Michigan State University’s newest master’s program started not with an idea, but with a question.

“It all began with trying to think about, what are society’s biggest challenges? Especially from the perspective of, where can folks in business actually offer a solution? And it seems pretty clear to most people that if you were to ask them a list of the top three to five challenges, the healthcare sector definitely would be included,” said Sanjay Gupta, dean of the Eli Broad College of Business at MSU.

bedFrom the concept to the presentation to the details, the creation of the Broad College master of science in healthcare management program – slated to begin classes in the spring of 2019, and designed to ground medical professionals in the unique challenges and opportunities in the business of healthcare – started with the input of real-world professionals who would both utilize the program and benefit from it.

“We’ve always had theoretical research and applied research. Clearly, the theoretical must continue,” said Michael Rip, founding director of the MS in Healthcare Management. “But at the same time, the universities have been slow, especially in the late 20th century, to embrace industry, to embrace society and communities, to actually reach out and go there and say, ‘how can we help improve your condition?’”

“Instead of just wanting people to come to us, the universities and applied scientists need to go out and say to industry, ‘how can we help you be better? Make better products? Reach better people? Lower prices? Be more efficient?’” Rip said.

The new program is one of two recent Broad College examples of partnerships where the college worked to create academic programs to solve industry problems. The other is a master of science in management studies, aimed at non-business professionals in STEM fields who possess a desire for innovation and career advancement, which begins classes in the summer of 2019.

“I hear of IBM having worked with MSU. I know a lot of researchers have a lot of linkage with corporate America and the defense industry. But I don’t know to what extent they’ve tailored specific academic or intellectual products for them” before now, said Rip.

What you know < how you share it

It’s also important for academia to emphasize its societal role as a resource for solutions, and in doing so fortify its credibility in an era where knowledge and experts face a populist backlash.

“The key insight to the 21st century is not what you know; it’s how you know it, and how you communicate it, and how you actually apply it,” Rip said. “There’s tremendous amounts of knowledge that we can get online quickly. All our peer review journals are online. You don’t have to go to a library to get it.”

hospital“One of the challenges to universities in any tertiary institution is how we communicate this knowledge into society. How do we get people to move away from being scared of vaccines and to actually improve the human condition?” Rip said. “How do we communicate this knowledge effectively so people can trust it and … be able to use it effectively?”

The master’s in healthcare management “is a highly applied degree. This is not a theoretical endeavor. We want people to get skills where they can hit the ground running,” said Rip. “We definitely need to know and have guidance from professionals and the industry … we want to make sure we are meeting the demands of that.”

“What I’ve been told already is that one of the problems that many hospital executives are having is that they are receiving MBAs who are clinically trained but they can’t hit the ground running. They don’t know enough about the business of healthcare,” Rip said. “The business leaders told me the more we can turn out really competent, business-orientated people, the better – (people) who understand the healthcare space. That’s where I think there’s a nice interaction that they’re guiding us and we’re producing what they want.”

‘Sage experience from the trenches’

Rip came to the Broad College from MSU’s College of Human Medicine, and he has also served on the board of a mid-Michigan medical center. “I’ve had lots of contact with hospital people and clinicians and people who are in executive positions in hospitals already. That was a very good sounding board,” Rip said. “They all indicated a need, particularly for online (programs) and easy access for their people. Many of these mid-career professionals cannot take two years off and just go and do a degree.”

“Also, in the last year I’ve gone around and made contact with the leading executives – typically CEOs – of most of the major hospitals in mid- to south Michigan, including the Michigan Health & Hospital Association and so forth,” Rip said. “In collaboration with Dean Gupta, we’ve put together a list of 10 or 11 leading people we would want to be on our initial industry advisory board … those people have all agreed and are excited to participate in helping us develop the degree. They will be contributing very sage experience from the trenches, from the front lines of actually running major hospitals and knowing what personnel they need and so forth.”

Dean Sanjay Gupta

Dean Sanjay Gupta

“When it came to selecting concentrations, for example, we were advised to look at compliance. Most hospitals have very poor access to talent in the compliance/regulation area,” Rip said. “As healthcare becomes more expensive and complex, the federal government and state regulators are really exercising a lot of control to maintain compliance and regulation, to get the safety records, to get the outcomes we want, and obviously make sure that hospitals are run at a top-notch level.”

The Broad College took its cues not just from external industry partners, but based also on the priorities of its campus peers.

“At MSU we are beginning to put a lot of emphasis around healthcare as an area we are going to invest deeply in,” Gupta said. “Whether it was the healthcare colleges, whether it was the College of Nursing, whether it was other things even in engineering and the biosciences, the hiring that we were doing, the research focus that was around this healthcare sector.”

“That further spurred my interest in saying, this would be something that would align really well” with broader missions at MSU, Gupta said.

“Even though we are trying to tackle the business problems, we need to make this multidisciplinary, and therefore, we have to bring people outside of business into this program, so we are working with the medical college, the law school, the nursing school, the various other folks around campus to help us deliver this kind of program, as well as people from industry,” Gupta said.

Practical and singular

What Gupta didn’t want was for the new program to be “just one more cog in the wheel” – it should be “a valuable contribution, not just a copycat kind of thing,” he said.

In developing this MSU program, Gupta said Broad College leaders researched other such existing programs and found many rooted in public health and administration, which were more focused on operational and regulatory issues, rather than business issues unique to healthcare.

“We ought to have a program that is really focused around the business issues of healthcare … not a program in healthcare administration. Not a program in public health. There are plenty of those,” Gupta said. “We are going to focus on healthcare management, such that the business aspects of it get addressed.”

That quest for practical singularity also led to the decision that the program be fully online, something many public health administration programs are not. To that end, the Broad College is partnering with Bisk Education, a Tampa, Fla.-based distance learning provider, to help design and manage the program.

The reasoning for an all-online program was so it could be user-friendly to mid-career professionals who were identified as the segment that would most benefit from such a program.

“Those people are scattered all over and they might be working at a hospital, they might be working in an HMO. They might be working at an insurance company. It’s going to be difficult for them to take 10 months off. It should be online,” Gupta said.  “So it’s a healthcare management program that is fully online. That is distinctive.”