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KNOXVILLE — Threatened by the changing economics of managed health care, physicians are turning to graduate business education programs for job skills and management training, a University of Tennessee survey has found.

Graduates of UT’s Physician Executive Master of Business Administration program (PEMBA) said they enrolled in the year-long, on-line program to prepare for a physician leadership post, to help them manage their clinical practice, or to learn more about the financial side of the health-care industry.

Forty-six doctors have earned MBAs through the UT program since 1998, and 26 are currently enrolled, said Dr. Michael J. Stahl, the management professor who directs the program.

“Medical specialists are being squeezed out by managed care programs,” Stahl said. “A master’s degree in business administration gives them additional career options.”

The survey revealed that UT PEMBA graduates fall into three groups.

About 60 percent of doctors who have gone through the UT program have moved into administrative positions ranging from senior vice president for medical affairs to medical director to expert counsel for a Canadian province, he said.

Physicians completing the UT program typically have been in the healthcare industry for 15 to 20 years and are between 41 and 50 years old, the survey showed.

The program uses a blend of technologies to deliver the course content and allow students and teachers to interact. The doctors spend four one-week sessions on campus. On 40 Saturday mornings, they log on to an interactive class that links them in real time to their instructors and classmates.

“Everyone has a headset on and can interact with everyone else. With this technology, you can do almost anything you can do face-to-face, except you don’t see the faces,” Stahl said.

The classes use e-mail and audio links, as well as a whiteboard program and yes/no polling, Stahl said. Students can confer in small groups and then report to the whole class. Assignments are posted on the Web.

“It’s a lot like a giant conference call,” Stahl said. “One doctor told me the best part is that he can go to class in his ‘jammies.’ “

There are now no other one-year accredited interactive executive MBA programs for physicians in the country, Stahl said.