Despite the sluggish economy and rising unemployment, a growing number of health care professionals are headed back to school to get an MBA and increase their value in the job market.
A recent survey by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education showed an 18 percent increase in applications to graduate programs across the country for 2009-2010. More than 5,500 applications were submitted to the commission’s 83 accredited programs in 72 colleges and universities, and close to 2,100 were new students. The health care workers who signed up for MBA programs are from organizations such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, consulting firms, health insurers, government agencies and pharmaceutical firms. Doctors, nurses and health care specialists are also going back to school for their MBAs.
“We encourage all physicians to go back to school and get an MBA,” says Amanda Weaver, executive director of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. “They need the education as a survival mechanism because of the managed-care environment and the reduction in Medicare fees. In the 1980s and 1990s, doctors did well in business. Now it takes a concerted effort.”
Marjorie Baldwin, director of Arizona State University’s School of Health Management and Policy in the W.P. Carey School of Business, said about 60 percent of students in the MHMS program at W. P. Carey are health professionals seeking to move into leadership positions; the remaining 40 percent have other backgrounds, but want to move into the health care field.
“Health care is a growing sector with opportunities for leadership and many people know that,” Baldwin says. “MBAs bring a lot to the table like knowledge of accounting and financial practices. They also think analytically about the way health care is provided and the way resources are utilized. They understand strategy, how to lead an organization and how to communicate with various constituencies. They bring a keen interest to the core product of the health care industry, which is patient care.”
The health care industry will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs between 2006 and 2016, more than any other industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care continued to add jobs in February, with a gain of 27,000. Job growth occurred in ambulatory health care and in hospitals.
The W.P. Carey School of Business graduates more than 1,000 MBAs annually. It offers two MBA health options: an MBA with a specialization in health care and a concurrent degree MBA/MHSM (Master of Health Sector Management). The MHSM also is offered as a stand-alone degree. The W.P. Carey MHSM is the only accredited program in health management in Arizona. Tuition for the MBA programs is roughly $35,000 for two years, but there is a payoff.
A survey conducted by ASU alumni in 2006 showed that 100 percent of MBA graduates landed a job within three months. The starting salary for MBA graduates is approximately $80,000 per year.
“There are many complexities and differences between the health care and business sectors,” Baldwin says. “Our students at ASU take economics with an MBA business core. Economics is built around supply, demand and competition. But health care doesn’t work that way. We don’t decide what we’re going to buy and sell. Health care providers decide what we need. We also don’t pay for it, the insurer does. People going into the health care industry need to understand this.”
Michael Abeles of Banner Estrella Hospital earned his MBA in 2005 from the University of Phoenix. He left the trucking industry to go back to school and now works alongside senior leadership at the hospital on employee development, talent mapping and employee relations.
“In today’s market a bachelor’s degree helps you get ahead, but it’s the MBA that provides you with better opportunities,” he says. “Companies need well-rounded leaders that can read and understand financial statements, work force planning and legal risks. So going back to school and increasing your education can only help your journey and assist you in becoming more competitive in the job market.”
Paul Binsfeld, founder and CEO of Company Nurse, worked for years before going back to college for his MBA. As a result, he was able to share practical business experiences with classmates and learn from them.
“I acquired a wealth of business information when I went back to school for my MBA and it gave me enough confidence to start my business,” he says. “It also permitted me to raise funds, tackle administrative and hiring issues, market my business and assess my capital needs. And I’ve been building my business, clientele and success ever since.”
Binsfeld started Company Nurse in 1997. The Scottsdale-based firm provides nurse medical triage and injury-management programs for thousands of employers across the country. Company Nurse has grown 400 percent in the last four years. Starting this year, growth will be 20 to 30 percent annually, Binsfeld says.
“Health care spending is not going down and there are lots of inefficiencies in the delivery of health care in this country, so everyone from physicians to administrators to nurses could benefit from more business acumen,” he says. “With an emphasis on cost savings and efficiencies today, an MBA is a logical step.”