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Alumni Perspective – Dr. Peter Slavin (MBA '90)

Dr. Peter Slavin, MBA Class of 1990, is currently the President of Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the premier medical institutions in North America. Dr. Slavin is a board-certified physician in internal medicine who has been active in health care leadership and management from his days as a medical student (Harvard Medical School Class of 1984).

As a physician, what prompted you to pursue an MBA?
I’ve always been interested in a career in health care management. During residency, I was involved with issues of health care access and quality. I had previously done some work with the government and recognized that taking a leadership role is necessary to influence policy making. I thought about applying to a school of public health, but I recognized that, like my medical residency, I wanted to have the most fundamental and vigorous training in management skills. Being in Boston, Harvard MBA was a natural fit. In fact, I had cared for former HBS Dean Lawrence Fouraker, and he was the one who convinced me to pursue the MBA.

Were there other physicians in your class?
There were 3, but two others were escaping from medicine, and I was the only one who planned to use what I learned at HBS in health care.

What was your expectation of the HBS experience before joining the program? How would you reflect on your experience now?
I actually didn’t know what to expect other than knowing I’d get really intense training in business management. It was an exhilarating learning experience! Professionally, the Harvard MBA credential certainly helped open doors for me early in my career that otherwise would not have been available. Similar to my medical training, it helped me understand what makes an organization healthy or sick, and how to come up with a treatment plan to make it better! It was the same takeaway as doing my residency, where I was getting a holistic experience in diagnosing and methodically deriving a safe and effective solution to a medical problem.

Please share one or two memorable stories during your time at HBS.
Two stories come to my mind:
I was working 2 afternoons per week and moonlighting at the emergency department to help pay for school and support my family. During the first year marketing final, I was paged about a patient having chest pain, and ended up spending a big chunk of exam time on the phone with the patient! My classmates were shocked to see that! I passed the exam and the patient was ok, but it was definitely a memorable moment in my HBS career.

I had to moonlight the night before the first day of an IT class taught by Jim Cash, a legend in his field. Having worked all night I was totally unprepared and didn’t read the case. He cold called me that morning! Naturally, I had to take a pass. And years later, I found out that he was on the board of trustees at Mass General and also on the search committee when I applied for the position of the President. He didn’t hold that pass on his cold call against me. I guess it was possible to pass a cold call at HBS and do ok afterwards, but what a small world!

How has the Harvard MBA helped you in your job now?
As a physician and now President of Mass General, I’ve used the HBS way to dissect management problems, and feel comfortable bridging the gap between clinicians and managers at the hospital. At Mass General, the finances are only means to an end; the end is the pursuit our mission of patient care, research, education, and community health.

What role do you envision HBS has in health care in the next 100 years?
I see HBS continuing to offer its students a set of management tools to help improve the performance of health care organizations. HBS alumni will offer innovative business solutions to improve the health care system. Of course, management alone is not the only solution; fundamental societal choices will need to be made regarding health care access, quality and cost.

Finally, what’s your birthday wish for the Harvard Business School?
Congratulations on 100 outstanding years, and best wishes for 100s more! Thank you for the impact HBS has already made on health care in the U.S. and the world, and I look forward to much more in this regard.

April 7, 2008
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