The business of medicine

MIT Executive MBA student brings lessons from MIT Sloan to his neurosurgery practice

January 31, 2014

Emad Eskandar, EMBA ’14, and his wife, Badia H. Eskandar

Emad Eskandar, EMBA ’14, and his wife, Badia H. Eskandar

A native of Egypt, Dr. Emad Eskandar knew just two words of English—“box” and “cat”—when he arrived in the United States with his family at the age of 9. Today, he is a neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

He’s also a student in the MIT Executive MBA (EMBA) program and will graduate in 2014. The MIT EMBA program is a 20-month, executive schedule MBA program for mid-career leaders with an average of 16 years of work experience.

“I’ve been doing medicine and neurosurgery for a long time, and I love it, but I think it’s good periodically to get a fresh perspective,” Eskandar said of his decision to return to school. He chose MIT Sloan because, “I thought if I’m going to do this, I want to be surrounded by top-notch faculty and, just as importantly, students.” He is one of a handful of medical doctors pursuing advanced degrees at MIT Sloan right now.

So far, MIT Sloan is living up to expectations, he said. “It’s probably the smartest group of people I’ve been with,” he said. “Of course, my colleagues in neurology and neurosurgery are pretty smart, too.”

Eskandar, who is married and the father of three children, ages 2, 5, and 6, said he chose the EMBA program because it offers professionals the opportunity to pursue a rigorous academic course of study while continuing to work full time. “I’m a practicing surgeon. I can’t put that on hold; my practice would dry up,” he said.

Eskandar makes his full schedule work with a combination of careful time management and strong support on the home front. “The way I can do this is basically because of my wife,” he said.

Eskandar said he plans to bring the management strategies he learns back to the world of health care. “Unlike in most businesses, the cost of health care is shielded both from patients and providers. So, the invisible hand of the market that would normally sort things out doesn’t work, because nobody knows what anything costs,” he said. “What that leads to is huge inefficiency.”

While making money is not the primary goal for many in the health care industry, wasting money and labor ultimately detracts from the provision of useful services. “The hospital is a not-for-profit entity … [but] it’s still a business, and the more efficiently we run it, the better,” Eskandar said.

At MIT Sloan, Eskandar has discovered that hospitals have much to learn from the way other businesses operate. “The biggest insight is just how similar a hospital is to a service industry or business,” he said. “Profit flow, operations management—those kinds of things are totally valid and appropriate [levers] to reduce wait times and increase satisfaction [in hospitals].”

During his time at the School, Eskandar has particularly enjoyed Introduction to Operations Management, a class that gives students the concepts, techniques, and tools needed to design, analyze, and improve core strategic operational capabilities. He has also begun a research project with Professor Retsef Levi to investigate ways to improve the workflow in operating rooms.

Eskandar also enjoyed Data, Models, and Decisions, a class that provides a structured way to analyze complex data and solve multidimensional problems. “That [approach] can be applied at the hospital level, to large data sets in my research, or can be used in coming up with decision trees for patient management,” he said.

While Eskandar already serves as director of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery and as director of the neurosurgery residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital, he said he intends to apply lessons he’s learned at MIT Sloan to even more significant roles in hospital leadership. He also plans to apply them at his startup company, Cerenova, which develops technologies and treatments that target neurological diseases. The company is currently raising its first round of funding.

“I really like the EMBA program and would encourage anyone who’s interested to seriously consider it,” Eskandar said. “I think there’s something in it for everyone.”