When the UK went into its first lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus in March, people across the nation came onto the streets every Thursday evening to clap, shout, bang pots and pans. It was part of the “Clap for Carers” tribute, a salute to healthcare staff and other key workers dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Traditionally underpaid in the public sector, healthcare has not always been the most popular of career paths for young people. But business schools report fresh interest in master’s degrees in healthcare management, buoyed by an economic sector whose relevancy has been underscored by the Covid crisis.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to strengthen health systems, which have been in some countries, such as the US, pushed to breaking point. Academics say that managers will play a crucial role. “A new breed of professionals is needed who can envision the strategies necessary to deliver high quality care within an ever-changing health service environment,” says Sudi Lahiri, leader of the University of Warwick’s MSc in Healthcare Operational Management.
She says these experts must be able to develop and implement processes and plans that ensure effectiveness and efficiency. At the same time, they will have to communicate and engage with a diverse group of stakeholders to handle difficult workforce scenarios.
Healthcare MSc graduates are well-equipped for the mission ahead. Through gaining access to the workings of hospitals and other healthcare organizations, these programs tend to cover approaches for analyzing complex health systems, operational characteristics and service delivery structure, efficient use of data and information.
“Good quality data underpins the effective running of healthcare systems,” says Lahiri. “It can mean the difference between life or death, as evidenced by the Covid-19 crisis.”
Healthcare accounts for a large portion of many economies, so the job prospects are especially bright. The global healthcare industry is forecast to grow from $7.5 trillion today to $10 trillion by 2025. There are massive skills shortages in healthcare workforces across the world, especially in the area of management.
“Despite the uncertainty in the overall jobs market brought about by coronavirus, opportunities still abound in the healthcare sector,” says Benita Cox, academic director of the MSc International Health Management at Imperial College Business School.
The course combines in-depth understanding of health systems, the challenges they are facing and the management response.
Imperial’s most recent employment data show that 92 percent of those seeking found a job within three months of graduation. About 60 percent of these roles were in the UK, 20 percent in APAC and 10 percent in the rest of Europe with the remainder in the Americas.
Students go on to work for specialist consultancies, the UK’s National Health Service and pharma companies such as Novo Nordisk, Gilead and J&J. Others go to tech companies such as Amazon.
“Digitalization and medical technology are particular niche areas that our students are keen to explore,” says Cox. They can do that through Imperial’s Enterprise Lab, which brings together entrepreneurial students from across the many faculties at Imperial College London (which includes a leading medical school providing the latest knowledge).
Cox says the pandemic has propelled innovations that were previously seen as nice ideas but were too hard to implement into practice.
Her students, who come from diverse backgrounds, are driven to find solutions. For example, during the UK lockdown, students held two large-scale hackathons to find ideas for the Covid recovery challenge. “They see through the take-for-granted problems and question the status quo,” says Cox.
Over at the nearby City, University of London, many participants on the MSc Health Management wish to make a positive impact on society. “They are driven by a desire to help patients while learning to become effective leaders of their teams and make change,” says Greg Layther, program director.
MSc Health Management students include healthcare professionals and recent graduates coming from different backgrounds and countries around the world. They are passionate about their work and they want to improve their leadership and management skills to progress in their career and make a difference.
The curriculum emphasizes strategic management thinking, personal leadership, applied and agile problem solving. Students also get competitive internships, which equip them with real world experience and grant the opportunity to improve their CVs.
Many of these courses emphasize applied or practical learning. “Students are looking at real-world issues facing the health service from the outset,” says Warwick’s Lahiri. “This means that graduates are able to take what they have learnt in the classroom and apply it within a hospital team in order to improve outcomes.”
Her students gain access not just to hospitals such as University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, but to primary care and mental health services. Hospitals benefit by incorporating the tools and techniques from the course.
Like the others, Warwick’s program also fosters interdisciplinary skills and knowledge. “Instructors from diverse disciplines bring a multifaceted set of skills such as health sciences, industrial engineering, informatics, statistics, epidemiology, and health economics,” says Lahiri.
It is a recipe that works: one graduate of the MSc is minister of health in their country, another has just won a managerial post in medicine.