Going Abroad to Understand the U.S. Better

A medical doctor who worked on Wall Street is getting an MBA at Britain's Judge Business School to gain a more global perspective on how to fix health care in America

I am an American pursuing an MBA in Europe, something that's no longer uncommon these days. What may be unique is the path that led me here. I want to learn about the forces driving the U.S. medical system, and how they can potentially be used to improve health care.

This hasn't been an easy task. To help expand my understanding of the ways other countries have addressed such issues as medical financing, management practices, incentives, and innovation, I realized an international MBA such as one from Cambridge would be invaluable.

I had already studied the economics and policies behind medical systems at the London School of Economics and as a medical student at Stanford University. I worked in a medical research lab as an undergraduate at Northwestern University. And I had experienced life in the financial world while working at investment bank Bear Stearns on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in the corporate sector at Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX), which specializes in cancer treatments and is based in Emeryville, Calif.

But I still wanted a better understanding of management skills—particularly how to prioritize innovations in health care. To fill the gap, pursuing an MBA seemed the logical next step. Unfortunately, the amount of debt I incurred in med school presented a seeming insurmountable barrier.

Fortuitous Funding

All this changed in 2009 when I was selected as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar, winning an all-expenses-paid scholarship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarship is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to use their knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others. Without this funding, it's unlikely I would have ever been able to pursue an MBA at Cambridge.

Cambridge has been a phenomenally good fit for me. I can recall my first day on campus vividly. I arrived the day before classes started and spent most of it just walking around the city. I remember thinking that Cambridge is incredibly gorgeous. The city is almost like a museum: Old castles line the walkways, and the architecture and landscaping seem as though they haven't changed for hundreds of years.

St. John's, the residential college where I'm staying while studying at Judge, was founded by the mother of England's King Henry VII in 1511. It still maintains its old traditions. One in particular I enjoy is the formal dinners. They're like something right out of a Harry Potter movie. Everyone dresses in suits, ties, and black gowns to dine in a 16th century hall complete with long wooden tables, a vaulted ceiling, and intricate paneling.

Up-To-Date Facilities

Yet Cambridge's MBA program isn't stuck in the past. The facilities are modern, and everything is designed for business in the 21st century, from 24-hour access to Bloomberg terminals to state-of-the-art conference rooms. I find these services crucially important, especially for entrepreneurs and individuals involved with the financial markets who often need to work all hours of the day and night.

Along with the facilities, the professors and course material have been second to none. One example is my recent class in operations management, which focused on developing a leaner production cycle using Six Sigma management principles. Learning how to boost the efficiency of businesses has direct implications for my own interests in improving the U.S. medical system. Through discussions and seminars, the class showed how the principles could be readily applied to improve health-care delivery in hospitals.

One thing that sets Judge apart from many U.S. schools is the international student body. During my time in Cambridge, I have found my classmates to be one of the program's greatest strengths. More than 90% of us are from overseas, and our global—and diverse—perspectives give the MBA program a tremendous advantage.

Varieties of Experience

The different outlooks on business force me to think through my own assumptions and have ultimately led to better solutions. That's particularly true for my current group project. Given the task of assessing medical technology opportunities in the U.S. Midwest, my team has drawn richly on everyone's international experience: One is a doctor from India; another, a pharmaceutical sales manager from Croatia; and the third, a financial accountant from Singapore. The average age of our team is about 30, and together we are developing much better solutions and analyses than any one of us ever could have on our own.

Overall, the knowledge I've gained this year has far exceeded my expectations. I look forward to being able to apply what I've learned in Cambridge to improving the lives of people who need quality health care.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.