By Kathryn McNutt
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
The recovery plan for the ailing Oklahoma Health Department includes a strong dose of good business practices.
Failure to operate the agency as a sustainable business led to a financial crisis that was revealed last fall and required an emergency infusion of $30 million.
The department’s Corrective Action Report suggests the state health commissioner be required to have business-related qualifications, not just medical or health services experience.
Steven Agee, dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, couldn’t agree more.
“I think everyone who runs a department or agency that has a state budget should have some background or training in business management,” Agee said.
That goes for every agency, he said, from the Department of Wildlife Conservation to the Health Department.
Doctors are smart people, but they don’t learn financial management principles or organizational strategy in medical school.
Now 21 medical doctors are learning those skills and more through a new business school graduate program that allows them to earn a master certificate in health care practice management, Agee said.
The doctors are among the initial group of 23 health professionals enrolled in the one-year online program that was developed in partnership with the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
“We saw this need in the medical community several years ago and worked directly with the OSMA to bring business management education to its members,” Agee said.
OCU already was offering business management education to other professionals, like petroleum engineers and lawyers.
Good business management applies to industries across the board, Agee said.
The health care practice management program would help state Health Department executives keep their budget in line with state allocations and can help individual doctors make sure their practice is running efficiently from a financial perspective, Agee said.
“It’s not just business. It’s their lives, and how their lives might be affected by business,” he said.
Health care professionals who complete the 15-credit-hour program can go on to earn a Master of Business Administration at OCU with only 21 additional hours of graduate-level business instruction.
“They’re almost halfway to an MBA,” Agee said.
The University of Oklahoma also launched a new graduate health care administration certificate program this fall as a collaboration between the Price College of Business and the College of Public Health.
Both colleges recognize the importance of strategically combining business and health care education, because of the industry’s fast-moving needs and ever-changing “rules of the game,” OU business Dean Daniel Pullin said.
“It’s critical. The health care system certainly has become much more complicated over time,” Pullin said. “It’s rapidly becoming the largest industry in our state.”
Topics covered in the program include health care operations, financing and governance, health care legislation and challenges facing the industry today.
MBA students positioning themselves to be leaders in the industry can earn both an MBA and the graduate certificate in health care administration in the same number of hours by using their electives for that purpose, Pullin said.
Four MBA students are on that path now and 10 more plan to apply this year. An additional 42 MBA students are enrolled in some health care-related classes.
Undergraduate students majoring in everything from accounting to marketing can now minor in the business of health care.
The certification program is flexible to allow students to follow multiple pathways in the industry and to prepare them “to tackle what is an enormous business challenge, Pullin said.
The MBA students have internship opportunities on the OU Health Sciences Center campus, where some are working with the provost, Dr. Jason Sanders, on strategic planning for the new OU Medicine Inc.
“We want our students to be able to apply the concepts they are learning in class and see they can build a great career in Oklahoma,” Pullin said.
“It’s a great example of how higher education is increasingly designing and delivering programs that meet the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace.”
Oklahoma State University offers various programs that combine medicine and business administration, said Ramesh Sharda, vice dean for research and graduate programs at OSU’s Spears School of Business.
People who run health care operations “clearly need to be aware of the business side as well,” Sharda said.
OSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine offers dual degree options that allow medical students to earn a master of health care administration degree in one year before entering medical school or an MBA through the business school in a single year.
Sharda said OSU’s online MBA program has been around for 30 years and is ranked No. 1 in the Big 12.
“It’s a very strong, very well-run program,” he said.
In addition to DOs, the program has long served MDs who want to move from clinical care to administrative positions, Sharda said.
There is even greater demand from dentists, who more often run their own business, he said.
OSU also offers graduate certificates in health care administration and in health analytics. The latter is beneficial to health care operations in areas such as insurance and financial issues.
The former is designed to help students “get a career started in health care administration, which is very much a growing area,” Sharda said.
Such microcredentials — certification for a particular job — are becoming popular nationwide, he said.
Students who earn the credential and go to work full time, then have the option to continue their education and earn an MBA online, he said.