Juggling a Job And A Tough EMBA

Dimitri Azar juggles a big job as an eye doctor while working on his EMBA at Chicago Booth.

Although he has earned multiple academic degrees and clinched tenure status at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, Dr. Dimitri Azar, a professor and practicing ophthalmologist, firmly believes in the notion of lifelong learning.

His bio features an impressive list of titles such as tenured professor at Harvard Medical School and University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of more than 300 medical journal articles and chapters. Currently, he teaches and is the chairperson of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Despite the titles, accolades, and awards bestowed upon him by the visual science community, Dr. Azar still enjoys chasing new knowledge.

A habitual student he may be, but the professor is once again a novice as he now pursues an Executive MBA degree at Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

His Story:

My approach to life has always revolved around learning and teaching. Pursuing the Executive MBA at Chicago’s Booth School falls under that category. I see it as a way to broaden my horizons and to learn more.

I am a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago where I teach, take care of patients, and I do research. I also occupy an administrative position as the head of UIC’s ophthalmology department. This part of my job calls for a higher level of management capabilities.

My past has focused primarily on education, research, and patient care and so I had not paid as much attention to the managerial aspects. I’ve written and published more than 300 articles and chapters in leading medical journals and books, edited 14 textbooks, and I’ve performed countless eye surgeries treating patients with vision problems.

I think that because I’ve been relatively successful in the three areas of education, research, and patient care, I was selected to lead UIC’s ophthalmology department. One assumes that because you’ve done well as a division chief, you will be able to manage a large Department. For the most part that is true, but having a formal business education can only help.

In addition to the managerial skills that are needed to succeed in an academic leadership role, there were two other reasons for me to pursue a business education: starting a non-profit foundation and licensing and protecting patents that I filed when I was at Harvard.

So, with all of this, it made sense to pursue an Executive MBA education.

I have to say, I love every single course I’ve taken so far in Booth’s EMBA program. Many courses introduced a lot of new and fundamental concepts, especially during the first few lectures. With outside readings and group discussions, I found myself learning a lot. Most of the courses are quantitative in nature; even marketing. How to approach the marketing of an organization from a quantitative standpoint is an eye-opener. Personally I think the program has been a perfect fit for me because my background is very quantitative. Furthermore, I am constantly finding applications to the fundamentals of economics, accounting, and finance in my work on a daily basis.

The EMBA strategy and leadership courses complete the package, so to speak. It seems to me that learning how to manage, lead, and implement based on a formal, rigorous, and quantitative approach is far better than learning on the go.

Then there’s the camaraderie of having another 98 classmates in Chicago (and 200 in London and Singapore) with whom you work and collaborate on projects. It broadens one’s horizons and builds world-wide bridges into the future.

The EMBA will also help in laying the groundwork to launch a non-profit foundation dedicated to sight restoration. The idea is to be able to jumpstart what I would call the last frontier in eye research: total eye transplantation. Patients ask about it all the time but they’re told it’s not going to happen in one’s lifetime. The purpose of the foundation is to jumpstart this area of eye research and to restore vision to the blind soon.

How do I juggle it all? I am surrounded by an outstanding group of people, which makes it easy for me to manage my work and study responsibilities. In my role at UIC as head of the department, I collaborate with a committee that focuses on education. I work with a number of highly respected and very capable educators. In terms of my research, I reserve time for research in the evening and on weekends, and I work with a team of excellent researchers and talented young physicians at the University of Illinois. As far as patient care is concerned, I’ve performed more than 17,000 surgeries throughout my career so I’m very comfortable with the (less demanding) clinical work that I currently do. Finally, I enjoy my work and, most importantly, I have a very supportive and understanding family, which helps to lighten the workload burden.

I don’t think my profile fits that of the typical EMBA student. But when you’re in the classroom you forget your titles and your achievements and simply focus on learning. The cohort format of the EMBA program reinforces this by creating a true learning environment inside and outside the classroom.

Four words to describe the Booth School. 1.Quantitative; 2.High-standards; 3.Finance-and-economics; and  4.Networking. Given the high educational and high research standards, I know I’m getting my money’s worth. Because I’m planning a non-profit foundation, the networking opportunities with students and professors are also extremely valuable.

Suggestions for improvement. I’ve been very satisfied with the EMBA experience at the Booth School. There’s nothing I would add or take away from the experience.

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