At some point in the 1980s, according to Howard P. Forman, M.D., M.B.A., vice chair and associate professor of diagnostic radiology, the practice of medicine became more pain than gain for many physicians.

“Health care costs were skyrocketing and cost containment measures gained importance,” said Forman. “Physicians were targeted as the cause of the problems and were counted on to bring down costs.”

Forman and others at Yale’s schools of medicine, management and public health may have a prescription for this malaise—the Yale MBA for Executives: Leadership in Healthcare. This new program, which Forman co-directs with Stanley J. Garstka, Ph.D., deputy dean of the School of Management, and Dick R. Wittink, Ph.D., the George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing, will enroll a charter class of up to 30 students in August.

The 22-month program’s goals—besides providing a second set of skills without career disruption—are to turn the classroom into a cross section of the contemporary health care field and to train what Forman calls “change agents capable of making a positive difference in the practice of health care.” By enrolling students with a broad range of background and experience—professionals from hospitals, clinics, insurance and managed-care organizations and pharmaceutical, biotechnology and financial service firms—the program aims to change perceptions that these fields are adversaries. Then, through two intense residences, weekend classes and seminars with visiting scholars, the curriculum provides the management skills needed to navigate the complexities of health care, which is itself constantly changing due to medical and technological breakthroughs, new laws and government policies.

The seed for the executive program was planted in 1996 when medical students expressed interest in an M.D./ M.B.A. program. That joint-degree program, though geared toward medical students, has also attracted faculty and working physicians. Among the latter, Michael Apkon, M.D., Ph.D., FW ’94, M.B.A. ’02, was one of the four M.D./ M.B.A.s produced by the first graduating class in 2002. A former assistant professor in the medical school, he is now medical director of the pediatric ICU and a vice president at the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

Although that program worked for medical students, who could add a year to their studies, it was not ideal for practicing professionals. “Surgeons came to me and said, ‘I’d have to give up my career if I’m going to do this joint-degree program because I can’t do four days a week and not be in the OR.’ So we started work on an executive program targeted to health care professionals,” said Forman.

Not so long ago, even the idea of an M.D./M.B.A. was a tough sell. “There was the fear that you were either selling out to the enemy or selling your soul,” said Forman. That negative perception was changed, in part, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where William L. Kissick, M.D. ’57, M.P.H. ’59, Dr.Ph. ’61, led an M.D./M.B.A. program that produced some of today’s health care leaders (See Alumni Faces).

“By the 1990s, it was apparent that for those who want to be leaders this is an appropriate path—that you’re not selling out,” said Forman. “You’re fulfilling your mission to improve health care for larger numbers than you could as a pure clinician.”