The Future of Healthcare: What the Next Generation of Leaders Needs

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“What we really need is a generation of leaders who can look at the challenges and complexities of our healthcare system with a holistic viewpoint,” says Dr. Matt Willis, MD.

With experience as a physician and epidemiologist, Dr. Willis has developed a nuanced understanding of public health over the years, working both in our local community and across the country. Today, as the public health officer for Marin County, he continues to collaborate locally and nationally around healthcare issues. He has a strong understanding of the challenges and needs for the upcoming leaders in his field.

Helping to shape that next generation, Willis and his team at Marin Health & Human Services have developed longstanding relationships at Dominican University of California, where they teach lectures in epidemiology, global health, and public health. As Dominican launches a new graduate program in Healthcare Leadership, Willis is excited by the opportunity to develop new leaders to address current and future challenges in the field.

“In today’s healthcare system, the challenges are really systemic. The determinants of health go far beyond what happens in the doctor’s office,” says Willis.

Access to healthcare is affected by income inequality, education, housing, and transportation – factors that are far outside the reach of traditional direct health services. “This is a complex problem that won’t be solved by just working harder in healthcare. It requires a systems view,” says Willis. “Now we need to develop the workforce that can see the problem holistically–to see and connect all of those determinants for a healthier future.”

The challenge of addressing these issues is significant. The United States has the world’s highest healthcare expenditures, according to Willis, but it has worse health outcomes than other industrialized nations. Addressing this “return on investment” problem will require leaders who are educated in a range of areas–including business, commerce, healthcare, and public health.

In Marin County, there is a particular need to address inequities in healthcare with such systemic thinking and community collaboration.

One of the healthiest counties in the U.S., Marin County has one of the longest life expectancy averages in the nation. However, it also records some of the largest disparities in health. There is a 17-year difference in life expectancy amongst different communities within the County.

“These types of inequities in health are directly tied to social inequities and really become a matter of social justice,” says Willis. First, healthcare leaders must know and name these issues. Then beyond just understanding the problems, he says, future leaders must be adept at working collaboratively to find solutions. “Healthcare is well-positioned to lead on these collaborations, but we need to have the skills and understanding to connect across both the public and private sectors.”

At Dominican University, the Healthcare Leadership program promises to develop leaders who can address these issues–grounded both in the university’s values and in the program’s interdisciplinary curriculum.

Willis sees the program’s strength in providing the next generation with a balanced skillset to address the changing landscape in his field. Offering MS and MBA tracks, the Healthcare Leadership program supports students in developing the qualities and marketable skills needed to lead, innovate, and transform healthcare. As a collaboration between Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business and the School of Health & Natural Sciences, the program brings together vital business leadership skills, specifically tailored for the healthcare industry.

Its potential for social impact, both in healthcare and beyond, is a natural development of the university’s mission and values. “With Dominican University’s historical roots and its commitment to equity, there’s a cultural expectation and a strong ethical framework about the dignity of every person,” Willis says. “A lot follows from that… If we really believe each person is valuable, what would that mean about the systems we create?”

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