A Little More Education, Please

Practicing physical therapists are returning to school for their… MBA? That’s right. The DPT/MBA trend is still young, but the data reigns true across the medical profession. A Harvard Business School report from 2016 says that the number of schools who offer joint MD/MBA programs has doubled since 2000. In the case of physical therapists, they end up with seven years of school under their belt, making them some of the most highly trained professionals in healthcare. Graduates are finding themselves in a workforce with only half the necessary training, after experiencing first-hand the implications of a traditional DPT curriculum that favors the clinical and ignores the business.

A desire for business acumen

So why the desire for business acumen within healthcare? Perhaps it is because, in this country, entrepreneurship is prized. Perhaps practitioners are burnt out. Perhaps they hope to apply medical knowledge within the executive suite. Perhaps technology is outpacing them. Perhaps their education left them feeling unprepared for their career. Physical therapists are increasingly pointing out this gap as highly troublesome. Somehow physical therapists are expected to not only be the caregiver, but also the technologist, the executive, and the CFO, all while providing highly personalized care. 

Whether in a large hospital system or a private practice, physical therapists sit in front of fast-paced, money-driven decisions every day: how to evaluate the ROI on a new piece of equipment; which EHR platform to select; which billing software; which patient management database — all this on top of their daily decisions to provide the best care to patients. Patients too, with their direct-to-your-door prescriptions, a PCP on speed dial, and health data at their fingertips, are more technologically empowered than ever. Patients also expect to play an active role in decision-making. The reality is, healthcare is also a business – a business which is now inextricably tied to technology – and the rapid pace of innovation makes it challenging to keep up.

The PT tipping point

At a time when the physician shortage is reaching a tipping point – an expected 122,000 shortfall by 2032 in the US alone (Association of American Medical Colleges) – it does the nation a disservice to exclude curriculum which would otherwise support more practitioners working successfully in their chosen field. While physical therapists are leaving the workforce to return to school, some institutions are shifting their degree offerings to accommodate the demand. Joint-programs such as those referenced above indicate a transition to integrated education for MDs, with other medical institutions following suit. 

In the meantime, is an MBA worth it? It depends. Many say no, citing high tuition cost and low professional ROI. Others say absolutely, citing career advancement and higher pay. However, getting an MBA is not the only variable one should use to evaluate career trajectory and goals. If ones goal is to focus on practicing physical therapy, it still won’t let you off the hook for being technologically-savvy and up-to-date. Continuing Education credits and professional development courses may be the route for you. However, if your goal is to rise through the management chain to an executive level, or if it’s to launch your own startup, having the groundwork and network that an MBA can provide, would be a no-brainer. 

At the end of the day, education is an investment in yourself and serves to widen one’s aperture and diversify a skillset at a time when simply being the best caregiver no longer seems to be enough. 


Grace Moen

Content Contributor

Grace thrives in the pursuit of knowledge. She is a writer and researcher on the topics of design, architecture, and the digital health landscape. You will likely find her ghostwriting for TEDx talks, crafting web copy, or editorializing on how technology and investment can facilitate health equity locally and globally.

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