Six questions for military surgeon, MBA student Jane Alston

By Eileen Jacob

"Effective leadership in both the military and in medicine requires a systematic approach to problems as well as a degree of resourcefulness. I think this is also true in business," says military surgeon and MBA student Jane Alston of the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program. 

Joining the Haas community with a unique set of experiences and skills, military service men and women provide a wealth of perspective on leadership, performing under pressure, and teamwork. This week, we're exploring what brought some of our military MBA students to Berkeley Haas and what they hope to do with an MBA. Here are six questions for Jane Alston, Active Duty General Surgeon, Major, U.S. Air Force:


1. How did your military experience develop you as a leader?

My work in the military and in medicine has been complementary; both require decisiveness and call for leadership. Both arenas require every team member to work together seamlessly to accomplish a common goal, such as treating a surgical emergency or responding to a mass casualty. 

Effective leadership in both the military and in medicine requires a systematic approach to problems as well as a degree of resourcefulness; if plan A can't happen, it's crucial to have plans B, C and D in mind. I think this is also true in business. 

2. What did you want to learn or do with an MBA, and why was this important to you?

My long-term goal is hospital administration. As a physician, I see many of my colleagues left frustrated when decisions about clinical care are made by those who have never practiced medicine. I hope to bridge this gap by learning both sides of the coin. I am confident an MBA will teach me about the business side of medicine and hone my managerial skills, so that I can be a more effective leader in the future. 

3. Why did you choose Berkeley Haas?

I went to one of the classroom visits, and in addition to enjoying the class immensely, I was struck by how tightly knit the student body was. They were truly a community, not just classmates. 

4. What does your military experience contribute to the MBA program?

I think Haas does an excellent job of recruiting a diverse student body that represents a wealth of industries and professional experiences, and this shows in the many different ways students approach problems. My background in medicine allows me to contribute a different perspective on biomedical cases, which are often written from the pharmaceutical or device company’s point of view. 

I am in the process of learning about the financial and strategic intricacies of making these go/no-go decisions about product launch, but I also still approach these cases as a physician first. This means I often have a different assessment of market potential, product value, drug/device efficacy, barriers to adoption, and most importantly, a keen focus on risks versus benefits to a potential patient population.  

5. What would you tell other vets or active duty members who are considering getting an MBA?

I would absolutely recommend Haas to both veteran and active duty applicants. In my experience, Haas has gone above and beyond to accommodate me as a military applicant, and now as an active duty student.

They allowed me to apply and interview remotely while deployed in Afghanistan last year. I was also granted special permission to conduct independent study last quarter when I had a last minute tasking to Turkey so I’m still on track to graduate on time.  Finally, Jay Nelson from UC Berkeley’s Veteran Services Office is extremely responsive and always on top of things which makes using my benefits much easier. 

6. How has the Berkeley MBA made your goals more possible?

I initially had some concerns that pursuing an MBA would pull my focus away from medicine, but I actually feel like the intellectual curiosity fostered at Haas has made me a more vigorous “student always” in both realms.  Furthermore, learning from our excellent faculty members has recharged and inspired me as an educator to our surgical residents and medical students. The team leadership concepts I learned in classes like Leading People have already made me a more effective communicator and leader in the operating room.

Berkeley Haas is not just about classroom learning, it’s about learning from my classmates. Medical school was a lot of independent study; you study and test alone. At Haas, it's primarily group work so you learn how to be a more effective team member, which is just as important as being an effective team leader. It’s a much more dynamic process. I now have a better understanding of team dynamics and how to utilize each teammate’s capabilities to the fullest. At Haas, I have developed as a team player and as a leader. 

You might also like these interviews with other military MBA students:

Learn more about the Evening & Weekend MBA program



Posted on November 8, 2017
Eileen Jacob
Eileen was Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2017-2019. She enjoyed meeting prospective students and helping them explore the benefits of an MBA, and hopes these blog posts provide valuable insight into the Berkeley MBA experience.