The business of medicine


If you had told Dr. Fawaz Siddiqi four years ago that he would be back in school before even completing his residency, he would have said you were ‘nuts’.

Now, having recently completed the Health Sector MBA program offered by the Richard Ivey School of Business and the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, the neurosurgical resident at the London Health Sciences Centre is more than happy with his decision to return to the classroom.

“My choice was justified within the first week,” says Siddiqi. “Interacting with colleagues from other professions – some health care related and some not – expanded my perspective and fundamentally changed how I think about health-care delivery.”

Siddiqi was one of the 15 students enrolled in the Health Sector MBA program which was offered for the first time in the 2006/07 academic year. A young health-care professional, he is a member of the program’s primary target audience, which also includes life sciences post-docs, nurses, dentists and allied health-care providers.

“We recognize that young health-care professionals need a dual skill set. They require clinical and technical skills as well as leadership and managerial skills if they are to drive change,” says Dr. Kellie Leitch, co-director of the Health Sector MBA and Assistant Dean (External), Schulich Medicine and Dentistry.

“In Canada the universal health system is valued, but faces financial, demographic and technological pressures. Governments have to make choices. Ideally, health-care providers will be part of the decision-making process because they have an understanding of their patients’ needs and how the system works.”

A 12-month program, the Health Sector MBA is fully integrated with Ivey’s regular MBA for the first three modules. Students learn the essentials of business management in addition to best practices from other industries.

The final module of the program consists of six health sector-focused courses. These specially designed courses cover topics related to clinical trials; statistics and pharmacoeconomics; intellectual property and licensing; managing health sector politics and environment; financing private health sector enterprises; and health sector marketing, strategy, management and accountability. In addition, students complete a project that involves answering a real strategic question for a health sector firm.

Unique internationally, the Health Sector MBA program is the only true partnership between a business school and a medical school.

“Ivey and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry worked together to develop the program and faculty from both schools teach in it,” says Leitch, who is also the Chair of Paediatric Surgery at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. “We each provide something very valuable to students. The whole program is based on Ivey’s highly regarded case study method while Schulich Medicine & Dentistry offers clinical and research resources.”

It was this unique combination of case-based learning and cross-faculty instruction that drew both Dr. Farrah Jiwa, a former chiropractor, and Dr. Imtiaz Mawji, a former research scientist, to Ivey’s Health Sector program in its inaugural year. “What really appealed to me was Ivey’s cross-enterprise leadership program,” recalls Jiwa.

Mawji was attracted by the similarity between the case study method and the scientific technique of forming a hypothesis and then testing it through experimentation. He soon found that the learning style surpassed his expectations. “It really gives you a birds-eye view of how decisions affect an entire organization, rather than a particular area,” he says – a lesson that has already proved invaluable in his work as a management consultant in New York, where he helps health-care companies make strategic decisions in market entry and investment.

Jiwa, too, found the broad view afforded by the case study methodology excellent preparation for her current position as Director of Business Development, International Affairs, at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “I have witnessed that having a holistic perspective of the organization – its culture, its strategy, its operations – is vital to looking beyond the silos of health care and leading change,” she says.

And yet, Ivey’s Health Sector MBA candidates don’t have to wait until graduation to begin enjoying the benefits of case study methodology. Megan Angus, another recent graduate, says the mode of instruction makes returning to school to pursue an MBA a less daunting prospect for health-care professionals with no earlier business training. The former nurse explains that because students possess such a diverse wealth of educational and professional experience: “You’re sharing your knowledge and learning from each other, so it’s not that intimidating.” This is just one of the unique qualities Angus believes will give graduates of the Health Sector program a broader array of career opportunities than a general MBA.

With more people like Angus, Mawji and Jiwa looking for tools to better administer health care, the future of the Health Sector MBA program appears strong. “More than ten per cent of Canada’s GDP is invested in health care,” says Leitch. “We need leaders who know the nuances and complexities of the system, and have the scientific, managerial, and entrepreneurial skills to help shape the future of health care.”

Shaping the future of health care is exactly what the graduates hope to do. “I plan to practice neurosurgery, but also get involved in health-care administration,” says Siddiqi. “I want to be on the front line designing and implementing improved delivery systems or developing strategy from a governance and policy standpoint.”

Those sentiments are echoed by his former classmates. “Part of the frustration of working as a nurse is that you can see system processes that could be improved, but you can’t really do anything to change them,” observes Megan Angus, who was recently hired by a Toronto-area health-care consulting firm. “I’m hoping I will be able to use my financial knowledge to work with hospitals and help them improve their positioning, and patient access.”

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