Paving a path to the C-suite
Collaboration, communication key to preparing future healthcare execs
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.