Paving a path to the C-suite

Col­lab­o­ra­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion key to pre­par­ing fu­ture health­care ex­ecs

Modern Healthcare - - OPINIONS COMMENTARY - Stephen Loebs

The ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing of fu­ture health­care ex­ec­u­tives are at a cross­roads: 1) Lead­ing prac­ti­tion­ers ad­vo­cate for new di­rec­tions in ed­u­ca­tion but a de­clin­ing num­ber are will­ing to serve as men­tors for new grad­u­ates; 2) An in­creas­ing num­ber of grad­u­ate pro­grams in health ad­min­is­tra­tion are not ac­cred­ited by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment agency rec­og­nized for this pur­pose, which raises doubts about the po­tency of na­tional ac­cred­i­ta­tion; 3) About 25% of grad­u­ates from ac­cred­ited mas­ter’s pro­grams do not have en­try-level po­si­tions within three months of grad­u­a­tion; and 4) Univer­sity fac­ulty do not agree on the ap­pro­pri­ate model and con­tent for their cur­ricu­lums. These are the sig­nif­i­cant is­sues at the cross­roads. Their res­o­lu­tion will have a huge im­pact on the com­pe­tency and sup­ply of skilled health­care ex­ec­u­tives in the fu­ture.

For many of the stake­hold­ers, the op­tions for the fu­ture are con­fus­ing and con­flict­ing. They cer­tainly are chal­leng­ing for tra­di­tional ca­reer paths in health­care man­age­ment. These ob­ser­va­tions are in­cluded in a Re­port on Grad­u­ate Health Man­age­ment Ed­u­ca­tion 2001-2011 and Rec­om­men­da­tions for Im­prove­ment. The re­port was com­mis­sioned by the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health­care Lead­er­ship to doc­u­ment de­vel­op­ments and emerg­ing is­sues in grad­u­ate health man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion since a Na­tional Sum­mit in 2001.

Key ques­tions emerge from in­ter­views and pub­lished re­ports. What should be the ap­pro­pri­ate ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing for as­pir­ing health­care ex­ec­u­tives? What should they be able to do? How do po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers know their new re­cruits are com­pe­tent? How can com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween prac­ti­tion­ers and fac­ulty be im­proved? These ques­tions need to be an­swered to pre­pare ca­reerists for ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship in health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions.

There are two com­pet­ing per­spec­tives at the cross­roads for ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. There is the tra­di­tional and well-known path­way to se­nior-level ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions by a univer­sity-based, two-year ac­cred­ited mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gram in health ad­min­is­tra­tion. It has a 67-year his­tory and, for some, ap­pears ro­bust. For ex­am­ple, ap­pli­ca­tions for ad­mis­sion to these grad­u­ate pro­grams are in­creas­ing and ac­cred­i­ta­tion stan­dards are chang­ing. The stan­dard re­frain of this per­spec­tive has been to change very grad­u­ally, en­cour­age in­no­va­tion and as­sume po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers of grad­u­ates

The com­pe­ten­cies of tra­di­tional grad­u­ates from ac­cred­ited pro­grams should be trans­par­ent.

will be strong part­ners. It has worked for a long time. Why change?

The sec­ond per­spec­tive has doubts about the sta­tus quo and ad­vo­cates a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. More at­ten­tion to the needs of the mar­ket­place and more lis­ten­ing to prac­ti­tion­ers heads the list. Trans­parency in out­comes of the grad­u­ate ex­pe­ri­ence will im­prove vis­i­bil­ity and con­fi­dence among po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers. Uni­ver­si­ties are typ­i­cally re­sis­tant to this ap­proach.

More op­tions for women and men to ob­tain cre­den­tials, in­clud­ing un­der­grad­u­ate ma­jors in health ad­min­is­tra­tion and clin­i­cal po­si­tions, pro­vide em­ploy­ers with more choice in re­cruit­ing. They ap­pear to look fa­vor­ably on these and other op­tions. A ma­jor com­mit­ment is needed from na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and se­nior ex­ec­u­tives to in­crease the num­ber of fel­low­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties and im­prove the to­tal process of se­lec­tion. More in­for­ma­tion on the con­tents of a fel­low­ship ex­pe­ri­ence is also needed. The op­por­tu­ni­ties for post-grad­u­ate train­ing are limited and this is an Achilles’ heel.

Fur­ther, there are an in­creas­ing num­ber of In­ter­net-based and long-dis­tance grad­u­ate pro­grams emerg­ing across the na­tion with no ac­cred­i­ta­tion and no cur­rent trans­parency. No one knows much about them, but they ap­pear to be at­tract­ing stu­dents and they are ag­gres­sive pro­mot­ers of their brand. These pro­grams have cho­sen to ig­nore the usual way to vol­un­tar­ily demon­strate and pub­li­cize ad­her­ence to na­tional stan­dards es­tab­lished by the Com­mis­sion on Ac­cred­i­ta­tion of Health Man­age­ment Ed­u­ca­tion. Stu­dents and po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers may not be aware of this dif­fer­ence. They may not care. They are di­rect com­peti­tors to the sta­tus quo. Much more in­for­ma­tion in the public do­main would be healthy for all.

The com­pe­ten­cies of tra­di­tional grad­u­ates from ac­cred­ited pro­grams should be trans­par­ent. They are mostly un­known out­side of academe, although the cur­rent group of ac­cred­ited grad­u­ate pro­grams are chang­ing their cur­ricu­lums to be more com­pe­tency and ev­i­dence-based driven. To the out­sider, though, there can be con­fu­sion about these com­pe­ten­cies. There are nine com­pe­tency mod­els em­ployed by the ac­cred­ited grad­u­ate pro­grams. These vari­a­tions are the prod­uct of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and pref­er­ences among sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties, as well as some his­toric con­tentious­ness among these par­tic­i­pants. A peace treaty of some type is fun­da­men­tal so that un­nec­es­sary du­pli­ca­tion and con­fu­sion can be elim­i­nated.

The re­port con­cludes that the Na­tional Sum­mit in 2001 was a cat­a­lyst for much needed change but there are more se­ri­ous chal­lenges for ed­u­ca­tors and prac­ti­tion­ers than in the past. The tra­di­tional path­way to the C-suite and other lead­er­ship roles may lose its com­pet­i­tive edge. More col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween aca­demic lead­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers must im­prove. Care­ful lis­ten­ing and more part­ner­ships is a pre­scrip­tion that should be con­tin­u­ally filled. Na­tional lead­ers are en­cour­aged to be in­volved in the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing of health­care ex­ec­u­tives to ad­dress the key ques­tions. If not, the prepa­ra­tion of fu­ture health­care ex­ec­u­tives may be more con­fus­ing and less re­spon­sive to the needs of the na­tion’s health­care sys­tem.

Stephen Loebs is Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Health Man­age­ment and Pol­icy at the Col­lege of Public Health at Ohio State Univer­sity

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