How additional advanced degrees can open new doors in your IR career
By Melanie Padgett Powers Spring 2018
After college, there’s medical school. And after medical school comes additional training with a residency and (for now) fellowship—but not all IRs stop there. In fact, many have discovered the benefits that additional advanced degrees can afford their careers.
Meghal Antani, MD, MBA, FSIR, founder and director of the Center for Interventional Medicine in Maryland and Northern Virginia, earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2010 at Duke University. Dr. Antani sought out an MBA program with a health care focus because he was starting his own business. In hindsight, he says, he didn’t necessarily need an MBA to run a business. Instead, he learned how to start his business mostly by diving in and doing it.
However, that doesn’t mean his MBA hasn’t helped his career. “I use my MBA to pursue other areas, such as health care consulting, entrepreneurship and private equity,” he says. “It helped me to understand the language.”
Dr. Antani says IRs considering an MBA may want to seek one that isn’t healthcare focused. He later realized that a regular MBA could have been beneficial because of the perspectives gained from other industries. A health care MBA “limits your exposure to similar students from the same industry and thereby limits ideas,” he explains.
One of the primary benefits of his MBA that Dr. Antani didn’t anticipate was the education in teamwork. “In medicine you’re working by yourself. It’s very individual,” he says. “Business focuses more on group dynamics. In business, somebody can individually be very bright, but when you’re added to a team everyone on that team needs to work together to succeed. Getting that exposure was a valuable experience.”
In his practice, he takes a team-based approach wherever he can. His business includes another IR and a nurse practitioner with an IR background. This team approach is helpful for clinical and administrative decisions, even for something as simple as ordering supplies together to control costs.
As a medical student, Waleska Pabon-Ramos, MD, MPH, FSIR, assistant professor of radiology, Duke University Hospital, had no doubt about the value a Master of Public Health (MPH) would bring: “I pursued my MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics because I’d always wanted to go into academia and do research. I knew a biostatistics background would be tremendously helpful.”
Although it was a significant challenge to complete the additional degree within the demands of medical school, its value to her career in IR research made the early sacrifices in time worthwhile. “The benefit starts from the very beginning of the process,” she says. “I can more easily design a study, with fewer mistakes—I know the potential pitfalls to avoid. I can also decide ahead of time what statistical analysis I’ll need to use, how many patients we’ll need to recruit . . . it makes the entire process much easier.”
And unlike most of her colleagues in the research community, she can serve as her own statistician. Whereas most researchers need to work with a statistician to plan and conduct data analyses, she can handle the statistics herself—saving more time and further simplifying the process.
And the potential benefits of the degree don’t stop there—she says that with a different focus, an MPH could be helpful for those in advocacy or those partnering with the health care industry.
Warren Krackov, MD, MHA, medical director of Vascular Interventions of Tampa, Florida, wanted to expand his knowledge about IR to the entire health care system. He earned his Master in Health Administration (MHA) degree in September 2017 from the University of California at San Francisco. “There’s a lot going on in the business side of medicine that affects our specialty, our practices and certainly my patients that I didn’t fully understand,” he says.
His degree has helped him better understand areas such as reimbursement and how best to participate in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). “My degree has absolutely been worth it. Even after the first quarter I felt like I understood health economics much better. I felt like I’ve gotten a much better understanding of how health care delivery works and how health care can be structured.”
Dr. Krackov believes advanced degrees are important for IRs to gain a better understanding of the U.S. health care system. If more IRs earn advanced degrees, “our collective knowledge in this area increases, and we’re better poised as a specialty,” he says.
Sarah B. White, MD, MS, FSIR, associate professor of radiology and surgical oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), sought an advanced degree for a specific career goal. She knew when she started her IR practice that she wanted to pursue research. In 2014, she earned her Master in Clinical Investigation from Northwestern University in Chicago.
Dr. White’s program taught her how to develop and run a clinical trial, including how to decide on the type of trial and navigate the ethical issues. It also taught her how to write successful grant proposals.
“When you’re writing grant proposals, having the specific relevant credentials increases your credibility. People take you a little more seriously,” she says. She started and now runs the first IR lab at MCW, which is grant-funded.
“MDs can open labs without this degree, but it made it much more straightforward,” she says.
Considering an advanced degree?
If you’re considering pursuing an additional degree, your two biggest hurdles are likely time and money. Meghal Antani, MD, MBA, spent about 20 hours a week for 2.5 years earning his MBA, which he says is a typical timeframe.
Waleska Pabon-Ramos, MD, MPH, FSIR, notes that if she were to do it all over again, she would have taken an extra year so she’d have more time to complete the degree: “My recommendation would be either pursue it as an attending or take an extra year as a medical student. Some residency programs also give you an extra year to pursue additional training—an MPH, MBA, etc. In essence, if you’re still in training you’ll need that extra time.”
Also be sure you have a solid reason for seeking an advanced degree. “There may be better ways to get the same type of information without having to get a degree,” such as taking marketing or accounting courses or reading business books, says Dr. Antani.
If you do pursue a degree, consider whether an online or on-site course—or a combination—will work best for you. Whether you go to school part-time or full-time depends on your situation and personality, says Warren Krackov, MD, MHA. He earned his MHA full-time in one year at the University of California, San Francisco. Most of the program was online with occasional class conference calls and about four on-site campus visits. “It’s definitely doable, but it’s intense.”