Intended for healthcare professionals


Applying for an MBA as a doctor: what to consider

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 24 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5941
  1. Owen P O’Sullivan, registrar1,
  2. Jack Halligan, INSEAD MBA 2015 and chief medical officer2
  1. 1National Forensic Mental Health Service, Central Mental Hospital, Dublin.
  2. 2Full Health Medical, Dublin
  1. owenosullivan{at}


Applying for an MBA can be daunting. Owen P O’Sullivan and Jack Halligan explore the key decisions and practical challenges facing junior doctors.

Master of business administration (MBA) programmes are not to be undertaken lightly: they are intense and fast paced and more expensive than other postgraduate qualifications. Many programmes require full time or regular weekend attendance for up to two years. Choosing the right programme can take time and the application process can appear overwhelming.

First things first: why do you want an MBA?

This is crucial. For some, an MBA is a means of consolidating experience from non-clinical roles. For others, it is a platform for a definitive career transition into an entirely non-clinical role, such as management consultancy. Be clear where you want your MBA to take you.

What to look for in a school

The main factors to take into consideration when choosing a programme are rankings and reputation, course delivery, fees, and location.

Rankings and reputation

The Financial Times rankings1 are considered definitive. Its interactive website allows comparison of programmes across a variety of areas. For those staying in medicine, the rankings are probably less important. However, the league tables will be more relevant if you intend to pursue a non-clinical role as most top tier consultancy firms favour graduates from the highest ranking programmes.

Course delivery

In Europe, full time courses typically last one year whereas in the US they often last two. Courses are delivered either on campus or online. Studying on campus is highly immersive and gives invaluable collaborative learning opportunities and the chance to mix with students from an array of backgrounds. However, they are generally far more expensive and offer less flexibility.

For applicants intending to stay in medicine, an online MBA is an attractive alternative. Online programmes offer flexibility and the ability to remain in full time clinical posts.


Tuition fees for a top ranked full time MBA range between £40 000 and £50 000 a year. Many would argue that this represents good value for money considering the salary and career progression graduates can expect to command.1

Online and lower ranked programmes are considerably cheaper. The Open University, for example, runs an online programme for less than £20 000 and fees can be spread over the number of years the course takes to complete. Edinburgh Business School and Warwick Business School also run online, well established programmes. Some schools offer financial help and loss of earnings also needs to be factored into the cost of the programme.


Studying in Europe offers the opportunity to learn a new language or develop existing skills, although English is the first language in most top MBA schools. It is unclear how the UK’s decision to leave the EU will impact on the jobs market for new MBAs. The student body at US schools is predominantly North American, and their curriculums are focused on the US.

The application process

The aptitude test: GMAT

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is the first step, as you need a score before you submit your application. The official website2 features online question banks, study materials, and information on how to apply. The test is marked out of 800 with most students at top tier schools scoring over 700. Each sitting costs $250 (£203; €225) plus VAT and there are test centres in most major European cities.

Preparing your application

The application process is notoriously competitive and schools do not publish statistics. It is estimated that one in 10 applicants are offered an interview for top programmes. Typically, two references and up to five personal statements are needed as well as a covering letter and CV.

Preparing for your interview

As a doctor you have a non-traditional professional background. Interviewers will want to know why it makes sense for you to study for an MBA at this stage in your career. You already stand out from the crowd. The challenge is to make sure that you present your skills and experience in a cohesive manner that ties into your overarching career goals and trajectory. Keep this in mind when selecting referees, writing personal statements, and preparing for your interviews.


An MBA opens doors for doctors as they progress in their careers. This is becoming increasingly relevant as the modern clinician must now embrace management and leadership responsibilities. The thorough grounding an MBA gives represents a powerful addition to any medical CV, regardless of your career plans. Put simply, it is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Preparing your application and navigating through each school’s application process needs considerable time and patience. Informed decision making and sensible planning can make the process less stressful. This will ultimately allow you to focus on getting the most out of your MBA.

MBA application resources at a glance


  • Competing interests: We have read BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare that we have no competing interests.


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