The challenges facing the industry are vast. The age problem is accelerating as it spreads to newly industrialised economies such as China and Brazil, pushing up spending.
More efficient means of delivering services are urgently needed and the healthcare sectors demand talented individuals to combat rising consumer expectations and the increasing cost of care.
“All of these developments create more recruitment demand for healthcare[-educated] MBAs,” says Professor Lawton Burns, director of the Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics.
Sarah Andrews, MBA and campus talent acquisition consultant at Eli Lilly, the US-based global pharmaceuticals group, says that she expects MBAs to be the future leaders of the company. “We hope to get a lot out of those individuals,” she says.
“Getting your MBA and demonstrating that you’re looking to build your business skills and develop as a leader [is] huge,” she adds, speaking at an event organized by Forté Foundation, the women’s advocacy group.
Eli Lilly and Novartis, the Swiss-based healthcare company, are among the top recruiters at MIP Politecnico di Milano, a leading European business school based in Italy.
Because healthcare companies tend to be multinational and highly structured, they offer diverse career opportunities, according to Elisa Zagami, head of career development at MIP.
“[They] allow recruited candidates to gain exposure at an international level, as well as to scale the management ladder,” she says.
A new generation of managers are turning to the healthcare industry for new challenges and the opportunity to make a tangible impact on society.
“I am passionate about the way multinational organizations create value in patients’ lives, with a high standard of care,” says Vikas Shrivastava, an MBA student at LUMS in the UK.
As a former manager at global healthcare companies Merck Group and Johnson & Johnson, he understands the complex challenges the industry is facing.
Innovation in healthcare is often painstakingly slow in implementation but new tools are now a focus for executives. Smart sensors and signal processing are some of a wave of new technologies being deployed by healthcare groups to improve patient care.
Breakthroughs from wearable devices that provide real-time data on people’s wellbeing to 3D printing – using biomedical and nanosystems engineering to deliver body implants – offer the possibility of faster and more targeted treatments.
“As individuals are likely to be living longer, many with chronic disease, there are emerging opportunities to create and implement innovative approaches to managing their care,” says Kimberly MacPherson, associate director of health management at Haas School of Business in California.
Haas is one of a number of top US business schools that offer health management programs to MBA students, along with Fuqua School of Business, George Washington University and Wharton.
With a campus in Silicon Valley, Haas allows its MBA students to benefit from the innovative approaches to healthcare taken by start-ups nearby like HealthTap and RockHealth – both founded by MBAs.
“Students are often asked to engage with these emerging entities,” says Kimberly.
The business school offers entire courses in health innovation and this is not unique to Haas.
“All of our courses cover innovations in healthcare to varying degrees,” says Professor Lawton at Wharton, including a dedicated course on information technology in healthcare.
Yet the industry has been slower than other sectors to feel the full force of technology. The business of care is slow moving. “Implementation itself is rarely taught,” says Professor Lawton. He adds that this is more important than the innovation itself.
Many big pharma companies, such as Actavis, Merck, and Roche, have relied more on mergers and acquisitions than research and development to deliver new products.
But there are signs that the giants of healthcare are opening up to innovation, with collaboration between other companies that are increasingly sharing their chemical compounds, and also with technology groups like Samsung and Apple.
“Innovation is a key driver of both improvements in health and increases in healthcare spending,” says David Ridley, faculty director for health sector management at Fuqua, adding that this is a focus in the school’s healthcare MBA program.
Technology companies are playing a greater role in driving this innovation. Google has invested heavily into healthcare-related start-ups, for instance, while IBM is using cognitive computing to develop personalized cancer treatments.
By leveraging historic data healthcare groups are able to control costs more easily. New health services are also being opened in the storage of patient data and remote monitoring.
The increasing use of data analytics is opening up career opportunity in the industry, according to Yehuda Bassok, chair of the data sciences and operations department at USC Marshall School of Business.
“I can see it as a very important tool in the very near future in global healthcare and in low income countries,” he says of analytics. “There is a huge need for people that can deal with data.”
As such, data has become a focus on the International Healthcare Management MBA at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, based in Germany.
“Big data is a very promising leverage to support research and innovation,” says Professor Rainer Sibbel, academic director of the program.
But the pace of change is far from rapid. “Healthcare is a hard industry to understand,” says Divya Dhar, co-founder of Seratis, a start-up trying to bring about a digital age for the industry.
The company offers a mobile communication platform which helps coordinate, track and analyse care across medical teams.
Divya graduated from Wharton’s MBA program, and as a former medical practitioner, has benefited from its healthcare track. “You can easily and with confidence talk to business leads, strategic partners and investors [with an MBA],” she says.
Divya is one of a growing number of former healthcare workers enrolled in management education.
According to data compiled by the Carnegie Foundation, the number of joint MBA and Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs in the US has grown from six to 65 over the past two decades.
Coming from the ambulatory side of healthcare, Ivan De La Torre has never had to consider functions like accounting, finance and marketing. But the biologist is about to begin an MBA to leverage his background in a new management career.
His goal is to implement new technologies that will create better ways of meeting patient needs. “Healthcare relies on cutting-edge technology,” he says.
Students with this mix of experience are well-positioned to help global health systems cope with rising demand, according to Meg Flournoy, senior director for healthcare at Fuqua’s Career Management Center.
“Demands from an aging population touch every corner of the healthcare industries,” she says.
By utilizing both general management skills and specialist healthcare electives within an MBA, students can better prepare themselves for roles in an industry that is increasingly cross-functional.
“Managing in healthcare is dealing with people in a complex environment of various interests,” says Frankfurt’s Professor Rainer.
At Eli Lilly there is a leadership development program designed to expose candidates to different functions, says Sara. “There are a lot of moving pieces [in healthcare],” she adds.
For MBAs, there may also be career opportunity in the public sector, where organizations are in need of managers to help fight budget shortfalls and to broaden service offerings.
For example, by 2020, annual public expenditure for adult care is expected to surge by 15% to £16.8 billion in the UK alone, according to the UK Local Government Association.
Salaries tend to be lower in the public sector but healthcare managers are ultimately looking to make a positive impact on society.
“We all rally around the common goal of trying to make life better,” says Sara, who is also a graduate of the MBA program at Chicago’s Booth School of Business.