Earning a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management online from the University of Texas at Tyler was every bit the eye-opening experience Dwight Akerman expected.
Akerman, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA in December 2016, is vice president and global head of professional affairs for Alcon Laboratories, a leading eye care company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. He also practiced optometry for 10 years in New York City and St. Louis before he moved over to the business side of the industry in 1990.
“For me to add greater value to the organization, I needed a more formal education, which I did receive from the University of Texas at Tyler,” Akerman said. “Now, I feel much more confident in my contributions to the organization. The MBA helped me round out and formalize my knowledge in many key areas of business, such as finance, strategy and marketing, which allows me to more fully participate in critical business decisions.”
Akerman, 61, earned a doctorate from Illinois College of Optometry in 1980. That was the last time he was enrolled in a university-level course until 2015.
“My wife [Anita] asked, ‘Why do you need an MBA at this stage in your career?’” he said. “My answer was, ‘Although I have extensive experience in the business of healthcare due to the various senior level positions I’ve held over the years, I feel that for me to add greater value to the organization, I needed to learn some of these disciplines formally.’ Many of these business areas, such as finance, they don’t teach you in optometry school or medical school.”
Eye on the Prize
Since Akerman spends about half of his time traveling across the globe, his only feasible option for higher education was an online format.
“My wife’s second question was, ‘How in the world are you going to have the time to complete a rigorous MBA program given your responsibilities at Alcon?’” Akerman said. “My answer was, ‘This is 100 percent online. I am a very disciplined person. I will find the time each and every day to do my homework, do my assignments and complete the examinations and the papers that are required.’
“And that’s what I did. No matter where I was in the world, I found four or five hours a day, seven days a week, to do it, whether it was on an airplane, in my hotel room, early in the morning or late at night.”
In addition to the flexibility and convenience, a few other key factors drove his decision to enroll at UT Tyler.
“I didn’t want to enter a program if it was going to take me four or five years to complete,” Akerman said. “I wanted to finish the program in two years. The seven-week accelerated format is incredibly appealing for a busy person like me.
“If I was going to dedicate two years of my life to obtaining the MBA, it had to come from a program with AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business] accreditation. That was mandatory. I made the decision to attend UT Tyler because of its reputation, its accreditation and because it has seven-week accelerated courses, and I could complete the program in two years.”
Akerman said the curriculum allowed him to expand his business horizons and become a more well-rounded member of his company’s senior leadership team.
“I benefited from every course,” he said. “The capstone strategy course [MANA 5395: Formulating and Implementing Strategy] was especially useful because, in my role at Alcon, I am deeply involved in strategy. I found that course to be challenging but very helpful in pulling together all of the learnings I had obtained in the other 11 MBA courses. The three healthcare concentration courses were also very useful to my everyday work.”
I made the decision to attend UT Tyler because of its reputation, its accreditation and because it has seven-week accelerated courses, and I could complete the program in two years.
–Dwight Akerman, online MBA in Healthcare Management graduate
Vision for the Future
Akerman grew up in the Chicago area and followed in his father’s footsteps when he became an optometrist. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1976.
“I have dedicated my career to eye care,” he said. “Although I enjoyed clinical practice and helping patients see better, I always felt that I had other business skills that I wanted to utilize. When you’re in clinical practice, you can utilize some of those business skills, but I’m not sure you can always maximize them.”
His first foray into the business side of eye care was as director of global professional affairs and clinical research for Schering-Plough in Chicago. He started with Alcon’s parent company, Novartis, in 2000. He spent two years working at the global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, where he also met Anita.
“Living in Switzerland was a fantastic experience,” Akerman said. “It expanded my horizons in so many ways. It’s a great challenge to live abroad and learn to fit into a new culture. I grew not only as a businessman but also as a person. The challenges of life in a foreign country make you become more self-reliant.”
In addition to leading him to his wife, the decision to move to the business side of the industry proved to be the right one for Akerman.
“I’m very engaged with my career at Alcon and enjoy what I do every day,” he said. “In fact, I’m honestly enjoying it even more than I did before because I have these additional skills, I feel like I’m contributing even more than I did before.”
Looking Pretty Smart
Akerman said his friends and family were more than a little surprised when he told them of his intention to pursue an MBA online.
“Their first reaction was, ‘What are you, crazy?’” he said. “Once I explained to them my rationale for doing it, they said, ‘Good luck’ and ‘I wouldn’t go back to school in the middle of my career.’ Many of my colleagues in similar positions said, ‘I simply wouldn’t have the discipline to do it.’
“I said, ‘Fortunately, I do have the discipline to do it. I don’t mind getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and studying for two hours before I go to the office, and I don’t mind putting in a couple of hours in the evening before I go to bed.”
Akerman said he was happy to make the trip to Tyler attend the graduation ceremony.
“It was really inspiring ,” he said. “I graduated in 1980 from optometry school, so that was a long time ago. My wife was very proud when I walked across the stage with my diploma in hand.”
He has also recommended the UT Tyler online MBA in Healthcare Management to several coworkers.
“I encouraged one of my direct reports to go back to school,” Akerman said. “She was saying, ‘I’ve been out of school for many years. I don’t know how I would find the time. Intellectually, I think I can do it, but I have so many other family responsibilities.’
“I just said, ‘You can do it. You can find an hour or two in the mornings. You can study at lunch. You can find an hour or two in the evenings. You can do it.’ She enrolled and is several courses into the online MBA program. Once you get through the first few courses, you say, ‘I can do this’ and you have the finish line in sight.”
Now that he can speak from experience, Akerman believes the online MBA is extremely achievable.
“My advice would be not to be afraid of the challenge of going back to school,” he said. “Many people, after they’ve graduated with their undergraduate degree, medical degree or whatever other professional degree they have, often feel they’re done with school forever. In fact, learning is lifelong.
“You become comfortable in your personal life, your family life and your business life. The thought of returning to school to acquire new skills is daunting. In my situation, I had been out of school for 35 years. That took some soul searching. Many people aren’t going to wait 35 years, but the thought of returning to school and committing yourself to a two-year program is very daunting. I say you can do it.”
Learn more about the UT Tyler online MBA in Healthcare Management.