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Preparing the next leaders for the business of health

MBA Healthcare Conference Panel in Classroom UNC Kenan-Flagler

As the global community responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for effective leadership is clear.

“We’ve never needed healthcare leaders more. If we have a failure in healthcare, the social costs will be enormous and all areas of business will shut down. It’s the most important area of all,” says Doug Shackelford, dean of UNC Kenan-Flagler.

>> Learn more about the MBA Healthcare concentration

Preparing leaders for the business of health is a major pillar of the Business School, with strong academic programs and a strategic focus with the Center for the Business of Health.

For MBA students, UNC Kenan-Flagler has a long track record of graduates building successful careers in healthcare. The educational offerings have never been stronger, with 10 courses for MBA students in the healthcare concentration.

MBA Healthcare Student Giving Presentation UNC Kenan-FlaglerStudents can pursue dual-degree programs in health and business with UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and a joint MBA-MD with the UNC School of Medicine.

The interdisciplinary approach reflects the complexity of the healthcare ecosystem and the knowledge needed to lead in multiple settings. UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students pursue healthcare careers with providers, payers and firms in pharmaceutical and life sciences, technology and consulting.

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Business school professors are conducting research at the cutting edge of the industry with clinicians from across campus and corporate partners that informs their teaching and raises its relevance.

Professor Brad Staats with Healthcare Students at UNC Kenan-Flagler“Our programs have both breadth and depth,” says Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs and faculty director of the Center for the Business of Health. “You need to understand the whole healthcare value chain to lead transformation. You can’t be stuck in a silo.”

One example is a collaboration between business and medical academics with Sharecare, a digital health company. They’re looking into how digital interventions can encourage wellness. It’s early stage research but could make for a fascinating case study with obvious links to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prime location

Chapel Hill and the Triangle are remarkable settings for learning about and working in healthcare, with top-ranked UNC healthcare schools and programs.

“UNC has preeminent graduate and professional programs in the health sciences. We have those resources and that expertise at our fingertips,” says Zoey Kernodle, associate director of the Center for the Business of Health.

Students benefit from the Research Triangle, where UNC and other major research universities in the area fuel the innovation and make for a vital business environment of global corporations, startups and midsized firms in biotech and life sciences, cleantech and pharma.

Professor Marcus Saba with Healthcare Students at UNC Kenan-Flagler“We have deep, multi-faceted relationships with these firms,” says Markus Saba (MBA ’93), executive director of the Center for the Business of Health and professor of the practice of marketing. “They hire our students, share their expertise as career mentors, speak in classes and at conferences, participate in case competitions and career clubs, and partner on STAR consulting projects.”

Students also have access to a robust alumni community in the Triangle and around the U.S. who are leaders in healthcare. “They are always willing to engage with students, come to campus or provide mentorship,” says Kernodle. All of this makes for a powerful network of businesses, large and small, that track with students’ career interests.

Career opportunities

In the MBA concentration’s early days, it focused on pharmaceuticals, which reflected the sector that was the primary destination of UNC Kenan-Flagler graduates. Hiring in pharma remains rock solid, but other parts of the health sector now recognize the value of an MBA.

Insurers like UnitedHealth, Humana and Blue Cross NC are employing graduates with skills in strategy, finance, marketing and operations. These companies are only a few examples of industry leaders seeking MBA graduates with high-value skills and a strong knowledge of healthcare.

Life sciences is another big area of employment. Adam Mushnick (MBA ’20) spent the summer of 2019 working in the finance department of the biotechnology business Genentech in Silicon Valley.

“A growing number of students show up without a career plan and then get excited by healthcare, in part because of the success of recent graduates getting hired by top employers.”

The change in employment patterns has driven a shift in teaching in the MBA Program, with modules added on health insurance and entrepreneurship. Some grads have launched their own healthcare startups.

Experiential learning has further evolved to account for the growing number of employment destinations. The flagship consulting program, STAR, has added numerous healthcare-specific projects. For the Sharecare project, students modeled the financial implications of health behaviors, such as how much an employee who smokes costs their employer. “STAR projects enable students to think about how to apply the knowledge in practice,” says Kernodle.

There are overseas opportunities, too. For a Global Immersion Elective, students visited China and Japan to learn about their health systems.

Career prospects are bright, Staats says, because of a growing recognition that strong leadership is necessary to curb healthcare spending in the U.S., which surged by nearly $1 trillion between 1996 and 2015. It’s expected to rise higher and reach nearly a fifth of U.S. GDP by 2027.

“How can we deliver great care but do it in a way that is more affordable?” says Staats. “Employers come to UNC Kenan-Flagler because we have strong leaders who can solve these problems. They have deep healthcare and business expertise and they are purpose-driven – passionate about improving patient care.”

With such prospects, the MBA concentration attracts students from a wide array of backgrounds, not just those with medical experience.

“A growing number of students show up without a career plan and then get excited by healthcare, in part because of the success of recent graduates getting hired by top employers,” says Staats. “I think Covid-19 will only serve to accelerate uptake.”

Diversifying leadership

Recruiting and developing more women leaders is a focus area in healthcare at UNC Kenan-Flagler. While certain aspects of the healthcare industry are led by women, relatively few women break the glass ceiling and ascend to senior leadership roles at major healthcare companies.

Women account for about 80% of the U.S. healthcare workforce, but represent a small percentage of senior leadership roles. UNC Kenan-Flagler has a moral responsibility to train leaders and help diversify the management ranks across the industry, says Staats.

A majority of the MBA concentration is made up of women, many of whom have run the MBA Healthcare Club, which is one of the largest student-led group at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

MBA Healthcare Conference Students sitting in Lecture at UNC Kenan-FlaglerIn partnership with the Center for the Business of Health, the Healthcare Club helps organize the annual UNC Business of Healthcare Conference, speaker series, a national-level case competition, and facilitates networking opportunities.

The Healthcare Club also created a summer boot camp — a primer for students new to healthcare and a refresher course for those with industry expertise.

“The students help shape our programming,” says Kernodle. “The big selling point is that we are building a community focused on the business of health. It’s fun and gratifying to know we are having a significant impact.”