Three of New Jersey's top doctors bolstered their careers with Rutgers Executive MBAs

Physicians, including three of the top-rated doctors in New Jersey, have pursued Rutgers EMBAs, so they understand business, as well as biology.

When New Jersey Monthly published its annual Top Doctors edition, the listing included three physicians who were alumni of Rutgers Executive MBA program.

Each of the doctors entered the EMBA program with a desire to understand finance and marketing the way they understand biology.

While two of the doctors hoped that an education in business would improve their ability to understand the changing complexities of healthcare, the third flirted with the idea of getting his MBA and then trading in his scrubs and heading to Wall Street. In the end, he opted to stay in medicine and succeeded in applying his new knowledge to help make his practice more successful.

Here are the stories of the three EMBA doctors who were recognized by their peers as being among the top doctors in the state:

Eric Seaman started practicing as an urologist in 1996 with a group of eight other physicians.

It was a time when healthcare and the economics of healthcare were changing so dramatically, Seaman decided he needed more knowledge about the business world in order to better understand the forces that would impact his practice and his career.

“As a physician, your education is very narrow,” Seaman said, “You get a lot of science, a lot of math. You don’t get a lot of the real world.”

He completed his EMBA in 2006. The program enriched him in a way that he considered to be very practical. “The EMBA program,” Seaman said, “taught me to look around and think in a different way.”

He put his knowledge in finance and organizational behavior to work as he set out to create a larger, more comprehensive practice.

In many ways, how he brought together a new group of doctors occurred in a fashion similar to the consolidation that transforms many other businesses, only this time it happened within the medical profession. “We merged in a lot of our competitors,” the 49-year-old Seaman said.

Collectively, the doctors pooled together capital in order to add services and a layer of administration to enhance the care they could offer to patients. They operate as Urology Group of New Jersey in West Orange.

To provide a more comprehensive level of care to prostate cancer patients, the group created its own center staffed with a radiation oncologist so physicians no longer had to send their patients out of the group to receive radiation treatments.

The Prostate Cancer Center of New Jersey is part of UGNJ.

While Seaman was serving as president of the group’s eight-member governing board, he also began a process to earn the practice a Joint Commission accreditation.

It was, he explained, a way of differentiating the quality of their services.

The Urology Group of New Jersey remains the only large urology practice to have the accreditation, which promises a standard of quality for a variety of health care services.

The group now consists of 28 doctors, including some who specialize in robotic surgery, incontinence surgery and male infertility.

“We’re able to exchange ideas and knowledge,” Seaman said. “It is all done with an eye on care and what we do to improve things for our patients.”

Clifford Sales, a vascular surgeon, counts a turnaround among his post EMBA accomplishments.

Sales started his career in medicine with one of the largest vascular surgery practices in the state. The practice, which opened in 1963, carried on status quo as HMOs added a new dynamic to the nation’s healthcare system.

As Sales put it, the founding physicians of the practice were “using an old system in a new world.” The billing system was archaic, no marketing was being done and the practice was losing money.

“The group was older,” Sales said. “They weren’t focused on the future.”

Sales flirted with the idea of leaving medicine. In fact, he said, one of the reasons he decided to pursue an Executive MBA in 2002 was the possibility that it might be his “ticket” out of a medical profession.  

And then he had another realization: He liked medicine. He liked being a doctor. And maybe empowered with a new knowledge of finance and marketing, he could help to turn the practice around.

“I started to look at it as business. It’s really no different,” he said. “I just happen to be selling healthcare.”

Sales became a managing partner and took the lead on developing a strategic plan to make the practice profitable and position it to adapt to the changes that continued to redefine healthcare.

By focusing on marketing and customer service and by adding services that helped to increase profit margins, including cosmetic vein care and non-invasive surgeries, Sales said he was able to turn the business around.

He has managed to double the size of the practice and triple its revenues during the past decade. The Westfield-based Cardiovascular Care Group, which grew out of The Thoracic Cardiovascular Surgical Group, has expanded to include 13 physicians and office locations in three counties.

In addition to being president of the Cardiovascular Care Group, Sales, 52, is a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and director of the non-invasive vascular laboratory at Overlook Hospital in Summit.

He is also head of Overlook Hospital’s Division of Vascular Surgery.

“EMBA provided me with knowledge of the underlying business principles that allowed me to apply them to the business of medicine,” Sales said, “and turn us around into a successful organization.’’

Jacqueline Williams-Phillips sees children at their worst.

They come to her with traumatic injuries from car accidents, when they can no longer fight the cancer ravaging their bodies or when an infection turns deadly.

“Every child who comes into my care has an expected risk of being a mortality score,” Williams-Phillips said. “Some of them are going to die despite the best medical care and technological advances, but ensuring that it occurs with dignity and compassion is also part of what I do.”

Williams-Phillips, 52, is medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and division chief of pediatric critical care medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The medical school, where Williams-Phillips also teaches, is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

“Most physicians have no idea of how business or money works,” Williams-Phillips said as she explained what led her to pursue a Rutgers Executive MBA.

The changing dynamics of healthcare, including the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, make it more important for physicians to have an understanding how medicine and healthcare works in the context of businesses, she said.

 “There needs to be someone,” Williams-Phillips said, “who can straddle the two worlds.”

 As part of her responsibility at the hospital, Williams-Phillips is responsible for outreach, developing programs to attract patients or doctors who will refer patients to the hospital for care. After going through EMBA, she said she is better able to understand the competition and develop programs that will produce a return-on-investment for the hospital and the medical school. 

Williams-Phillips credits one class, a course on organizational behavior, with equipping her with a new understanding of team dynamics and negotiating that she puts to use often.

“It was eye-opening,” she said, “and exceedingly helpful.” Williams-Phillips was recognized in New Jersey Monthly's 2013 list.

-Susan Todd

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