The Business of Healthcare: MBA Programs that Best Prepare Students to Tackle a Challenging Industry
While med students who take a leave of absence to pick up an MBA along the way are not all that common, business students looking to specialize in healthcare make up a solid slice of the student body at several leading business schools—for a host of reasons. For starters, healthcare is a recession-proof industry offering a range of potential career paths. MBA graduates can go on to work as administrators in hospitals, long-term care facilities and rehabilitation facilities; as senior managers at insurance, biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms; or in increasingly prevalent healthcare-focused roles in investment banking, consulting or venture capital. And with the digital health market expected to reach $379 billion by 2024, it should come as no surprise that healthcare entrepreneurship is hot, too.
Climbing healthcare costs have made identifying ways to generate profits while benefiting both providers and patients a constant challenge. Aging populations in both the United States and Europe ensure that strains upon the industry will only increase. The question isn’t why prospective applicants are seeking out MBA programs that can teach them the business of healthcare. The question is which business schools do it best.
Duke Fuqua Consistently Sends More of Its MBA Class into Healthcare Than Any Other School
Though down from a record-setting 11 percent in 2012, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management sent nine percent of its most recent graduating class into healthcare careers—maintaining its lead among all top business schools in this regard.
Fuqua features a Health Sector Management (HSM) program widely considered one of the preeminent healthcare management education programs in the nation. It builds on healthcare education Duke began offering in 1930 when Duke Hospital opened. First-year HSM courses were moved to the business school in 1986, and the HSM program became fully integrated into Fuqua in 1991.
Today, as much as one-fifth of each full-time MBA class at Fuqua pursues an HSM Certificate, making it the largest healthcare program affiliated with a leading business school. Fuqua’s affiliation with Duke University Medical Center and Health System—a leader in biomedical research, education and healthcare delivery—contributes to the HSM program’s strength. So, too, does its location in the North Carolina Research Triangle, which is home to dozens of leading biotech, healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations, including GlaxoSmithKline, Biogen, and Novartis. The HSM program maintains close ties with these and other area companies—keeping students and faculty abreast of the rapidly changing healthcare industry and offering companies inside access to their talent pool.
Fuqua’s HSM Coursework and Faculty
Fuqua’s HSM Certificate was designed to prepare students to navigate the changing needs and interests of the healthcare consumer, manage the development of biotech and medical technology, control the increasing costs of healthcare and respond to the effects of globalization in both developed and emerging markets. To earn the certificate, students must complete two required courses, a seminar series and three electives in their area of interest.
The first of the two required courses, “Health Institutions, Systems and Policy,” is a weeklong course students take prior to Fuqua’s general first-year orientation. Coined “HSM Boot Camp,” it provides an overview of the healthcare system’s structure, delving into topics such as health policy, biotechnology, payers and providers and globalization. By design, full-time MBA students take the course alongside executive MBA students and returning alumni, which provides for a diversity of experience that helps all participants expand their professional network and gain greater insight into the industry.
The second required course—which Fuqua encourages HSM students to take during their first year since subsequent electives will build on it—is called “Healthcare Markets.” Students apply the tools of economics and strategy to the challenges faced by various stakeholders in the health sector, including product manufacturers, insurers and healthcare providers. Discussion of recent news in the health sector kicks off the class, followed by a deeper dive into a selected case study.
The healthcare seminar series, meanwhile, includes presentations by both Duke professors and outside industry experts who discuss the evolution of the healthcare industry and share real-life examples of how businesses have adapted to shifting conditions. These seminars also give students an opportunity to apply the core business skills they are learning elsewhere in their MBA coursework to health challenges.
Because students pursuing the HSM certificate have an array of post-MBA career goals, HSM electives are wide-ranging as well, allowing students to tailor their study to individual goals. Among the electives they can choose from are strategy courses focused on each medical devices, providers and the biotech and pharma industries; healthcare-focused entrepreneurship courses and “Health Systems & Policy,” a unique course in which students travel to Washington, DC, to visit federal institutions, advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations that impact the health policy and technology development and healthcare services delivery. After completing the HSM requirements, students can choose to enroll in additional healthcare courses or take non-healthcare courses.
Many of Fuqua’s HSM faculty members hold joint appointments with the Duke University Medical Center or other schools at Duke. Their expertise is complemented by healthcare industry practitioners who serve as visiting scholars or program affiliates, adding valuable real-world experience to classroom learning.
Centers, Special Programs and Extracurricular Clubs
Fuqua MBA students benefit from research conducted by the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), a university-wide initiative established in 2006 to confront the world’s health disparities. Faculty and students from all nine of Duke’s schools are involved in DGHI research, which has focused on topics ranging from strengthening healthcare systems to emerging diseases to the influence of gender and poverty on health. The institute also collaborates with institutions in China, Haiti, India, Kenya, Singapore, Tanzania and Uganda and is working to establish partnerships in many more countries around the world.
Students interested in healthcare can also join the Health Care Club, which hosts events throughout the year designed to introduce students to the full spectrum of healthcare careers, including biotech and pharmaceutical product management, healthcare consulting, medical device marketing, managed care administration, hospital management and healthcare policy. Through corporate partnerships with companies such as Genentech, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, ZS Associates, DaVita, Eli Lilly, and BD, the Health Care Club also provides students with valuable networking opportunities. These corporate partners often participate in the club’s annual Health Care Conference held in the fall, which brings students, faculty and industry practitioners together to examine a central issue in healthcare. The 2018 conference, “Shaping the Future of Healthcare,” featured keynote speakers John Ratliff, CFO of Covance, and Dr. Ali Raja, Executive Vice Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Finally, healthcare students at Fuqua also benefit from the Health Sector Advisory Council (HSAC), a partnership forged in 2002 between students and faculty and approximately 30 healthcare organizations. In meetings twice a year, the HSAC convenes to examine industry trends and draw upon the perspectives and knowledge of providers, insurers, regulatory agencies and professionals in the managed care, pharmaceutical, medical devices and medical supplies sectors.
Applicants interested in the HSM program should outline their interest as part of their general application to one of Fuqua’s MBA programs (daytime, executive, cross-continent). Admission to Fuqua automatically signals admission to the HSM program. “HSM students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. This includes providers, payers, life sciences, and consulting. Many HSM students have health care experience, but this is not a requirement for the program,” reads the school’s website.
Wharton’s Long Track Record of Teaching the Business of Healthcare
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania features the oldest healthcare program among U.S. business schools—and, as it happens, also one of the best. As at Fuqua, the Wharton program is interdisciplinary in its approach, drawing on faculty not only from Wharton, but also from the university’s medical and nursing schools, as well as healthcare practitioners, to teach students interested in healthcare-related careers. There are 12 standing professors within the healthcare management department, another 12 secondary professors and more than a dozen affiliated lecturers and adjunct professors.
Signature Health Care Management Major
Wharton offers a Health Care Management (HCM) major, which interested students must choose as part of their initial application to the school. Five credit units are required to complete the major, including two courses that every HCM major must complete: “Health Services System” and “Healthcare Field Application Project (FAP).” The first provides an overview of the healthcare system and how it evolved—focusing on payors, providers and suppliers. As part of the second course, FAP, teams of five or six students each consult on a real-world management problem for a health-related firm.
After completion of these core courses, HCM majors can choose three additional healthcare electives. Healthcare electives focus on topics including hospitals, integrated delivery systems, pharma and biotech companies and managed care organizations. Some on offer in the current term include “Management of Health Care for the Elderly,” “E-Health: Business Models and Impact” and “Healthcare Entrepreneurship.” Those seeking even greater specialization in a given area can also take up to four credit units from other Penn schools, including the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing.
Wharton celebrates the diversity of experience represented by its HGM majors, sharing a range of details—as well as student bios—for the Class of 2018 as well as each of the current classes. There are 71 HCM majors in the Class of 2019 and 72 in the Class of 2020 (representing just over 8 percent of each class). Hailing from every corner of the globe, many but not all of the students profiled cite prior healthcare experience, including at healthcare-focused consulting firms, medical device companies and private equity firms invested in healthcare services companies. There are also a total of six students who hold MDs between the two classes.
Centers, Special Programs and Extracurriculars
Wharton’s Health Care Board Fellows program gives first-year students the chance to spend 12 months as “observers/visitors” on the boards of participating healthcare nonprofits, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Assisted Living Association, Power Up Gambia and the Go4theGoal Foundation.
Another program, Wharton Global Health Volunteers (WGHV), gives students the opportunity to develop service projects in public health systems with extremely limited resources. Partner organizations have included Aravind Eye Hospital, Aurora Venture, Doctors of the World and WHO Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, and projects have sent students to Botswana, El Salvador, Tanzania, Brazil and India.
For students who want access to cutting-edge healthcare research, there’s the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute (LDI). Founded in 1967 following the advent of Medicare, the LDI conducts interdisciplinary research on health services in conjunction with Wharton as well as Penn’s health and communications schools.
In terms of student clubs, the Wharton Health Care Club (HCC) serves the professional and academic needs of students pursuing careers in pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, consulting and other sectors of the healthcare industry. Its sponsored events include career advice panels and chats, social events and a speaker series that has drawn healthcare industry leaders from companies including GE, Kaiser Permanente, Aspire Health, and Somalogic to speak on issues surrounding healthcare venture capital, insurance, biotech and healthcare administration, among others. Another group, the Penn Biotech Group, is a cross-disciplinary organization that helps educate students about biotechnology and its ties to science, medicine, business and law—drawing members from Wharton, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Law School and the Medical School.
Wharton also features an annual Health Care Business Conference each February, which typically draws more than 500 attendees from across the nation. The 2019 conference—entitled “Challenging the Status Quo in Health Care”—took place in early February 2019 and featured as its keynote speakers Seema Varma, Administrator at CMS; Arie Belldegrun, M.D., FACS, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Allogene; Annie Lamont, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Oak HC/FT; and Toby Cosgrove, M.D., Executive Advisor and Former CEO and President of the Cleveland Clinic.
There is also an array of resources available at Wharton to help MBA students secure internships and full-time positions in healthcare-related fields. These range from biotech and healthcare career treks to a mentor program for HCM majors pairing students with senior executives in the healthcare industry. Finally, Wharton has an active Health Care Management Alumni Association that hosts regular networking and career development events. Of the Class of 2018, Wharton reports that 5.8 percent of graduates took jobs in healthcare.
Though the admissions process they undergo is the same as any other MBA applicant to the Wharton School, prospective HCM majors must indicate their interest in the major on the application form in response to the question that asks about “an intended major” or “areas of interest.” They are encouraged to use the application essays to discuss their interests and background in the healthcare field and their motivation to pursue the HCM major. Applicants will be reviewed by the Wharton Admissions Committee as well as by June Kinney, Associate Director of the Health Care Management Program.
“Candidates for the Health Care Management (HCM) Program must demonstrate an abiding interest and passion for meeting the business and leadership challenges posed by the health care field,” reads the school’s website. “The department looks for many types of interests and backgrounds in order to create a microcosm of the health care industry within each class.”
Healthcare Pathway at Northwestern’s Kellogg School
Another school that features a special course of study for students interested in healthcare management is Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. The Healthcare at Kellogg (HCAK) pathway offers students two tracks: the Life Sciences/Products track or Payer/Provider track.
Regardless of which track they select, all students who choose the HCAK pathway must complete at least one foundational course designed to serve as a basis for more advanced healthcare electives. “Healthcare Strategy” and “Healthcare Economics” are the two foundational courses offered, though the school notes the courses are intentionally designed with limited overlap and that many students opt to take both. Courses offered within the Life Sciences/Products track include “Critical Issues in the Pharmaceutical, Biotech, and Medical Device Industries,” “Biomedical Marketing” and “Pharmaceutical Strategy.” Within the Payer/Provider track, meanwhile, students can choose courses such as “Health Analytics,” “Service Operations” and “Strategy and Execution for a Successful Healthcare Delivery System.” In addition, there are healthcare courses that let them dive deep into a particular field through experiential learning. These course options include “NUVention Medical Innovation I and II”, a two-quarter sequence course focused on the creation of innovations for the health industry; “Medical Product Early Stage Commercialization,” which sends Kellogg students in teams of four or five to consult for select Northwestern tech transfer companies; and “Medical Technologies in Developing Countries.”
The HCAK pathway at Kellogg is led by Craig Garthwaite, a professor of strategy and hospital and health services whose research focuses on health economics, the pharmaceutical industry, public finance, and the political economy. Thirteen additional professors and lecturers make up the HCAK faculty.
Special Programs and Extracurriculars
The student-led Kellogg Healthcare Club, which counts more than 400 members, offers resources for students pursuing careers in healthcare, including mixers with alumni and members, round table lunches with healthcare and biotech professors and a speaker series bringing industry executives to campus. In addition, company and hospital tours give students the opportunity to visit healthcare facilities and learn about professional opportunities within local organizations.
Two- to three-day Biotech and Pharma Treks allow students to visit regions of the country with significant concentrations of healthcare companies, meet with company representatives and tour their facilities. And mock interviews and résumé reviews give first-year MBA students the chance to learn from second years while preparing for the recruiting process.
Kellogg hosts the annual Kellogg Business of Healthcare Conference (KBHC), which draws more than 400 participants each year to discuss and debate a topic in healthcare. The 2019 KBHC, “Blurring the Lines: Examining a New Healthcare Landscape,” took place in late January and featured keynote speakers Andrew Hayek, CEO of OptumHealth; Iyah Romm, CEO and Co-Founder of Cityblock Health; and David Torchiana, MD, former Chief of Cardiac Surgery at MGH and current President and CEO of Partners HealthCare..
Another event, the annual MacEachern Symposium, takes place each spring, giving students an opportunity to explore the impact of healthcare policy on innovation. A daylong event designed to promote active discussion between Kellogg students and leaders in the field, the April 2019 MacEachern Symposium featured former CEO and President of Gilead, John Milligan, as keynote speaker.
Finally, hosted by HCAK, the annual Kellogg Biotech & Healthcare Case Competition gives teams of students the opportunity to analyze a biotech-related case and present their solution to a panel of judges. The competition is sponsored by Astellas, and a team of senior executives from the firm serves as judges. A Kellogg team took third place in the 2019 competition, a team from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School took first, with a UT Austin McCombs team as runner-up.
No background in science or healthcare is necessary for the HCAK major. The core classes “Healthcare Strategy” and “Healthcare Economics” offer an overview of the issues facing health industry focusing on patient, payor, provider and the products, especially useful for students without prior experience in the field. Applicants interested in the HCAK major may indicate their interest as part of their application, but there is no requirement that they do so and there is no separate interview process for the major.
Healthcare MBA Programs Poised to Grow
To be sure, this is just a sampling of some of the best healthcare programs on offer at leading business schools today—and by no means a comprehensive list. Berkeley / Haas, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Michigan / Ross, UCLA / Anderson and Harvard Business School all also sent five percent or more of their most recent graduating classes into healthcare. Every one of these schools offers unique advantages for students interested in the business of healthcare.
Robert M. Pearl, president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and a faculty member at Stanford Graduate School of Business, captured many of the challenges inherent in the business of healthcare in an article he contributed to Forbes. But he also summed up why healthcare management is drawing—and will continue to draw—some of the best and brightest business school students. “Equipped with the right framework, smart and passionate students have the opportunity to create meaningful health care innovations that will alter the paradigm of American medicine as we know it,” he wrote. “It won’t be easy. But those who go all in may fulfill their vision of changing the world. And in the process, they’ll realize the best outcome possible: improving the lives of people nationwide.”
As the healthcare industry continues to grow and evolve, global health issues continue to pose new challenges and career opportunities within healthcare continue to multiply, business schools will face increased demand from healthcare-focused students and will respond with even more robust offerings.