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“As time progresses, you want to be challenged and try different things”: current IMAGE Smurfit Scholar Dr Eimear O’Reilly on how an MBA has broadened her ambitions

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By Megan Burns
14th Nov 2022
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Photo by Shane O'Neill

“As time progresses, you want to be challenged and try different things”: current IMAGE Smurfit Scholar Dr Eimear O’Reilly on how an MBA has broadened her ambitions

Current IMAGE Smurfit Scholar Dr Eimear O'Reilly shares how the Modular Executive MBA has already changed how she’s thinking about the future of her career, setting her sights higher than she could have predicted.

For the last 14 years, IMAGE Media has been proud to partner with UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School to offer one female candidate a 100% scholarship to join the Full-Time MBA, Modular Executive MBA or Executive MBA.

This year’s scholar is Dr Eimear O’Reilly, who is undertaking the Modular Executive MBA. Having studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, she trained in the Mater Hospital in Dublin. She has lectured in UCD, specialising in geriatric medicine, and subsequently trained as a GP. 

It was this move that sparked the idea for her to do an MBA. “Having worked in hospital medicine, it’s a very structured environment,” Eimear explains. “But going into primary care, you have to have some kind of business orientation, you’re setting up your own private practice, and I found that I was really lacking in business skills.”

She says that despite all her medical training, she had no knowledge of how to do many of the things that are required to run a practice well. 

IMAGE Smurfit Scholar Dr Eimear O'Reilly
IMAGE Smurfit Scholar Dr Eimear O’Reilly. Photo by Shane O’Neill

“It’s not even in terms of making profits,” she says. “It’s that the more efficient your practice is, the more efficient you are at treating your patients. You can limit delays, you can have early access to diagnostics and treatments, and all that comes from skills that you don’t learn in medicine. I felt that the skills I got from the MBA would really assist me with that.”

It’s a problem she feels is to be found across healthcare in Ireland, not just for general practitioners. “In terms of health care planning and management, one doesn’t function without the other. You can have the best doctors in the world but if we can’t manage them and manage the systems that we work in, you’re not going to be able to deliver the skill set that you need to to your patients. Doctors have a wealth of knowledge in terms of the services that are needed, and on the other side you have the HSE and managers that maybe lack clinical knowledge. I think if we could merge the two together, we would have a better health care system.”

She opted for the Modular Executive MBA, as it is undertaken part-time over two years, allowing students to work full-time alongside it. Alongside the course, Eimear is working in a GP practice, as well as doing some part-time teaching, and working in a specialty clinic for medicine for the elderly.

"In terms of health care planning and management, one doesn't function without the other. You can have the best doctors in the world but if we can't manage them and manage the systems that we work in, you're not going to be able to deliver the skill set that you need to to your patients."

She says that without the option to study part-time, an MBA would not have been feasible for her. “I also love that you can implement new skills in your work as you go along. It gives you real time feedback on the skills that you’re learning with the MBA that you can see day to day, and it improves my work satisfaction as well.”

Of course, she doesn’t deny that the extra workload can have its challenges. “It’s such a steep learning curve, it can be quite daunting at the start. But it’s such an exciting opportunity, and you really look forward to your lectures. There’s so much support from Smurfit, there’s always someone you can turn to if you’re getting overwhelmed. Your classmates as well are just amazing, because we’re all going through it together, people are juggling small kids and families, and it’s just a really amazing support network.” 

Going into the course, Eimear says, her ambition was to equip herself to be able to run her own practice efficiently, whether that was a clinic for older people, or perhaps one for women’s health. Even just a few months into the course, however, she can see her ambitions widening, and is now considering pursuing consulting or managerial roles in healthcare, where she could potentially have a more wide-reaching impact. 

“I think that’s the first thing they ask you when you start the MBA – are you staying in your field, or are you going? Do you stay and try to improve it from within, or do you take that fork in the road and do something a little bit out of your comfort zone, and maybe something greater that you didn’t think you could?” 

The course really gives you the self-belief, as well as the skills, to aim for these larger roles, Eimear says. “Going into medicine, I never would have thought I’d ever be looking toward the healthcare consulting role,” she explains. “But it’s amazing as time progresses, you want to be challenged and try different things. Whatever option I choose, it’s a win-win situation having the skills from the MBA. So I feel so fortunate and so privileged to be in that position.”

She’s also keenly aware of the need to have more women in leadership roles, across industries, and is pleased to report that her MBA class has almost a 50/50 split across genders. She would recommend any woman who is considering doing an MBA course to go for it.

“It’s totally doable, totally manageable, and there’s a lot of female support. It’s not as daunting as people think. And it’s just really enjoyable as well, you’re upskilling and you have such a sense of satisfaction.”

Eimear also points out that having a network of women in business is an asset whose importance cannot be overstated. “Even if something seems daunting, just chatting with someone who has done it makes you see that it’s totally doable. Just getting those bits of advice, and looking out for other women, which I just love.”

Learn more about MBA programme options at the UCD Smurfit School Open Evening on Wednesday, November 16.