The Limits of a Doctor’s Education

Increasingly, doctors are expected to manage some of the business aspects of their clinical practices. While they may have a practice manager to deal with some of the day-to-day challenges, it still falls to them to make strategic business decisions and keep their staff focused on organizational goals.

Given their lack of business training, the vast majority of doctors find this part of their job onerous. Before discussing a solution, let’s dig deeper into the problem…

Elements of The Problem

In clinical domains, doctors possess “white coat” authority. When they speak, people listen—treatment plans begin and drugs get administered. Physicians are so used to wielding this authority that, when dealing with resistance to an organizational initiative, they are often flummoxed. Very few doctors have any education in managing organizational change (and many are rather cynical of the efficacy of such training).

In addition, doctors don’t receive formal training in crucial business skills such as solving administrative problems, making financial decisions, and thinking
creatively in the business domain. Put another way, physicians aren’t automatically able to apply their cognitive smarts to resolving business problems. And, when doctors fail to meet these challenges, patient care suffers.

Thirdly, most MDs aren’t compelling presenters or natural motivational speakers. The data-driven case studies that doctors typically present aren’t as persuasive in a business meeting. (It’s hard to convince other stakeholders with statistics alone.) As a result, hospital and practice staff members leave meetings uninspired and unmotivated.

What’s The Solution?

First off, doctors need to learn how to apply their clinical thinking in a business context. For example, physicians routinely diagnose patients by identifying what they think is wrong with the patient. Then, they consciously ask the question: “What are the alternative diagnoses in this situation? What else might be wrong with this patient?” This technique is called a “differential diagnosis.” It’s a well-established habit of mind that doctors routinely employ every day of their clinical lives. However, it rarely occurs to them to apply the same tactic to their administrative problems. Physicians need specific training in how to apply their clinical skills to problems in non-clinical domains.

Secondly, doctors need to learn how to present their business initiatives in a compelling manner—in a fashion that creates buy-in among their staff and drives crucial organizational changes. For example, how can a doctor make her point using a story or a metaphor? Employing these kinds of rhetorical techniques can seem “soft” to a clinician—not rigorously logical. However, as keynote speakers have been demonstrating for years, people can both relate to and be inspired by metaphors and stories.

Finally—during business presentations—doctors need to know how to present their ideas in ways that are relevant to their staff and also benefit rich. Offering rewards for the attainment of strategic milestones can be an effective tactic for driving change. However, a word of warning, it’s important to know what kind of reward is appropriate in which situations. (It’s well established in business circles that the wrong reward can cripple motivation.)


The modern doctor needs to augment his clinical expertise with business savvy. It doesn’t require that a doctor gets an MBA but, rather, that she applies existing skills in a different way.

About The Author

The author, Krystal Simpkins, works for Mind Capital–an organization that conducts workshops for doctors looking to enhance their business skills by leveraging their clinical expertise.

More From The Blog

Tips For Choosing Allied Health Careers

7 Tips For Choosing Allied Health Careers

Allied Health is used to describe a variety of different health industry professions. When you start considering a health-related position…

Should You Get Your Health Degree Online

Should You Get Your Health Degree Online?

Today there is a vast array of options available to people who want to jump-start their careers. No longer do…

tired at work

How To Know When It’s Time For A New Career Track

Sometimes in life, it’s easy to know when it’s time to make a change. Other times are not so easy…

Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Med School

Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into Med School

Admission to Med school is often highly competitive and intense, making it extremely difficult to be enrolled. According to the…

Search Programs