to MD/MBA learners. One such club is the Healthcare Management Association, which recently co-hosted the Service Design Case Competition. The event challenges learners to propose new solutions to complex issues, including how to improve the hospital discharge process for people with mental illness who are unhoused.

Michael Lee, MD/MBA ’24

Lee’s team proposed a three-pronged approach they called “Designing with Care,” and placed third in the competition.

One pillar of their plan was to improve communication by standardizing the discharge process and establishing an outreach counsellor as a main point of contact. Next, the group recommended empowering the outreach counsellors through additional empathy training. The final pillar was to create a risk-stratified triage process to better identify the people with the greatest needs, which the team says should help health-care providers better allocate resources.

“One of the benefits of working on this project was collaborating with my teammates who all had experience from different sectors,” says Lee, who began the MBA portion of his studies in the fall. “We all sort of speak the same ‘language’ in medicine. In the MBA program, students also come from all over the world, so we have to communicate across sectors as well as across cultures, which adds so much value to the experience.”

Career options for people with MBAs are also diverse. Graduates work in the private and public sectors, and can drive change through entrepreneurship, management positions or finance, private equity, or venture capital fields, among other approaches. Rosemary Hannam, director of the Sandra Rotman Centre for Health Sector Strategy, says a main feature of high-performing health-care systems is that they always involve physicians in the leadership teams.

“Their clinical expertise is critical — we can’t make our systems better without their insight and participation. This program equips learners early in their trajectories to become tomorrow’s leaders,” she says.

That is proving true for Tsang.

“I thought business school would be very much about finance and operations. And while those elements are fundamental, they’re only part of what students learn,” says Tsang, who adds she had not planned to enroll in another program during her first three years of medical school.

“Some of my most critical learning has been around managing relationships and working effectively with others,” Tsang says. “Those lessons will be relevant in my clinical work as well as any leadership positions I may take on in the future.”

Financial support is available for the MD/MBA program. A recording of a recent February 2023 information session will be posted to Rotman’s MD/MBA page.

Written by Erin Howe | More Student Stories »