Health care and business have been colliding for years. But big changes -- a surge in hospital mergers, a push for nurses to attain advanced degrees, and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act -- have made the pairing inseparable. Doctors in private practice want to optimize operations. Hospitals and other health care facilities are looking for talented people who at once understand patient care, insurance, and the bottom line. Other professionals, such as nurses, want to make themselves viable for management positions. Nowadays, you really can't have health care without knowledge of business.
That's why professionals with interest in entering the field or climbing the ladder are turning to online MBA programs in health care. Some of the people you might find in these virtual classrooms include nurse managers looking for a promotion or a vice president of patient care services aiming to direct free-standing health centers, says Denise Westbrook, dean of the College of Health Professions at University of Wilmington in Delaware, which collaborates with the College of Business to offer the dual-degree online MBA program with a health care administration concentration.
While reigning in health care costs, properly charging people for treatments and services, dealing with insurance companies, and creating budgets that make the best use of funds are important aspects of any business, health care professionals must also consider the softer side. They have to be able to weigh intangibles, such as bedside manner and a patient's quality of life. In other words, being a number cruncher will never be enough for health care MBAs. Online MBA programs taking on this sector try to balance their quantitative and qualitative teachings.
What is an online MBA in health care?
An online MBA in health care takes students through the expected business curriculum -- finance, ethics, marketing, operations management -- through the lens of medicine. For example, the University of Wilmington has its online students take a marketing in health care course about "issues related to the measurement of patient satisfaction, physician recruitment, and product development" through case studies and an applied research project.
"Doctors are running their own businesses," says Donald Durandetta, dean of the College of Business at University of Wilmington. "They must understand more complex forms of health care both as a health care professional and a businessperson."
Students participating in the Wilmington course are also required to take seminars in health care administration, health policy and economics, health insurance and reimbursement, and legal aspects in health care. Applicants to programs should pay close attention to the different requirements for the specialization because they can vary widely from school to school. Saint Leo University, for instance, requires those pursing their online MBA in health care management to take health care organization/managed care, health care management, and health policy evaluation. The other two required courses have descriptions that stand out on the school's website. Community health evaluation offers an overview of the health reporting systems required by the federal government and the role they play in disease and death prevention and containment. In addition, critical issues in health care have students exploring pressing issues, such as malpractice in contemporary America, health care and taxation, legal problems facing providers and patients, and ethical issues in human reproduction, genetics, and death. In case you're wondering, this is not your standard MBA fodder.
Practical, real world experience is a unique component of the Saint Leo program, according to Barry A. Hoy, associate professor and chair of Administrative Studies in healthcare management, human resource management, and law.
"A three-credit internship is a mandatory part of the program except in very specific situations," Hoy writes. "This internship provides students with first-hand field experience and places them in the network of healthcare administration employment."
Both programs use different online learning platforms to deliver coursework to students. Discussion threads, video, and mobile apps are among the tools you might find in any online degree program. While there are usually group projects and requirements for participation, students mostly can create their own schedule and work at their own pace to soak up material and complete assignments.
One thing to keep in mind when researching potential programs is that some are taught exclusively by medical professionals with skills in business, while others are taught exclusively by those in business with some knowledge of health care. Some may be taught by a mix of both. If you have a preference, you should look into the faculty ahead of time.
What are the admissions requirements?
Applications vary from program to program, but there are usually a few common threads. Most require an application fee, a statement of goals, proof of an undergraduate degree and transcript, and work experience (not necessarily, but probably, in health care). For example, 90 percent of students in the Wilmington program have some sort of work experience, usually in a health care-related field. Other programs might ask for standardized test scores, such as the GMAT. You'll probably have to be willing and able to explain why you want to earn an MBA in health care online at this time. In other words, you have to answer the question: how is this degree going to advance your career?
Who is the right fit for this MBA program?
As mentioned earlier, health care professionals -- including doctors, nurses, pharmaceutical executives, and health care management executives -- are potential candidates. Those who are interested in transitioning into health care could also be a match. What administrators of the online programs want potential students to know is that these programs often have great value. "The rigor in our coursework," adds Hoy, "ensures that people who complete the program are well-prepared for the workplace."