As the chief of surgery at the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, Dr. Robert McLafferty represents the very best in physician leadership. Since graduating from the M.B.A. in 2017, he has continued to use his experiences and education from the program to help him develop into an exceptional physician executive. We recently caught up with Dr. McLafferty to learn more about his experiences in the program and his advice for future physicians exploring this degree.
What spurred your decision to get the healthcare M.B.A.?
Before I accepted my position in Oregon in 2013, I considered a few other M.H.A. programs around the country. I was thrilled to learn about the OHSU/PSU Healthcare M.B.A. program upon my arrival. I spoke to Dr. Tim Liem - one of my partners who was enrolled in the program and he gave it a raving review. The face-to-face class time and reasonable class load with two classes each trimester were manageable while working full-time. The three-year commitment did not bother me in that the curriculum was outstanding. It goes by fast.
How has what you have learned and experienced in the program helped you to advance your professional goals/career?
This program has been as influential in my career as medical school, and it dramatically changed my career trajectory and aspirations –for the better. As the chief of surgery at the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, it was literally on-the-job training for me. There were skills in leadership, accounting, finance, project management, innovation, and strategy (to name a few) that I tried, tested, and put directly into in my job. It has had a profound effect on how I lead and manage.
What advice would you give to current/future students?
Since matriculating through this program as a physician, I feel the majority of what I have learned is pertinent to all physicians and equally important to the clinical care we provide. The program really provides a wide breadth of knowledge on the business side of healthcare while still sticking to the fundamentals of a degree in business administration. Additionally, all physicians manage and lead and work to improve processes. The experience learned is invaluable and my advice would be to use this program to hone in on your weakest skills. The instructors and general atmosphere of the program are safe and very supportive. Everyone brings different strengths, and I learned as much from my fellow students, who came from all walks of healthcare, as I did from the instructors.
What changes in healthcare or your workplace have you already made or plan to make based on your learning?
After our class on innovation, I established several innovation teams to address problems in our operating room. This was very successful. I also led an interdisciplinary team using specific skills in my project management course to implement the start of up a hybrid operating room suite. On a personal level, I have become a better listener and manager. I have really focused on self-reflection and worked on those areas of weakness to make me a stronger leader.
Why would you recommend this degree to others?
In my view, there are three reasons I would recommend this degree. The first is the opportunity for personal growth. This program has a strong emphasis on the aspect of working on strengthening emotional intelligence as it applies to leading and managing. Second, the program will provide specific skills, particularly on the business side, that one can apply in real time while on the job. It does not matter whether one is a front-line social worker or the chief of surgery. Third, the degree, in and of itself, carries weight and often is a pre-requisite to ascending to the next level of management in a healthcare system.
How did you balance work, life, and school?
The program is what you make of it. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Generally, my study hours were 2-3 hours per evening Monday through Thursday. I would typically take Friday and Saturday off and then work 2-4 hours on Sunday. Some semesters were tougher than others were while some were lighter. Every semester had a team project, and I found these to be very helpful in creating balance. Sometimes I would be all in for a week while another team member had a commitment, and vice-versa. Overall, I enjoyed my learning, so I did not feel it limited my work-life balance.
Any additional information you would like to provide regarding your experience in the program?
I would just end by saying I had a lot of fun in this program and befriended some really great people. The networking opportunities increased exponentially, and the camaraderie was very strong within the class.