New Rx For Success

JOHN KEYSER ALREADY MAKES BIG bucks. So why is he working most nights until 1 or 2, sweating over business-school case studies? Because, at 58, the New Jersey plastic surgeon decided he needs an M.B.A. So every Friday for the last two years he's attended classes at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business in New York. He considers it a matter of survival. "The whole marketplace has changed," he says. "Now, to protect yourself and your patients, you have to understand the business of medicine."

Not so long ago, most doctors wouldn't have touched a balance sheet with a 10-foot forceps. Today, as the medical industry reshapes itself through cost cutting, mergers and managed care, more and more doctors are putting aside scalpels and stethoscopes and going to B-school. Some want to understand the forces reshaping their profession. Others seek the know-how to fend off HMOs and health-care managers who are whittling away their incomes or restricting their patients' care. "It's a clear trend," says Susan Sasenick at the American College of Physician Executives, an association of doctors moving into medical management. "At least a third" of her 13,000 members are working toward advanced business degrees, she adds. "We're growing by leaps and bounds."

Business schools have been quick to respond to doctors' needs. The University of California, Irvine, among others, began an M.B.A. in health-care management two years ago, offering weekend classes so that physicians needn't take time from their practice. Next month the University of Tennessee begins offering M.B.A. "cyberclasses" over the Internet. All this melding of mammon and medicine may trouble some. But as anyone who's whiled away the hours in a waiting room can attest, some classes in, say, customer service sure couldn't hurt.