Training leaders for the health and life science sectors



Consider the following: In 2011, the number of uninsured Americans exceeded 50 million. And on a global level, millions more lacked access to basic health care. In 2002, over 11 million people died of infectious diseases according to the World Health Organization. This included over 5 million children that died of mostly preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and measles. Improving access to health care is critical. 

However, even as the need for access to health care has increased, the cost of care has soared. Many employers are finding it difficult to provide insurance benefits to employees as health insurance premiums rise. Escalating insurance costs are frequently passed on to employees. Often, coverage is reduced. 

The national healthcare reform act was recently passed to address some of these concerns. While many of the details have yet to be resolved, there is a growing consensus that some type of significant and positive solution to these issues is essential.

To address these issues, leaders must learn to adapt to a changing landscape. As we know from Leadership on the Line (Heifitz and Linsky, 2002), while leaders can apply current know-how to address technical problems, adaptive challenges require learning new approaches. In the case of health care: How do you mobilize people to deliver health care to more people at a lower cost? This is the job of the leader. At a time when the challenges of leadership couldn’t be greater, health and life science professionals are often put into leadership positions with little or no leadership training or business education. 

One pressure driving change in this sector is projected growth. The health sector currently represents a $2 trillion industry, and it continues to grow. At the height of the recession in 2008, the health care industry added nearly 400,000 jobs nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Twenty-six percent of new jobs in the U.S. in the next seven years will come from this sector. How will leaders in this sector respond to the challenges of reducing cost and improving profitability while increasing access?

In response to these challenges the Albers School of Business and Economics has launched a new degree program: the Health Leadership Executive MBA. Managers and other leaders are drawn from this diverse sector for the program. The curriculum includes classes dedicated to the specialized concerns of this industry. Roughly half the coursework and/or assignments allow participants to focus on the health sector in classes reserved exclusively for them. The remainder of the curriculum immerses health sector participants with those participants from the general business community enrolled in our Leadership EMBA program. There, they master broad knowledge of business and learn best practices from other industries. 

Seattle has a very dynamic health sector with such strategic institutions as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and PATH. Health sciences, biotechnology and research are advanced by Amgen, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and Seattle Genetics, as well as smaller firms. 

We also have a wide variety of health care and delivery organizations in the area including Swedish, Virginia Mason, Providence and Overlake, and key insurance providers such as Group Health Association, Premera and Delta Dental.  Finally, there are several medical equipment manufacturers in the area: Philips Healthcare, Sonosite and Physio-Control. 

The richness of this community is a key asset to our region. Together we have the potential to come up with new approaches to health care delivery that will address both the challenges of access and cost, ultimately bringing about positive organizational impact and change.