IBM Watson Health's Dr. Andrew Norden on the Language of Business

Dr. Andrew Norden
Dr. Andrew Norden

Dr. Andrew Norden is the Deputy Chief Health Officer at IBM Watson Health.

“As the world changes, as doctors are responsible for populations, and where the relationships between providers and patients and policy-makers are more important than ever, the skills physicians need have evolved.”

What I Do: In my role at IBM, I help physicians cope with knowledge overload, particularly in genomics and oncology. The amount of content that physicians need to know to deliver really good care is enormous and growing all the time. Every day, hundreds of papers are published. A doctor could read 27 hours every day and still not be able to keep up. It’s especially challenging for community-based physicians to stay up-to-date in today’s environment. They’re expected to practice at the level of sub-specialists. We supply cognitive computing tools to provide them with the right information, and to extract insights from that information, at the point of care.

Credentials: I went to Yale University School of Medicine, Harvard University School of Public Health, and was the Associate Chief Medical Officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Why I Got My MBA: I felt limited by system constraints. I wanted to be able to influence the way the system works, and so I transitioned into an administrative job at Dana-Farber as associate chief medical officer. I had clinical responsibility for community care at network locations around New England. In that role, I needed to have a broader perspective than one patient at a time. There were key business disciplines that I wasn’t knowledgeable about, with respect to things like operations and quality improvement, marketing, and finance. As a typical physician, I had majored in a biology-related discipline in college, and I’d taken virtually no business classes or economics. Most of my classes were related to the natural sciences.

Why Isenberg: I was excited by the Isenberg School of Management [at UMass Amherst] with the American Association for Physician Leadership. This partnership was fully online, which I needed because I had a full-time job with Dana-Farber, plus a family with three young boys. People say it’s important to do your MBA face-to-face, for networking, but I already had my network. My motivation was to learn the material, and the quality of the teaching far exceeded my expectations.

How It Changed My Career: I learned the science of operations. I learned about hospitals as businesses that need to be financially viable to meet their mission. I benefited from finance, accounting, marketing, and the basics of IT in health care. Physicians today need to be savvy users and managers of IT. Getting an MBA dramatically improved my ability to sit in a room with hospital executives outside my company and speak the language of business. I was much more credible in those interactions and better able to understand executives day to day.

On Work-Life Balance: I took one course at a time, and it took me four years.

People say, “Wow, how did you find the time?” But people in my industry were supportive because doctors recognize that an MBA offers useful skills that many of us lack. And if you look at the number of [doctors with MBAs], it’s only going up. There’s a real recognition these skills matter. I treated this as a key step in my professional development. I knew that, if I was going to more broadly impact the health care world, I needed to get this done. I had a supportive spouse, which is quite helpful, and I spent a few hours a day after my kids were asleep to get the work done. It wasn’t easy — but we all make sacrifices for our priorities, and Isenberg was flexible.