The ROI of an MBA for an OD

December 21, 2015
Melanie Denton, OD, MBA, FAAO

Seven months ago, on Friday, May 8, I walked across the stage wearing a graduation gown and hood to receive my fourth and final (for now) degree. It was nearly six years to the day after my graduation from OD school in 2009.

Seven months ago, on Friday, May 8, I walked across the stage wearing a graduation gown and hood to receive my fourth and final (for now) degree. It was nearly six years to the day after my graduation from OD school in 2009.

When I started the MBA program just one year after my residency in 2011, it was almost by accident. I had always wondered about the MBA program, having an interest in business and the prospect of someday owning my own practice. I felt very intimidated by the business world: by negotiation, the loan process, accounting, and finance in general. I sent an email to the admissions department, and it seemed before I could blink, I was enrolled for that fall’s courses.

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In the course of getting an MBA, the concept of return on investment (ROI) is discussed in just about every single class. ROI quite simply calculates the benefit, i.e., the “return” of investing in an opportunity. Calculating an ROI is typically done with cold hard numbers, and to be honest, if you crunch the numbers in my case, the ROI is negative. The money I put into the program has not and will not lead to a raise. My earning power is the same today as it was on May 7. Many of my classmates in other industries were looking forward to promotions and raises. That won’t happen in my field, of course.

If your world is black and white, there’s your answer: don’t get an MBA. But for me, the qualitative benefit has been appreciable. Sometimes numbers cannot tell the whole story.

 

The investment

Enrolling in an MBA program will require an investment of both time and money. Of course, there’s the tuition paid every semester as well as the money spent on books and supplies. I’ve never been one to not buy the books for a class, even if they are just suggested reading. The tuition will of course vary depending on the program chosen, but let’s just say it’s not an insignificant amount at the beginning of every semester.

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Time is potentially the larger investment. At the beginning of my program I was taking classes one at a time, which was only one night weekly. Although this was easier in terms of getting assignments done, after four semesters and two years of one class at a time, I changed to two classes per semester. The two classes made things much more difficult. I worked full time, went to class two nights a week, and tried to get all homework done on the weekends. It was extremely difficult to meet with my groups, and there are a lot of group projects in graduate school. 

Lost earnings are another consideration. I maintained full-time work while completing my MBA, but if a person were to suspend working while pursuing her degree, it would get much more costly.

Overall, my investment into the program was a significant amount-not only in cash but time. There were many weekends I wished I were doing something more fun than accounting homework.

Next: The return

 

The return

In my case, the return on all that time and energy has not been fully appreciated yet. It’s also very qualitative. Raise? No. Promotion? No.

So basically, it was an investment without any monetary return. Or was it?

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Here's what I think I got out of my program:

1. Perspective

In optometry school, the folks around you are studying the same thing you are and are going to apply it in pretty much the same way (with a few differences, of course, depending upon career trajectory). In business school, the people around you are studying the same thing, but they are viewing it from a completely different perspective than you are and are preparing themselves to apply it in a different scenario. This type of environment serves only to expand one’s own worldview. Having seen the way things are done in accounting, in sales, in hospitals, and in government sectors, I feel that I have a broader worldview than when I started.

2. Confidence

Almost my entire reason for getting an MBA stemmed from a lack of confidence. As a new doctor, I wanted to start a practice but didn’t know where to begin. I had no experience negotiating, working with staff, designing systems, and evaluating investments. Life gives you this knowledge too, but in an MBA program it’s streamlined and sped up.

Next: Network

 

3. Network

Going back to school immerses you in a new network. I gained mentors in both my classmates and professors. Many of my professors had spent their lives in business working for large or small companies, nonprofits, marketing firms, and many other fields. I made sure to continually ask questions of my professors such as, “How does this apply in health care? What happens when we apply these concepts to services rather than goods? How does this apply to small business?” I am so thankful to have subject matter experts who I can call on from everything from marketing to staff training concerns.

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4. Teamwork

Much of the MBA program is centered around teamwork, and as such, it becomes vitally important to learn how to work as a team. The interesting thing about grad school, though, is that everyone there is Type A. I know from experience that many private practice owners cite staff problems as their number one problem in practice ownership. While I know that I will deal with big personalities, I do feel more equipped for the challenge having helped navigate these group dynamics.

An MBA isn’t the path for everyone, and certainly the things learned in the program can be learned in life as well. I felt that my four years in the program were well spent, whether they ever show a positive ROI or not.

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