Episode 3 – Who Are The Masters of Healthcare?


The first two episodes of the LTL podcast spelled out why physicians are, well, LICENSED TO LEAD. What are the underlying issues, myths and evidence about physician leaders in healthcare? In this episode, it’s time to zero in on who is at the helm: if not physicians, who? This is a close look at graduate business degrees MBA and MHA degrees, and why this leadership path is not a good one in healthcare. In fact, it might not be a good path for anyone.  

Part 1:  What are the nuts and bolts of MBA degrees? 

 Business schools weren’t always the campus centerpieces that they have become in many upper echelon universities. They used to be more akin to trade schools with a bent to practical knowledge and faculty that might show up in their coveralls. This section breezes through a bit of history and then focuses on the curricular emphasis in graduate business schools. There are a staggering number of degrees being pumped out annually both in exorbitantly priced, highly credentialed top-tier programs as well as in suspect, uncredentialed, 100% on-line programs. 

The end result is that there are 200,000 MBA degrees granted every year in the U.S. compared, for instance, to the medical field which produces 35,000 physician degrees every year. 

Part 2: There is a boatload of controversy about MBA degrees—who knew? 

By far the greatest volume of criticism and even disgust about graduate business education emanates from within the business schools themselves. Highly acclaimed professors challenge the very premise of business schools by asking:  

  • Can you teach someone to be a manager outside the context of the business?  What is the legitimacy of the academic research orientation that prioritizes “science not people?  
  • Will our professions, institutions and society survive this infiltration by the ethically-impaired, financially oriented business school mindset? 

This section primarily taps into the expertise from within the business schools where highly credentialed professors have been sounding alarms for decades. The problems witnessed in healthcare are problems for every sector in our society where “managerialism” has gotten a toehold.  

Part 3:  But that MBA degree must offer some kind of value, right? 

Once again, it makes sense to listen in on what business gurus and the tenured faculty within business schools have to say. What does the evidence show about the value that a student will gain with their investment in an MBA? And how successful are MBA programs in meeting the competency needs of employers who are hiring MBA graduates?  Without giving it away completely, consider the title of Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina T. Fong’s article: The End of Business Schools? Less Success than Meets the Eye. This section also takes a hard look at the perversities in executive pay.   

It will be hard to come away from wading through this swamp without recognizing that the MBA managerialism mindset conflicts with the professional obligations and values of physicians. 

A note from the Licensed to Lead podcast host Patty Fahy, MD: 

Thank you for reading and listening. Visit to learn more about how we work with physicians and other leaders to create healthy work cultures. Also—join future podcast conversations by sending me an email or leaving me a voice message. I would love to hear YOUR voice!