New healthcare management major offered at Olin Business School

Business and medical faculty collaborate on effort

Healthcare is not only one of the hot-button issues of the 2008 presidential election, it’s also one of the fastest growing industries in the country and has the most demand for professionals qualified to take on its unique challenges. Washington University in St. Louis has turned to the strengths of its medical and business schools to fill that need.

The Olin Business School now offers a major in healthcare management. Although other universities may offer similar degrees, Olin’s healthcare management major is a true collaboration between faculty members at the business and medical schools. Professors from both schools will teach courses, and students will develop a strong grounding in all business aspects of the healthcare industry as well as in the science behind medicine.

“Several of our faculty members have established an expertise in the healthcare industry,” said Mahendra Gupta, Ph.D., dean of the Olin Business School. “This program allows the university to marry the strength of Olin’s faculty with WUSTL’s outstanding medical school.”

The program is open to both business and non-business students who can choose to major or minor in healthcare management. The primary difference between the two options is that students who major in the subject will conduct individual research in healthcare management issues under the guidance of a faculty member. The research project is optional for those who chose to minor.

Barton Hamilton, Ph.D., developed the degree program with medical school faculty member Bruce Hall M.D., MBA, Ph.D. Hamilton said the creation of the degree option came about from the demand of the students and the marketplace.

“Healthcare is certainly one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and everyone is touched by it,” said Hamilton, the Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship. “It’s not like other industries, either. The institutions are so complex that you can’t necessarily figure out what’s going on without an understanding of all the different constituents. There are hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the government, which means that there is politics involved. It’s Byzantine.

“We designed this program so that a course called Olin Grand Rounds is at its core. This class introduces students to the intersection of business and medicine. In addition to case studies, we have clinicians and business people come into class to talk about the issues they face,” Hamilton said.

On top of that core class, students add courses in healthcare economics and policy, healthcare management and at least one other course in biomedical engineering, biology or anthropology.

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from having the healthcare management major option. Hall notes that St. Louis’s medical sector can find value in the coursework and the program’s graduates.

“Healthcare companies are under a lot of fiscal pressure to perform. Our program will produce smart people who have been trained to think critically in approaching problems and who have a strong understanding of both the science and business ends of the industry,” Hall said.

Jeff Cannon, associate dean and director of Olin’s undergraduate programs, said he anticipates the new major will be a popular choice for WUSTL students. He said that enrollment in Olin Grand Rounds, which the school has offered the past two years, has included as many as 50 students. Cannon said that it would not take long for students to realize the value of studying with top business school and medical school faculty.