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The MBA in Healthcare in the US & UK: Needed Now More Than Ever?

Can MBAs have a positive effect on the healthcare industry?

Healthcare in the US and UK frequently makes the front pages. The two countries have very different systems, each with their own distinct challenges.

In the US, healthcare facilities are largely privately owned and most people are required to have some form of health insurance, either through their employer or family. The last few months have been dominated by the government’s plans to roll back the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (informally known as ‘Obamacare’), a move that could see as many as 23 million people lose their insurance.

In the UK, the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world, is experiencing its own troubles and is commonly seen to be both underfunded and overstretched.

In both cases, public scrutiny inevitably falls on the people leading from the top. This leads to the obvious question of how healthcare management can be improved, and what role MBAs specialized in healthcare could play in changing the current circumstances for the better.

Sharing their views on the MBA in healthcare are Larry Van Horn, associate professor of management and executive director of health affairs at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and John Colley, a professor and associate dean at Warwick Business School (WBS).

Healthcare in the US

"It is part of our curriculum to understand what has happened in healthcare policy in the past, and to begin to anticipate what is possible in the future," says Van Horn. Van Horn defends the need to review Obamacare, claiming that the policy is inherently flawed, and in fact, unfair.

Deconstructing healthcare policy at Vanderbilt Owen

MBA candidates studying at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management will be able to seize on Obamacare’s projected unraveling to make their own verdicts, and of course, not every professor, Van Horn concedes, will share his view.    

"MBAs will deal directly with the fallout around regulation in healthcare,” the Vanderbilt professor affirms, adding his belief that the role of MBA graduates, “is to encourage thinking differently about how we receive, interact with and pay for healthcare. There are many opportunities to change how we ‘consume’ healthcare - ways that should improve the experience for both the patient and the provider."

The healthcare industry in Nashville

The healthcare industry is the largest employer in Nashville, Tennessee – home of the Owen Graduate School of Management. Van Horn underlines the value of the business school's unique position at the center of a healthcare market that is worth a staggering US$78 billion to the US economy.  

"One of our most popular healthcare classes is our kick-off class for healthcare students - ‘Healthcare Immersion’. In this class, we expose students to leaders in healthcare - CEOs of major hospitals, CEOs of venture capital firms, healthcare entrepreneurs and thought leaders, as well as nurses, doctors and administrators."

Who are the MBAs at Owen Graduate School of Management?

Students joining the MBA in healthcare at Owen come from diverse backgrounds, yet most come direct from careers that have some relation with the healthcare industry, be that nursing, medicine or related roles in the US military.

After completing an MBA in healthcare, graduates have traditionally focused on healthcare delivery. "Nearly half our class become consultants. Some will go to large firms like Cardinal Health, DaVita, Medtronic and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). We also have several that will either start businesses, or go work in the entrepreneurial space," says Van Horn.

Is an MBA in healthcare more relevant today that ever?

"An MBA in healthcare is most certainly more relevant and more in demand currently - as reimbursements drop and costs rise,” says Van Horn. “It is typically people trained in business who find ways to operate more efficiently, find new and different uses for assets and human resources, as well as quickly and nimbly navigating a fast-changing regulatory system. These are not skills that healthcare professionals tend to be trained in, so MBAs are beginning to fill these roles."

Healthcare in the UK

“NHS England has said real terms funding per person is going down and it expects the A&E target to see 95% of patients within four hours to be missed for at least the next year," says Warwick Business School’s Colley.

Warwick Business School on the drive to further professionalize healthcare management

The UK’s National Health Service is buckling under the demands of social care and an aging population. "The increasing pressures on health services to do more with less are driving the need to professionalize management. Clinicians with a strong management education are under enormous demand to take senior jobs within the healthcare industry," Colley explains.

Warwick Business School, which offers an executive MBA in healthcare management, sees a vital role for itself in forming and instructing students to step into executive-level positions within the NHS. "An MBA’s ability to think strategically and see the big picture is vital and, also, innovation is going to play a huge role in meeting challenges."

"The NHS is the second-biggest employer in the world"

MBA students specializing in healthcare at WBS most often work for various NHS bodies, be they administrators, clinicians or managers. Their goal, Colley explains, is to, "gain more strategic knowledge and to transition into management roles or into executive roles in clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) or NHS trusts.”

The NHS isn't a standalone body, often working with and depending on the private sector to sustain its services. As Colley explains, its, "the second-biggest employer in the world [and] a hugely complex organization."

"Academics have been researching organizational behavior and management in the NHS for many years and have built up a vast knowledge of the challenges of healthcare,” Colley continues. For MBA candidates thinking of progressing within the healthcare industry, access to this wealth of research comes in useful when their ambitions are to navigate not only the NHS's unique culture but also the organizations that work by its side, be those pharmaceutical firms, or other private, public or patient-driven organizations.

Healthcare systems around the world are under pressure

"Managing scarce resources and meeting demand is a problem that is increasing, with many countries, not just the UK, having to adapt to aging and growing populations,” Colley explains. "Japan is another example."

There is a sense that the evidence is growing in favor of there being a great need for more healthcare professionals versed in the core management skills taught in MBA programs globally. From operations and marketing to strategy, and so on. An MBA in healthcare, whether it’s a specialization by name or an area of concentration within a traditional MBA, has much to offer aspiring managers who might already possess backgrounds in the healthcare industry. As well as access to the latest technologies being trialed and the thoughts of healthcare leaders already operating at senior level, it’s an opportunity to reel in knowledge of the latest visions and ideas for the future of the healthcare industry – in the US, the UK or elsewhere.

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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