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World’s Best B-School Professors: Peter Ubel

A primary care physician, writer and research, Duke’s Peter Ubel now teaches at the Fuqua School of Business and has quickly become one of the world’s best business school profs

Peter Ubel

Fuqua School of Business


Claim to Fame: Healthcare decision making and public policy

Age: 49

At Fuqua Since: 2010

Before Fuqua: 10 years at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. I’m a primary care physician, writer, and researcher. I never imagined I would end up in a business school. But life is interesting that way!

Fun fact: in one of my first studies, I recruited students to ride up and down in hospital elevators to listen in on conversations. They overheard all kinds of hospital employees making completely inappropriate remarks. That study was covered by media all over the world. Sadly, my $10 million proposal to study hospital cafeteria conversations was never funded.

If I wasn’t teaching, my dream job would be: I would switch places with Stephen Colbert in a minute!

Best part the job: I love the balance between teaching, writing, and research. Having a hallway full of interesting Fuqua faculty doesn’t hurt either.

Worst part of the job: I would guess that the hardest part for me right now is living with the feeling that I am an imposter. I know a lot about clinical medicine. And I know a great deal about health policy. But I am not a marketing expert by any means, and my knowledge of the business world outside of medicine is still pretty limited. Of course, that means every day I get to learn about new things. And I’m looking forward especially to interacting more with business students and finding ways that the insights I have gained from my own research might be relevant to their parts of the business world.

Prior to joining Fuqua, Peter Ubel says he used to chuckle at business school professors. As a primary care physician, Ubel spent 20 years doing research on healthcare decision making. In his words, he dedicated his studies to, “Making sense of the irrational, goofy things that happen between patients and physicians when patients are faced with tough decisions.” Business school professors, on the other hand, only did research to learn how to manipulate people for profit. Or so he thought.

Now, he’s one of them.

Ubel uses his medical expertise to identify and uncover implications for public policy. “My research explores controversial issues about the role of values and preferences in healthcare decision making, from decisions at the bedside to policy decisions. I use the tools of decision psychology and behavioral economics to explore topics like informed consent, shared decision making and healthcare rationing,” he says.

An eyebrow-raising study published by Ubel last spring uncovered doctors’ tendencies to choose different treatments for themselves than they recommend to their patients. “Kinda scary stuff,” Ubel writes on his blog. The professor has authored three books, all of which address human nature from an unconventional angle.

It’s been a year since Ubel joined Fuqua as a professor of Marketing & Public Policy. Although he no longer holds the same views about B-school research, he remains baffled that he, a doctor, could have landed a job at top business school such as Fuqua.

Students Say:

“Best course I’ve had at Duke.”

“The instruction was fantastic and provoked great debate beyond the classroom.”

“Clever and engaging.”

“Hire more professors like Professor Ubel!”