What You'll Learn in a Healthcare MBA Program—And Why

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Healthcare isn't just one of the largest business sectors in the United States—it's one of the most unique. Success in the business of medicine is about more than just maximizing efficiency, keeping employees happy and balancing the books. Managerial decisions in healthcare can significantly affect patient outcomes, which means working in medical administration involves making life-and-death decisions.

One of the many upsides of working in healthcare management is that salaries are high and there's plenty of demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for medical and health services managers is over $100,000, and healthcare facilities of all sizes will create more than 100,000 new medical management and health administration jobs over the next decade.

To take advantage of this growth—and launch a career in a field where you can make a difference—you need the right qualifications. While many people in existing jobs for healthcare managers have bachelor's degrees, employers increasingly look for candidates with advanced business degrees. Healthcare administration in the U.S. is complicated. Hospitals, health systems and other organizations that provide patient care need to ensure that managers and administrators have a firm grasp of business competencies.

The best way to learn about the business of healthcare is to enroll in an accredited Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program that's healthcare-focused—like the part-time Online MBA with a Healthcare Management Track at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management. While many MBA programs with a healthcare management specialization offer only a handful of elective courses in healthcare management, Case Western Reserve's online MBA has an entire healthcare core that makes up approximately 40 percent of the curriculum.

Don't assume you have to enroll in a traditional MBA degree program to earn more money, gain stability and have a more fulfilling career. Keep reading to find out who you'll meet, what you'll learn in an MBA curriculum with a healthcare specialization, and how to decide if this is the best online MBA for you.

Who Typically Gets an Online MBA in Healthcare, and Why?

Students in online MBA programs with a healthcare concentration typically fall into three distinct categories:

  • Career Changers are looking to transition into administrative careers in medicine. They bring a range of expertise with them, though they often have business education backgrounds.
  • Career Advancers usually have some work experience in non-clinical healthcare roles and hope to grow into more senior positions or become healthcare executives. Some feel stuck. Others feel called to make a difference in global health, public policy and healthcare leadership roles.
  • Career Crossers are individuals looking to leverage clinical experience in the healthcare industry—including MDs, nurse practitioners and other clinical care providers—and people who work for health insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, and MedTech and biotech firms.

Case Western Reserve's 48-credit hour online MBA program is designed for mid-career professionals who want to go to graduate school without disrupting their lives. Students can complete their master's degree in a little over two years (on a trimester schedule), spending just 60-90 minutes per course each week in live, synchronous virtual classes. That said, flexibility isn't the only thing that attracts students to the business school's program.

Why Earn an Online MBA from CWRU?

Case Western Reserve's online MBA offers many features other top MBA programs can't because of its strong relationships with notable patient care systems such as Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. The university's location in the Cleveland Innovation District and the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor sparks new partnerships with healthcare institutions, MedTech startups and biomedical firms that make the student experience even richer and more rewarding.

Additionally, the Weatherhead School of Management gives distance learners plenty of student support, building virtual interviews and summer residencies into the MBA curriculum, so the online learning experience is more like the traditional full-time MBA experience. Business management skills development is part of almost every course in the university's unique program.

What You'll Learn in the MBA Core Curriculum

The coursework in the business core is applicable across sectors and even across roles. For instance, financial managers may use the skills they fine-tune in "Financial & Managerial Accounting" more often than general managers, but other administrators and executives use those skills, too. Healthcare executives and managers of all stripes need to understand the concepts presented in each of the courses below.

Leadership Assessment & Development

Leaders aren't born. It takes self-awareness and a commitment to lifelong learning to be an effective leader in healthcare management (and other fields). This course guides students to discover and expand their emotional intelligence and leadership skills through self-directed learning and reflection, group activities and discussions, and meetings with leadership development coaches. The work students do in this introductory course creates the foundation for their development throughout the rest of the online master's program.

Financial & Managerial Accounting

Financial accounting compiles financial information into simple or complex statements for internal or external use. Managerial accounting also sorts information about business transactions, but exclusively for internal use. All business leaders must understand financial accounting and managerial accounting, basic cost structures, balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and related notes, which can drive present-day and future decisions. In this class, students explore decision-making in the context of the kinds of externally and internally generated accounting information they will encounter in healthcare and other fields.

Statistics & Decision Making

Data now drives many business decisions (including in the healthcare sector), and stakeholders expect leaders to make decisions based not on intuition but facts. Statistical or quantitative thinking is widely considered one of the fundamentals of effective management. This course introduces the foundations of statistical and operations research methodologies for managerial decision-making. CWRU MBA students learn to use linear programming models and applications, simulation techniques and decision modeling to identify, analyze and solve complex problems. Topics covered include sampling and the normal distribution, making inferences from data via confidence intervals and hypothesis tests, and how to analyze relationships between samples.

Managing People & Organizations

There's more to management than simply guiding people as they work together toward a common goal. Effective managers have to be aware of what motivates and engages people and how team dynamics can help or hurt projects. They have to think strategically about motivation and pay systems. They're responsible for designing human resources, systems and staff structures. They resolve conflicts, approve information systems integration, devise systems for organizational communications and create the policies that shape workplace culture. Students in this class study these topics and more using a variety of experiential and interactive learning methods.

Corporate Finance

Understanding corporate finance is more important than ever for administrators in medicine because consolidation in healthcare is creating massive and complex health systems. Whereas healthcare finance managers might once have overseen the financial management of one practice or hospital, they're increasingly responsible for decision-making and risk management related to capital structuring, funding and investment decisions for entire networks. This course deals with investment theory and financial value and covers discounted cash flows, bond, and stock valuation, capital budgeting, applications of real options in investment analysis, asset risk and return, cost of capital and market efficiency.

Economics for Managers

Studying modern economics gives managers a better understanding of the cost/benefit calculations they do when analyzing challenges and making critical decisions. Students explore macroeconomic topics like economic growth, inflation, interest rates and exchange rates plus microeconomic concepts related to consumer choice, business decision making and market equilibrium in Case Western Reserve's economics class for managers.

Managerial Marketing

Medicine is consumer-driven, for better or for worse, which means all health services administrators (not just healthcare marketing managers) have to focus on creating and delivering "triple bottom line" value (i.e., economic, social and environmental). Managerial marketing borrows from economics, data analytics and competitive strategy development to create value for both companies and consumers. The course uses lectures, discussions, case studies, projects and simulations to teach MBA students how to understand buyer behavior, conduct comprehensive market analysis and develop integrated marketing programs.

Operations Management

Operations encompass the design of products and processes, the acquisition of resources, the conversion of inputs to outputs, and the distribution of end products and services. In other words, it is shorthand for everything involved in the production of goods or the provision of services. Operations management differs from industry to industry, and healthcare operations is chiefly concerned with making sure facilities use resources efficiently without sacrificing quality, patient privacy or patient safety. Students receive a broad overview of managerial issues associated with the production and delivery of goods and services and learn how to use quantitative modeling to make operational decisions.

Strategic Thinking & Its Applications

This class rounds out the business core with an integrative experience that lets students apply the full range of business skills taught in the online MBA program in a comprehensive group case study exercise.

What You'll Learn in the Healthcare Core

The following core courses explore the business side of medicine in greater depth.

Experiential Learning in Healthcare Management

In this class, students conduct a series of site visits hosted by the management of notable healthcare institutions in the greater Cleveland area, including Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. During each of the three on-campus residencies, online cohorts gather with peers from across the country.

Health Decision Making & Analytics

The metrics and mathematical models managers in healthcare fields use to make decisions are somewhat different from those administrators in other areas use. This course introduces students to various methods and applications of decision science and analytics in healthcare management and medical decision-making. Through hands-on experiences covering infectious disease modeling, patient flow modeling, radiation therapy planning and disease screening, students in this course practice leveraging these methods to evaluate clinical interventions and public healthcare policy.

Artificial Intelligence Applications in Healthcare Management

Data science has many applications in medicine. Computer algorithms designed to mimic or predict how humans will behave can streamline managerial and clinical decision-making. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning extract meaningful insights from the vast amounts of patient, treatment and operational data collected in medicine. Healthcare managers must be comfortable working with this kind of information technology because more clinicians, researchers and MedTech firms are employing neural network models to augment clinician performance, improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Students learn artificial intelligence applications in healthcare and use the Python programming language to build neural network models for various medical applications.

Finance Issues in Healthcare Management

Healthcare finance managers aren't the only administrative healthcare professionals who deal with the financial concerns of clinical practices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and healthcare networks. All medical managers need a working understanding of the economic forces governing patient care delivery, insurance and billing in the U.S. healthcare system. Students study how financial concerns drive decisions made by providers, insurers, and purchasers in this core class.

Economic Issues in Healthcare Management

To understand the financial issues medical facilities and insurers face, you must understand how the U.S. health care sector operates, how it is evolving and the policies driving changes to the healthcare marketplace. Financial managers in healthcare, general managers, and healthcare services administrators respond to economic issues caused by decisions patients make and decisions made by providers, insurers, state and federal governments, and even global health organizations. Students in this course look at health economics through microeconomic theory and refine their analytical skills.

Patient Experience & Design

In a world where online reviews mean everything and consumers are empowered to shop around for medical care, patient experience is more important than ever. Future program managers, general managers and hospital administrators may get the most out of this class, which measures healthcare delivery by the quality of direct and indirect services. Many think of the patient experience as synonymous with "bedside manner," but the perception of quality may have more to do with patient engagement than patient outcomes. Ultimately, healthcare managers are more responsible for creating a positive patient experience than doctors and providers.

Dialogues in Healthcare Management

This course draws on the experiences and contextual knowledge of experienced healthcare management professionals so students can better understand how prior coursework applies in real-world settings. They learn about specific management challenges related to healthcare delivery through facilitated talks with industry leaders who share the problem-solving strategies they use.

Lean Operations in Healthcare Systems

As healthcare costs rise, medical services managers have to find ways to keep facilities in the black. Applying "lean" ideas in healthcare settings to minimize waste is one of many ways administrators keep overhead low. Future general managers, program managers, service managers and operations managers, in particular, need to know how to troubleshoot service errors and other problems as they arise—and ideally, prevent them before they occur. The course covers service process blueprints, capacity management, value stream mapping and inventory management in medical delivery systems, insurance companies, and other healthcare organizations.

Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Healthcare Management

The booming startup culture in the U.S. has created a new marketplace of smaller but still competitive digital health, biotech, MedTech, and other health services enterprises. Health administrators working in these types of healthcare business ventures—and even those headed for nonprofit work—must understand how planning, funding, diligence, partnering and capitalization work in this space (versus in clinical settings). The core healthcare class touches on best practices in company launch and plan execution, technology assessment and strategy, and self-assessment for innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Regulatory Issues in Healthcare Management

Rules and regulations govern everything in medicine, from medical records management to care delivery to facilities management, and there's an entire field of health law. Healthcare managers across the board need to understand their decisions' legal and ethical ramifications because one wrong choice can shutter a practice or bankrupt a nursing home. This course covers the history, structure, financing, and operation of the U.S. medical system, as well as topics like:

  • Confidentiality and electronic medical records
  • Legal issues in medical research
  • Medical malpractice law
  • Regulations in public health
  • Rules governing health insurers
  • The patient-physician relationship

Introduction to Population Health Issues

There are multiple determinants of health beyond genetics, behavior and the patient environment. Social and economic factors play a role in population health, as does the availability and quality of health delivery services. Students learn how healthcare systems address disparities in morbidity, mortality, function and quality of life across different populations. This course introduces issues affecting population health and prevention and intervention strategies, so future administrators (especially those working in public systems) can take a broader view of medical management, global health, healthcare economics and health policy.

Is CWRU's Online MBA for You?

Populations will never stop aging or getting sick, which means the healthcare market will remain strong for the foreseeable future. Additionally, more people are turning to medical professionals for preventive care so they can stay healthy and independent longer, creating new market segments. An online MBA in Healthcare from Case Western Reserve isn't just a recession-proof degree—it's one with prestige. Earning your MBA from Weatherhead School of Management means graduating from the top-ranked university in Ohio with a built-in network of 270 corporate partners and over 20,000 alumni worldwide.

If you already work in healthcare and meet the university's admission requirements, it may also be one your employer is willing to fund. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council's Corporate Recruiters Survey, the demand for MBAs is higher in healthcare than in finance, consulting, technology and other business sectors. Employers in medicine may be more willing to provide tuition assistance for MBAs than those in other sectors—especially for employees who apply to and enroll in an MBA program with a healthcare management track.

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