Covid Drives Surge in Demand for Online MBA Programs in Healthcare

The business of health is coming into sharper focus as technological breakthroughs emerge, and populations across developed countries age

Management decisions can heavily impact patients and the staff who care for them, a reality that was driven home by the coronavirus pandemic that stretched global health systems, nearly to breaking point. Tackling the deficiencies in healthcare means seeing it as a business, not solely as a public service. 

The business of health is coming into sharper focus not just because of the pandemic, but as technological breakthroughs emerge, and as populations across developed countries age. Many business schools have been building up their Online MBA specialisms in healthcare through the pandemic, which has delivered a boost in demand for such training.

On an increasing number of Online MBA programs, students can specialize in this sector, an important economic driver. The online, flexible nature of these programs is often attractive for those whose goal it is to work in healthcare.

For instance, the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a focus in healthcare administration, through a partnership with the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences. The program mixes business and public health courses.

Some programs, like George Washington University’s Online Healthcare MBA, target students who already have experience in the industry but are looking to develop skills to vault themselves into leadership roles.

Another option for such students is the MBA International Healthcare Management program, an online course run by the UK’s University of Cumbria in concert with the Robert Kennedy College in Zurich, Switzerland.

Covid has boosted interest in Healthcare Online MBA programs

Penn State World Campus, the online campus of Pennsylvania State University, is one of many institutions that offers an Online MBA concentration in the business of healthcare. It’s a unique, multi-disciplinary collaboration with the school’s Master of Health Administration program, which gives students access to faculty and participants who have professional experience in the sector.

“Online MBA students are in class with online MHA students, all of whom are working full-time in healthcare settings,” says Chris Calkins, executive director of MHA Programs at Penn State. “This enables MBA students to build a professional network during the program, and to benefit from the insights of peers who are working in the settings they want to join.”

He adds coronavirus has boosted interest in the qualification: “The pandemic has raised awareness of the role and challenges faced by healthcare organizations.”

The flexibility to study online while working is also a big part of the school’s appeal, especially during the Covid crisis. “The uncertainty that has resulted from the pandemic has made the continuation of work essential for job stability and career mobility,” says Calkins. “The ability to take on new skills, competencies and credentials while continuing to work is a key differentiator” of online programs.  

It’s a similar story at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in North Carolina, which also offers specialist teaching in healthcare for students in its highly-ranked Online MBA program. “Even before COVID-19, we had seen an increase in interest in healthcare,” says Bradley Staats, faculty director of the Center for the Business of Health.

He puts the demand surge, from both doctors and individuals with no prior healthcare experience, partly down to the expanding array of exciting job opportunities in the sector.

“COVID has [led to] an increase in both total students interested in the MBA, as well as students interested in transitioning into healthcare,” says Staats. “Our students are looking for a high-quality MBA experience that also offers flexibility to fit [study] into their busy life,” he adds. “COVID opened many eyes to the power of the Online MBA, and we have seen growth from that.”

He also cites points of differentiation, including the healthcare club at UNC that helps connect students with others interested in the sector. The business school also brings online students together in person for summits, while the Center for the Business of Health offers webinars and workshops, as well as research and consulting opportunities.

The school integrates real-world experience in the health sector into the MBA program. There are, for instance, opportunities to work on real consulting projects with meaningful deliverables through a program that matches students with corporations.“ The management challenges that healthcare faces are significant, but not insurmountable,” says Staats.

The healthcare MBA at GW School of Business offers numerous opportunities for students to work on pro bono projects to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world challenges that healthcare organizations and professionals are facing.

“Longer human lifespans, coupled with fast-changing healthcare technology, create a more complex and dynamic industry, which requires healthcare managers to upskill and reskill to continue to add value in the industry,” says Liesl Riddle, associate dean of graduate programs at GWSB.

“An MBA engenders a greater understanding of how the functional areas of business are intertwined, broadening a manager’s understanding of their organizations and the industry, and creating new insights for innovation.”

In addition, many of the healthcare MBA students are “entrepreneurial medical doctors and researchers” that have discovered and developed innovative medical products or processes. “Such students are often seeking an MBA to better prepare themselves to finance, market and manage those innovations,” Riddle adds.

Healthcare organizations facing a range of challenges

Calkins at Penn State agrees that healthcare organizations face increases in demand for services as populations age. There’s also a related need to leverage technology in order to meet that demand by expanding access and the monitoring of chronic conditions in a safe and reliable way. “COVID-19 accelerated the move to telehealth, remote monitoring and diagnostic tools,” says Calkins.

He underscores the need for effective management and leadership, noting that healthcare organizations are complex environments with workforces that are externally credentialed and licensed, requiring compliance and coordination across diverse teams.

Calkins goes on to say that health is both a business and a public service. “Deploying business skills to ensure access to care and the efficient delivery of that care, helps us to improve the health of entire populations,” he says, highlighting the economic impact: “An unhealthy population makes all sectors of the economy weak.”

UNC’s Staats underscores the wide array of job opportunities across the public and private sector: “We have seen during COVID the critical importance of public-private partnerships,” he says, adding: “There is a huge opportunity for MBAs in healthcare.”

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