Healthcare MBA: The Best of Both Worlds
Jun 17, 2019, 9:00 AM.
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Healthcare is a business, whether we like it or not. In major urban settings, hospitals compete for patients getting surgery.
Physicians are measured against metrics tied to the number of patients they see over the course of a year and the kind of care they deliver as perceived by those patients. They sit in on financial meetings to review patient flow and patient satisfaction; and compensation is tied to the results of their “report cards.” And somebody needs to make sure the hospital, medical center or physicians’ office has the stocks and supplies it needs to deal with whatever comes through the door.
That’s no different from a supermarket trying to draw customers in the door for their groceries or a dealership wooing customers for car maintenance, says Vedner Guerrier. “It’s all the same. It’s a business.”
Guerrier is the administrative director of Memorial Physician Practices for Memorial Healthcare System
(MHS) in Hollywood, Fla., in charge of four service lines. “What’s the only defining factor of me being able to get a patient to come here?” says Guerrier. “I cannot guarantee you that the technology we have our competitors don’t have. But I can guarantee you we will provide you the best customer experience, the best customer service and the best personnel in the safest, cleanest facility.”
Guerrier, who recently stepped into the administrative director role, has been with MHS for 16 years, rising through the ranks, first as a radiation therapist, then receiving a promotion to chief therapist, manager of radiation oncology at two Memorial sites and director of medical oncology. It was at that point he decided to accelerate his career by returning to school to achieve his master’s degree in business administration with a focus on healthcare.
“Although I knew a lot and I had learned a lot hands on, I was still lacking that further in-depth
understanding of the business of what we do,” he explains. “I knew the operations. But I wanted to better understand the mechanisms to be able to be more efficient, to be able to present my information better to leadership and staff and patients and the physicians.”
Why a Healthcare MBA
Guerrier looked into multiple institutions to earn his MBA with a focus on healthcare before choosing Florida International University (FIU). He names several reasons for his decision.
- First. the university had just introduced a program that would be almost entirely online. “All the others wanted some type of hybrid that would require me to come in on Saturday,” he notes. “In my position, Saturdays are very hard to come by.” Guerrier’s weekends are consumed often by hospital events tied to fundraisers, especially during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.
- Second. the program had a solid reputation among his peers. Many of the directors at the hospital had attended FIU’s on-campus program and spoke highly of it. “I really wanted to go to an established, accredited entity that’s known for business and that’s been in the community. That’s why FIU was the best choice for me.”
- Third, the online healthcare MBA emphasizes the same topics that any MBA would cover, but from the specialized perspective that matters to a healthcare professional: organizational behavior, marketing, the legal environment, accounting and finance, managerial decision-making, strategic management, and so on.
Guerrier also took advantage of the program’s course on Lean Six Sigma to achieve his black belt in that process-improvement methodology. “I ended up doing my thesis on Lean Six Sigma,” he notes. That work not only helped him earn his current directorship but also, he believes, put him “on a different tier compared to anyone I can apply for a job against. There are a lot of [Six Sigma] green belts but not a lot of black belts. I’m happy I did it. It’s part of the reason why I’m in the job I’m in now.”
“So when all of these concepts were presented to me, I might not have known the terms, but I already had the life experience. A lot of things that were presented to me were polishing a rough stone.”
The Learning Experience
Courses in the online healthcare MBA program at FIU are delivered in eight-week formats, and students tackle two courses at a time.
Students are selected based on having at least two years of professional background in either healthcare or management. In Guerrier’s case, it was both. “I’d been presenting financial reports; doing monthly operating reports; speaking in front of people about cancer, oncology, radiation, about our services, about what we offer. I’d been dealing with employees — terminating employees, hiring employees, coaching employees,” he says. “So when all of these concepts were presented to me, I might not have known the terms, but I already had the life experience. A lot of things that were presented to me were polishing a rough stone.”
During the courses, students work in small teams, bringing diverse capabilities to assignments and giving team members the chance to hone their people skills. “We had conflict,” Guerrier acknowledges. “When you’re forming a team, you get the storming phase before you get to the forming phase — and having everyone become best friends.”
Faculty members bring ample experience in their fields and are tapped from multiple departments, depending on their disciplines, such as business systems, accounting and marketing. “I liked the faculty,” Guerrier recalls. “They knew what they were talking about.”
“When you’re forming a team, you get the storming phase before you get to the forming phase — and having everyone become best friends.”
Prospects for the Future
The healthcare MBA isn’t for everybody. “It takes organization, accountability, a person who is goal- focused — somebody who can take the lead when you identify that your team members might not be as strong as you would like,” says Guerrier. “It wasn’t easy, but it was one of those things that, if I had to do it again, I’d do it.”
The benefits are evident to Guerrier. After all, his newest role comes with baggage. While the neurosurgery division is “financially strong,” it’s a “very, very tough service line that historically has a bad reputation in terms of customer service.” Armed with his graduate degree, he feels prepared to take
on that challenge. “My goal right now is to straighten that program out.” Longer term, who knows? Within four or five years, he thinks he’ll be ready to pursue an administrator position at his current employer or at a larger organization.
He adds that he’d also recommend the same program to any of his managers who have their bachelor’s degrees. “If they’re looking to make the next step, I would definitely encourage them to consider doing an MBA. It’s one of the things that come into play when you submit your resume.”
But for anybody following that route, he advises getting the advanced degree “from a good place where you’re going to get something that will be beneficial.”
Get the most from your Online Healthcare MBA Experience: 5 Tips
- Plan to burn the midnight oil.
Guerrier dedicated his nights and weekends to his studies. “I would work all day, get home, take care of familial responsibilities and sit down in front of the computer at 10 o’clock at night.” On the weekends, he’d start at seven and work through the day. No going out to dinner during the week. No movies on the weekend.
- Remember, the struggles won’t last forever.
How did Guerrier survive that kind of rigorous schedule? “It takes an individual who is focused on a goal. It’s like going to boot camp. You’re not there forever. The program only lasts 18 months.”
- Maintain a steady pace.
In every class, Guerrier would make a point of “pressuring” the professors to tell the students what their project would be. That way he could accommodate the work without feeling “the crunch of last-second procrastination, which is what gets students in trouble.”
- Stay organized and on top of the work.
Even when he traveled for work, Guerrier would find time and an internet connection to get his assignments done, including trips to Phoenix, Washington and Peru’s Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu. “I was able to get everything I needed to get done,” he asserts. “It’s not impossible.”
- Build a network.
For Guerrier, there were two classmates “who were fantastic.” One worked at a different hospital in the region in a similar position — “someone who could feel my pain.” The other was in a different industry but “had a good work ethic and drive.” Whenever those three were on the same team, he says, “we would divide and conquer.”