As heath care management becomes increasingly complex the industry is turning to MBAs for leadership


By Robert J Smith, Adjunct Professor, Sauder School of Business at UBC

Exec Ed

In Canada’s health care system, managers and executives continually meet challenges that defy simple solutions. Faced with escalating costs, an aging population, rapid technological advances and pressures from government agencies for greater efficiency, today’s leaders are increasingly confronted by demands for transformational management thinking and implementation.

It is becoming starkly evident that to meet the health care requirements of the soon-to-be-retired baby boom generation, a shift in the way our health care sector is managed is necessary. Indeed, this shift is already underway. To meet the management capacity needs of the future and replace the current generation of health care leaders who are beginning to move out of the workforce, health care employers and professionals across Canada are looking to business schools for solutions. 

Health care clinicians occupy many decision-making roles in our institutions and find themselves seeking the necessary management skills to do their jobs effectively. Candidates entering the Executive MBA in Health Care program at Sauder's Robert H. Lee Graduate School, as well as a large group of nurse-managers and other health care professionals who have been surveyed by the school, consistently identify areas of managerial expertise required by their positions, which were not provided by their clinical training or experience.

Increasingly, MBA programs are being identified as a solution for health care leaders who want to obtain the management skills and perspectives necessary to ensure our population continues to enjoy safe care, prompt access, and sustainable and affordable health services.

Business schools, which offer a blend of academic training spanning organizational behaviour on the one hand, and economics, finance, logistics and marketing on the other, provide the breadth of key skills necessary to bring innovative and creative solutions to health care delivery systems.  Indeed, MBA training provides analytical rigour and decision-making skills that make an excellent complement to the skills and abilities acquired during clinical training.

For example, marketing principles learned in MBA programs provide valuable approaches to enhance the promotion of healthy lifestyles and the prevention of risky health behaviours. Similarly, skills in operations and logistics, and information technology obtained in MBA programs are critical to creating efficiency in patient-client scheduling, and supply chain skills can bring practical solutions to systems of patient flow in health care environments.

Undoubtedly, an MBA education combined with strong clinical training and experience is a powerful combination and makes those who possess it a great resource for the industry. However, it is important to note that a shift toward business training is not to be interpreted as a shift toward a profit-based health care system. 

Management in the public sector relies on multiple measures of success, and financial sustainability is but one such measure.  A solid conceptual framework for management and leadership in health care incorporates quality, ethics and resources. These components contribute to the foundations underlying Sauder’s MBA curriculum, as well as many other MBA programs in Canada and elsewhere. 

Sauder’s EMBA in Health Care is now entering its fourth year.  Past and current graduates report the learning has been profound.  They see the complexities of their organizations with a broader understanding of the elements that enable the operations to function, and, perhaps most importantly, with a better understanding of where and how to make change.  Our graduates report that they are now far more comfortable with demands for service, and feel they know what questions to ask and where to find the answers. 

As the program enters another year, the mix of students continues to broaden.  From an initial class of predominantly nurse-managers, the last few years have seen applicants with clinical training in medicine, pharmacy and a variety of allied clinical and administrative backgrounds seeking the degree preparation. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this MBA program is successfully answering the need for new management capabilities in the health care industry.

Robert J Smith is an Adjunct Professor and the Director of Education for the Centre for Health Care Management hosted at the Sauder School of Business. He is also President of Perform Management Consulting Inc.

Originally published in the NATIONAL POST, 10/26/2010