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We are moving into an era of extraordinary change.

Healthcare will change because government can no longer afford some of its signature programs including Medicare and Medicaid, and because the quality of care and the level of patient safety too often do not match the price we pay.

As this era of change accelerates, we need to think about the role that graduate education will play in solving some of the challenges we face, specifically how we educate physicians, nurses and other clinicians as well as healthcare leaders.

A CMO candidate who practiced law for more than 15 years described medical school as a place where bad practices and inappropriate attitudes are handed down from generation to generation. “We will never have meaningful and sustainable improvement in the quality until we make changes in how we educate and train young physicians.” Tough talk, but there is increasing evidence that he may be on to something. I will leave that judgment to physicians and physician educators to tackle that thorny issue.

Graduate business programs, including those in healthcare, are also coming under increased scrutiny because they tend to focus on teaching people the hard skills of finance and management practices and less about people skills – leadership, the art and ability of negotiation, or the mindset for innovation. So says Jay Bhatti, a Wharton MBA, who was interviewed by John Hockenberry of NPR’s The Takeway. Mr. Bhatti focused on MBA programs and how they are turning out thousands of students, many loaded with mountains of debt only to struggle to find jobs. “We have a proliferation of graduate education programs and a job market that has shrunk,” he said. The theme of the show was the declining value of the MBA.

In the 1950s and 60s, said Mr. Bhatti, the Fords, McKinseys and Goldman Sachs of the world complained that college undergraduates were not adequately prepared in the field of business management, that it took too long to bring those students up to speed. So began the popularity of graduate management programs. “MBA programs have done a good job of this for 50 years,” Mr. Bhatti said, but the game is changing. He believes that MBA programs must reinvent themselves to prepare students for tomorrow’s changing world. Of course, these MBA programs are still hugely popular amongst aspiring business people, so lots of people are still trying to get a place at one of the best colleges for business in PA, for example. This sets them up for a successful business career.

This brings me back to the changing world of healthcare management. There has been a proliferation in healthcare graduate education programs as well, and based on my interactions with students from several schools across the U.S., we will face a critical skill shortfall over the next 10 years. They know the theory of managing hospitals based on a knowledge base that is rapidly becoming outdated. All of this is happening at a time when fewer and fewer health systems offer administrative residencies or fellowships.

In healthcare, like general business, there are more graduates than jobs and many of these indebted students are not prepared for healthcare’s changing world.

This imbalance between curriculum and change, together with a surplus of students from healthcare management programs, will pose some extraordinary career management challenges in the not too distant future.

2012 John Gregory Self