2019 Best Online MBAs: Kurt Oettel, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Isenberg)

Kurt Oettel, MD FACP

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Isenberg School of Management

Persistent and grit beyond reason, optimism, and curiosity of a child and guided by gratitude.”

Age: 54

Hometown: LaCrosse, Wisconsin

Fun fact about yourself: I started my academic research career working in a neuro-anatomy lab as an undergraduate. I took the job assuming that I would do cutting edge innovative, challenging, technical work. The lab’s model of study was a small worm with limited neurons (for easy study) and only found as an intestinal parasite of hogs. Upon taking the job I quickly found out that my task would be going to a cut and kill factory and dig though freshly killed hog intestines searching for worms which I would transport back to the lab for all the “real researchers” to do experiments on. The silver lining in this job was that I was able to make personal contacts to secure my first cancer research job at University College in London England.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  

  • University of Wisconsin – Madison: BS -Zoology 1986
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison: Medical Doctorate, MD 1995
  • University of Vermont – Internal Medicine Residency 1998
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison: Medical Oncology Fellowship 2001

Where are you currently working? Gundersen Health System in LaCrosse Wisconsin. I am the Cancer Center Director where I oversee the Departments of Medical Oncology, Hematology, Radiation Oncology, Pediatric Oncology, IV Therapy and Infusion Therapy.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being accepted into medical school after three unsuccessful attempts. The fourth time was the charm!

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Strong reputation and well-rounded curriculum. The schedule allowed me to work full time seeing patients and still oversee a cancer center amongst many other cancer-related advocacy and clinical cancer research projects.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? First-and-foremost, it was the interaction with many like-minded individuals from different professions. Being able to do class work at odd hours and class postings at 5:00 a.m. in my pajamas was a bonus!

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? It was the high caliber of the students I was working with. Many of the individuals I worked with were very accomplished in their respective fields. It gave me a different perspective on the business of medicine and really pointed out how much I did not know.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Be engaged! Post to class blogs and ask questions. Reach out to professors for advice and guidance. They are there for you. You will get out of this what you put into it.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? Periodically I would like to have some real-time webinars or Skype sessions. This was a part of my Capstone class, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! The experience of learning from others and understanding the business aspect of what I do is invaluable. It really makes me appreciate how much I didn’t know.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My personal vision is to be a leader in cancer advocacy work. I would like to be involved in legislative policy work related to cancer research and treatment. I believe that because of my background and training with the MBA program, I have been given many opportunities.

At the local level in my institution, I am the PI (Principle Investigator) of an NCI (National Cancer Institute) grant for community cancer research and treatment, one of 40 in the nation. I also serve as the PI for more than 100 ongoing cancer clinical trials in our institution. As the Cancer Center Director, I oversee our strategic plan to provide cancer services to a rural and underserved population.

On the state level, I am the immediate past president of the Wisconsin State Society of Hematology and Oncology. Through this role, I have pursued policies to make cancer treatment more accessible and affordable. I also serve on the legislative committee of our state’s cancer control program. In addition, I am a member of the SAC (State Affiliate Council), which is a national organization to support the state’s legislation for access and affordability of cancer treatment.

On a federal level, I was one of three physicians chosen this past year to join the government relations committee of my professional society, ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology). ASCO is a 45,000-member organization of health care professionals involved in cancer research, treatment and advocacy. I am also involved with the NCI, where I sit on the executive board of one of the cooperative groups where cancer clinical trials are designed and implemented.

My ultimate long-term goal is to continue with efforts on all three fronts. My training in the Isenberg MBA program has helped me do this.



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