Student Spotlight: Ajay Patel, MD, ’26, MBA — Finance

Student Spotlight: Ajay Patel, MD, ’26, MBA — Finance

Student Spotlight: Ajay Patel, MD, ’26, MBA — Finance banner

General and Vascular Surgeon at AdventHealth Carrollwood in Tampa, Florida.

Ajay Patel, MD is a board-certified general and vascular surgeon, practicing since 2005. Dr. Patel’s special clinical interests include laparoscopic and robotic surgery, minimally invasive endovascular surgery, peripheral vascular angiography, wound care, arteriovenous fistulas and grafts, and the surgical correction of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Ajay has invested considerable time, effort and financial resources to establish a successful career as a physician and surgeon — and also currently as Chief of Surgery at the hospital. Committed to the care of his patients, who describe him as knowledgeable, trustworthy, kind and caring, Ajay is also devoted to his family — he and his wife, Karin, are raising three children. We wondered why, with a thriving medical practice and busy family life, Ajay chose to return to school to earn a Master of Business Administration — Finance degree.

Taking the Leap

Even at an early age I knew that I wanted to be a physician. I have multiple family members who are physicians and that led me down the path of going into medicine. Helping patients is why I do what I do. The sense of fulfillment I derive from knowing that I helped someone in their time of need drives me to do my job.

Multiple reasons came together at just the right time that pushed me toward this new challenge of earning an MBA. First, my father, who has always been my role model, instilled in me the importance of education. He has three master’s degrees, one of which is an MBA, so for a long time, I felt that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. 

When I earned my medical degree in 1999, I also had an interest in business — my minor in college was in business management. As a physician now for 25 years, I have seen medicine change a lot. I think that the overlap between business and medicine is underappreciated. Over the years, I have taken multiple leadership courses — the most recent one through Harvard Business Publishing. The Physician Team Leadership Program, which prepares medical practitioners to develop as leaders and change agents in their fields of practice, piqued my interest in the business of medicine.

Another reason that pushed me to earn this degree is that my oldest son is close to graduating high school and wants to pursue a career in Finance. So, I felt that learning more about business would help me be better able to share in his interest. 

Finally, when I found out that my employer, AdventHealth, would financially support me to complete this MBA program through their partnership with Guild Education, I felt compelled to take the leap and do this program.

JWU’s MBA Degree

Earning a business degree is more for personal than professional goals right now. However, looking towards the future, I can foresee a time when I may need to pivot to a new occupation. As I get older, the time may come when I stop operating and take an executive leadership position, either with the hospital or within the division of the larger company itself. Or I might enjoy a total change in an occupation outside of medicine.

I looked at numerous MBA programs offered by different schools when I decided to go down this path. Anyone who knows me knows that I am highly organized and love spreadsheets. I made a spreadsheet looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the different online MBA programs. Of all the programs I looked at, Johnson & Wales was the best fit for me. 

The classes offered online through JWU College of Professional Studies were the types of classes I was looking for. I was able to choose from a number of different MBA programs. JWU’s MBA — Finance program interested me the most because it included a focus on investing, which is something I am thinking a lot about as I plan for retirement. The topics that the classes offered — Strategic Financial Planning, Effective Leadership, Personal Financial Planning and Retirement Planning — fit what I wanted to learn.

I felt that JWU CPS’ 100% online platform of learning fit my lifestyle with work and family. In addition, I felt like the resources available to help students like the Writing Support Center and were resources that someone like me, who has been out of the world of academia for over two decades, would benefit from.

Quality of Instruction and Resources

The instructors I’ve had to date have all been great. All five of my teachers have been open to questions and helpful in getting me through the initial hurdles I expected to have when starting school after such a long time. They have all been very prompt in responding to my emails and gave valuable feedback on assignments. Most important is that I recognized that not only are they knowledgeable about the courses they are teaching, but they love to teach and want students to succeed.

Although the online textbooks are the same as the printed versions, the online textbooks have additional resources that reinforce subjects better than the text alone. I appreciate that the professors encourage us to apply the principles in the textbooks and videos to our assignments, which creates close to a ‘live’ hands-on learning experience. Exercises in which I apply what I’ve read or watched on videos helps me understand whether I have truly comprehended the course topics

The university does a fantastic job of providing resources. I have used the Writing Center for my very first paper, because I had not written a paper in decades! When I haven’t understood something, I have found it helpful to use The tutors respond within minutes via chat, so it has been a great resource. In addition, using the Writing Support team on my first two papers helped me understand how to write in an APA format.

Finally, I think the most significant resource for me has been the professors themselves. They are very receptive to inquiries and willing to help whenever you request assistance from them. The online resources, together with the support from the professors, have given me a wonderful experience.

Adapting to an Online World

In my honest opinion, I am not sure I would have been able to earn an MBA online four years ago. Back then, the thought of learning and taking classes online would have seemed crazy. But since COVID-19, we have all adapted to a completely different online world. 

For example, tours of colleges are now conducted virtually, which did not exist before COVID. Most of the meetings I have in my job today, as well as for friends of mine in the business world, are all held on virtual meeting platforms like Microsoft Teams.

The virtual textbooks I use for my online classes are exactly the same as the printed texts. However, some of the online textbooks have support platforms that explain more than the printed textbooks ever could, which is extremely helpful — especially for Finance. I feel that I am learning more efficiently than if I were in a classroom — and better than I did during the leadership courses I have taken in the past.

The most difficult part of being a student again has been trying to take in all of this new knowledge. My classes in economics, finance and management have challenged me to learn information that either I have never encountered before or have not looked at for so long that I don’t remember it. Compared with students who already have careers in the business world or who hold an undergraduate business degree, much of this information feels foreign to my experience in direct patient care. I recognized early in the program that I have a lot to learn and will be looking at healthcare through a different lens.

What has helped me the most is how the professors pace their delivery of the material, by limiting the number of new concepts we learn about each week. So, after learning about one or two topics in one week, I will learn about one or two new topics the following week. That has proven to be important to me in being able to assimilate the information.

Organizing is Essential to Success

My ability to stay on task has made me successful in this program. Each week, the assignments for the entire week come out on Monday, or sometimes even a couple of days before that. I make it a priority to figure out on which days I can tackle each of the assignments. This has worked well, as I have not missed submitting an assignment on time. 

I cannot directly compare JWU CPS’ online program with a standard MBA program in the classroom at another school. However, the amount of time and effort and work I am putting in seems to be pretty comparable to other programs. When I signed up, I was told to expect about 10 hours per week per course. That’s pretty spot on as far as how many hours I spend on schoolwork each week.

The most important recommendation I can make to new students is to come up with a plan each week. I recommend writing in an agenda or planner book what you will work on each day to fulfill your assignments. It really comes down to how you organize your time.

When I first began the program, my family and I had already planned a vacation. We went on a cruise during the second week of my first course. I got as much done as I could that first week and was able to take a break before we left. I even did some work while on the boat in order to keep up with the course. I think as long as you know what you have to do, and you know the time in which it needs to be done, then you can use the time you have available in the best way. By having a plan and sticking to it, you can get everything done.

Work-Life Balance

Patient care can’t be sacrificed.  I cannot reduce the amount of time I am taking care of others. So, to juggle work and school, I have had to sacrifice some family time. My wife and kids have been so understanding during this process.

However, I have tried to be around family as I do my work. For example, when my children are doing homework, so am I. In addition, I moved a desk into our living room so that at least when I am doing schoolwork, I am near them, rather than in the study, where I would be separated from them. These accommodations have definitely helped alleviate my feeling like I am not spending enough time with them.

The Business Side of Medicine

In my experience, physicians underappreciate the business of medicine. This probably stems back to the lack of courses taught in medical school about the business side of medicine. Physicians who graduate medical school have been highly educated about the human body and caring for others, but not about the finances involved in running their own business practices, or in how to be cost-effective while still providing high-quality healthcare.

Although medical students today can choose to undertake a five- or six-year dual-degree (MD-MBA) program to prepare for medical business management careers, the majority of practicing physicians have no formal training, and little knowledge about the business of medicine beyond what they have picked during their day-to-day experiences. Medicine is a business, and physicians have to succeed both in providing patient care and at the economics of delivering healthcare.

Benefits of Being in the MBA – Finance Program

The courses in the MBA program are already helping me in my work, as well as preparing me for my future. Currently, I am the Chief of Surgery at my hospital, a position that entails quite a bit of added responsibility outside of my daily patient care. I feel that the knowledge I am gaining in this MBA program is helping me perform better in this leadership role.

In addition, the potential to transition into another leadership role, such as Chief of Staff, would enable me to serve patients outside of performing direct patient care. The role of Chief of Staff requires a good deal of people management. In the management courses I have taken so far, I’ve had the opportunity to use different leadership techniques for managing people appropriate to the situation at hand. For example, some situations will require task-focused leadership techniques, while other situations will require people-focused techniques.

If I move into the role of Chief of Staff, I will continue to treat patients on a daily basis. Providing care for patients depends on managing relationships well and being empathetic, which has been a major focus in the management classes I have taken. Learning additional management skills has helped me relate in even better ways to my patients.

Developing Leadership

My father spent part of his career as a medical administrator. Though he did not have any experience in clinical care of patients, he used his MBA degree to improve his organization’s financial well-being. I feel that my experience as a physician will allow me to understand even more how the relationship between a hospital and patient can be optimized to help my organization succeed. I will also be better able to contribute to planning and to knowing how to allocate resources in such a way that we can be good stewards of our resources.

My management classes have shown me that leaders have to be adaptable to the environment around them. This environment includes the people you work with in a team but can also relate to various situations that arise in healthcare. Being flexible in how you lead is a key to success. For example, when we had interpersonal issues in my office practice, I found it most important to listen more and ask open-ended questions of those who were having the issues. Asking open-ended questions allowed those involved to provide not just examples about the issues they were having, but also allowed them the opportunity to provide possible solutions to the problem at hand.

Through the management classes I am taking, I have been continuing to hone my abilities as a leader and to improve how I work with other medical providers as a team. The finance and economics classes, in which I am learning more of the practical side of business, will give me the perspective and skills needed to be successful in any future career change that may come my way.

Planning for the Future

I feel that obtaining an MBA will not only allow me to better lead people, but also help me understand the fiduciary role that I have toward our organization’s success. In these tough economic times in healthcare, what I am learning about finance will support me in understand how to practice surgery in a more cost-conscientious way.

I feel reassured that, should something happen so that I am no longer able to perform surgery, the MBA will have prepared me for new opportunities. I will be able to pivot my career path to other avenues — ones that I would never have been able to pursue without going back to school and earning this degree.

The program has also been helping me plan for retirement. Three classes I am planning to take, which will benefit me down the line, are personal financial planning, estate planning and retirement planning. Each of these will help me better plan how to make my money work when I eventually retire from medical practice.

An added benefit is that I have been able to share what I am learning with my older son. Since I decided to go back to school last year to obtain an MBA with a finance concentration, my son and I have been visiting colleges that he will be applying to next year. I feel that what I have learned in my finance courses in particular has allowed us to talk about what are important things to look for in schools. In addition, it has allowed me and my son to have meaningful conversations about his interest in investment banking. I have been able to relate to him about this interest in a way that I would not have been able to do if I hadn’t enrolled in this program.

Choosing Johnson & Wales University for my MBA has been a great decision for me. The resources available to help me succeed have been tremendous and I am gaining the practical knowledge I wanted to learn when I chose to earn an MBA. The best part of this program has been the instructors. I cannot speak highly enough about their dedication to teaching and to students, which is so apparent — even in an online platform

The time commitment each week is significant, and it can be challenging not to fall behind. But even as a busy practicing surgeon, I am able to do the classwork without any problems. If I can do it, while seeing patients in the office, operating and being on call – and fulfilling family responsibilities, including coaching competitive soccer – then I believe most anyone can do it. By enrolling in the MBA program at Johnson & Wales University, I am living proof of the value of education and the doors it can open for people of all ages.

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