Over the last twenty years, managers across all sectors have navigated seismic technological, social, and financial transformations. For healthcare managers, steering a way through these changes is a core part of their job description.
According to Associate Professor John Rasa, Immediate Past-President and current Chief Examiner (International) of the Australasian College of Health Service Management and Deakin University lecturer, today’s health care managers need to understand the forces shaping our world – regardless of whether they are working in a busy metropolitan hospital or in a rural community health clinic.
Associate Professor John Rasa
Rasa says a range of factors have added depth and complexity to the role of health care manager in the 21st century.
“The aging population, technological advances (everything from AI to health informatics), customised medicine, privacy requirements, data sharing, and increased focus on prevention and early intervention, are just some of the issues that have complicated how healthcare organisations are run.” Assoc. Prof. Rasa says.
Managers need to be strategic and across the big-picture issues more than ever before. Add to these factors the growing – and unsustainable – pressures on funding, and it becomes clear how important, and challenging, health care management roles have become.
Assoc. Prof. Rasa, who has played a key role on the Advisory Committee of Deakin University’s Master of Business Administration (Healthcare Management), says the the unique challenges facing health care managers means that standard financial knowledge is not enough.
“Healthcare managers need financial knowledge that is specifically related to the healthcare system maze and the variety of financing models that shape it,” he says. “Funding hospitals, and health services more broadly, is very complex. There is the to and fro between state and commonwealth – a well-known ‘blame game’ that goes on – and then within services there is always a tension about how they should run because there is not enough money to go around to meet significant demand."
These challenges mean that managers are on the spot when it comes to resourcing care delivery in a budget-constrained environment. Assoc. Prof Rasa explains, “Healthcare managers today need a very good understanding of where the money is coming from… And they have to know how to put a budget together and explain variations. Then, they need to be able to develop effective business cases as well."
“In the Deakin MBA (Health Management) course we teach students about business cases and how you need to have a good economic argument and understand the problem you are trying to solve. You need to be able to generate a series of options and communicate why one is better than other. How much do the various options cost? What is cost benefit of doing this versus that? How will it solve the problem and what is necessary to deliver it?”
Along with sound financial knowledge and a good grasp of the different funding streams, today’s health care managers need high-level communication skills, and other “soft skills” vital to creating functional and healthy workplace cultures and all important multi-disciplinary teamwork.
Assoc. Prof. Rasa says Deakin’s MBA (Healthcare Management) has been deliberately designed to cut across the breadth of skills and knowledge needed by today’s healthcare managers. There is an equal emphasis on health policy, and business-related units, including subjects focused on human resources, health informatics and even healthcare operations and clinical governance.
The course, which is accredited by the Australasian College of Health Service Management and recognised by the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators for Fellowship training, is “very hands on and practical”, he says.
“Students get to do placements in hospitals, under the supervision of senior managers, and there are opportunities to participate in conferences and forums.”
The course is aimed at those currently working in medical management or administration within a health care setting (those who have ‘fallen’ into roles or those aspiring to move into them) but is also open to those with non-healthcare backgrounds.