Enter the Health-Care MBA

Why in the world did Sostena Romano need another degree, especially when that degree was an MBA?

As a nurse-practitioner and clinical director for a pediatric AIDS program at a major hospital, she already had four years of undergraduate and three of graduate work behind her. Yet she decided to commit two years and $120,000 to embark upon Yale’s MBA for Executives: Leadership in Healthcare program.

“I saw there were fewer children in the U.S. that were infected with HIV AIDS, and I wanted to go to Africa,” says Romano, who finished the MBA in 2007. “To do that, I had to come to terms with the fact that global health care is an industry.”

The health-care-focused MBA enabled her to win a position with the Clinton Foundation, where she implemented a program to prevent HIV AIDS from spreading from mothers to children in African and Asian countries. “At the Clinton Foundation, the majority of people have business backgrounds,” Romano says. “Without the operations and accounting courses, it would have been a much steeper climb to convince them I had the credentials for this position. It gave me the confidence to have the conversation at the table.”


Romano is one of a growing number of medical professionals who recognize that broadening a career in a field poised to undergo sweeping and complicated reforms –as provisions of the Affordable Care Act are rolled out between now and 2014–requires skills only a health-care-focused MBA program such as Yale’s can provide.

Summing up the concept behind these relatively new MBA programs isn’t exactly uncomplicated either, but the primary distinction is their concentration on delivering health care to patients rather than serving as a supplier to health-care organizations and professionals.

“One student described the program as the ‘content of an MBA through the lens of health care,’” says Katherine Milligan, a director of the Master of Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS), a program jointly taught by the Dartmouth Institute (the public health arm of the Geisel Medical School) and Tuck School of Business. “For example, the pharmaceutical industry is an important focus of a [conventional] MBA. With the health-care MBA, it’s the hospitals and the health systems and other providers of health care.”


The Tuck program also emphasizes the behavioral aspects of health. “Ninety percent of health is not what happens inside hospitals,” says Milligan. “The students need to understand the importance of things like the availability of walking paths and healthful, inexpensive food for patients.”

Health-care MBA programs also strive to establish understanding among the various deliverers of care. “Health care is unique in that there’s almost no cross-talk between the subindustries,” says Howard Forman, M.D., professor of management at Yale and director of its health care MBA program. “We offer very specialized classes where students hear from dozens of leaders who are visionaries in their fields. No longer can managed care people blame physicians and physicians bash managed care and pharmas. It’s not so easy to bash people once you’ve met them.”

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