Business schools focus on health as Covid highlights challenges

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As the pandemic amplifies the problems facing healthcare systems around the world – from an aging population and rising costs to inefficiencies and increasing chronic disease – business schools are responding with new curricula and institutions focused on health care.

The need for business model innovation is increasingly evident as health spending exceeds gross domestic product growth in many advanced economies. Leaders at clinical, operational, strategic and political levels are under pressure to do more with less, expand health coverage, tackle staff shortages and accelerate digitization. The skills taught in business schools, from operations and people management to innovation and finance, are increasingly appealing to health professionals and those in associated sectors.

UCL’s East London campus, which will house the new Global Business School for Health © Charlie Bibby / FT

“There is growing recognition that health care is not just a public service, it is a business,” says Nora Colton, Senior Director of the Global Business School for Health at University College London. The school, launched in September, aims to train the health leaders of the future and address the challenges highlighted by the pandemic.

One of the school’s goals is to help increase the number of people working in health care – the World Health Organization predicts a global shortage of 18 million by 2030 – and to make them more comfortable with technology and collaborate across disciplines to address weaknesses.

“There has been a feeling in society that business school education is geared towards the bottom line and that we only give lip service to our larger role in society,” said Colton. “But, as a sector, we are heading in a new direction. Health care management programs are growing very quickly.

Starting next year, the UCL school will offer several degree and continuing education programs, including an MBA in health. It is one of a growing number of European schools offering health-focused courses. Others include the MBA Health Care Management program at the WU Executive Academy in Vienna, Austria, and the healthcare management specialization at the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands.

Course administrators say a growing number of healthcare professionals are turning to business schools for leadership courses. Meanwhile, business masters students are looking to move from other industries to healthcare – an industry that has been in the spotlight during the pandemic.

“Today we have a greater number of students interested in health and a growing institutional recognition that it is a sector of extreme importance for society”, explains Charles-Clemens Rüling. , chair of public confidence in health at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.

Camille Bonte enrolled in the Specialized Master in Biotechnologies and Pharmaceutical Management in Grenoble in 2017 after studying engineering in biosciences. “I could have chosen to become a health care practitioner, but improving patient care ultimately means seeing health care as a business,” she says.

Nora Colton, outside new UCL building, says business school education recognizes its broader role in society

Nora Colton, outside UCL’s new building, says business school education recognizes its larger role in society © Charlie Bibby / FT

Shortly after graduating in 2018, she joined the Future Leaders program of GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical group, where she completed three internships in Belgium and Germany. In his current role, Bonte plans to produce GSK’s adjuvant AS03, an ingredient added to Covid-19 vaccines to stimulate a stronger immune response.

“I was able to.. Apply the learning from business school in my current role,” she says, emphasizing a holistic approach to business and enhanced communication and negotiation skills that are invaluable in supply chains.

Shortages of doctors and nurses are making the headlines, but Rüling points out the lack of managers with the right mix of skills in the broader health sector, which includes industries ranging from drugs and equipment to insurance and facilities. “It’s common for senior doctors to become responsible for managing teams or departments, but they mostly learn on the job,” he says.

Like some of his peers, he believes underdeveloped management practices contributed to the high rates of mental illness among frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic. “A large part of the suffering at work comes from the fact that managers are not sufficiently trained in psychological risk prevention and stress management,” he says.

Rüling believes that the science of management lags behind the progress of medical science in the sector. Nationally and globally, academics say there is a need to better coordinate and integrate care between fragmented and complex systems – in particular, consolidating health data to improve planning and research while maintaining confidentiality and data security.

Rainer Sibbel, academic director of the MBA in International Hospital and Healthcare Management at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany, says leaders need to strengthen the resilience of health systems by investing in the capacity to withstand future shocks.

“The search for greater efficiency has come at a cost,” he says, pointing to the lack of pads or spare inventory in medical supply chains which has led to shortages of essential commodities such as medical equipment. personal protection and medication, when the pandemic caused the factories to collapse. to close.

Sibbel stresses the urgency of building manufacturing capacities closer to home and diversifying sources of supply to address supply chain vulnerability. But, while the need to learn about this and other management challenges is great, the ability of healthcare professionals to devote time to training is severely limited.

“There are serious practical challenges, with healthcare workers facing immense time constraints during Covid,” said Bernard Crump, professor of healthcare practice and leadership at Warwick Business School in the UK. “We need to make sure that business training is flexible and accessible enough,” he adds, highlighting part-time and online courses as potential solutions.

Crump says many healthcare professionals don’t see business schools as a natural training ground, given their reputation as graduation schools for bankers and consultants. “There has always been a lack of acceptance that the medical profession needs management science,” he adds. “Clinicians who step into leadership roles are seen as stepping on the dark side. “

Crump says business schools could play an important role in challenging these perceptions and equipping the next generation of healthcare professionals with the skills needed to address current gaps. “Leadership needs to be more widely distributed across all levels of clinical care,” he says. “Sending a few heroic CEOs just won’t work. “


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