Balancing Healthcare and Business: Developing the Talent & Skill to Lead

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In healthcare today, leaders must learn to embrace uncertainty in decision making and cultivate curiosity in alternative perspectives.

This is a challenge for many key players in the field today. On one side, direct providers of healthcare, like physicians, are trained to think with scientific certainty in mind. On the other, traditional management leaders often are focused on the bottom line. The future of healthcare leadership looks to create a balance of these two perspectives.

“As leaders, we need to have influence – but we also need to be open to being influenced,” says James McManus of Marin General Hospital. “One key aspect of leadership is the ability to suspend judgment – to listen to other people and consider what relevance their thinking has.”

James is familiar with these challenges from his own personal experience. Trained in finance and once a professional CPA, he transitioned into executive-level leadership in healthcare over the course of his career. Today, James is the chief financial officer at Marin General Hospital, responsible for all financial affairs of the institution. His perspective reveals the opportunities and the challenges at this intersection of business and health.

“Right now, there is a lack of high-quality leadership to meet the changing needs in the healthcare field,” says James.

Public opinion and government policy are demonstrating a shift towards socially conscious management for healthcare, but most organizations and their leaders are still primarily focused on the more conventional fee-for-service programs. “A lot of us are still in the traditional state of managing,” explains James. “But now there is a growing need for new management skills and a new view of healthcare for the future.”

Across the board, incoming leadership must prepare to address challenges in both managing people and the shifting policy landscape. Physicians are often overwhelmed by demands and paperwork. Staff members are dealing with burnout and varying levels of engagement. Meanwhile, patients are expecting higher quality care and value, and our national healthcare policies and systems are in flux.

McManus sees these as challenges and opportunities for the next generation: “How can you innovate and support physicians in spending more time with patients? How will you engage staff so everyone is working in the same direction? And meanwhile, how will you respond to changes in healthcare coming at a much quicker pace than in the past?”

New executives in healthcare must develop a well-rounded set of leadership skills so that they can navigate these challenges effectively.

For those with a foundation in direct care, this often means strengthening their management practices and shifting their mode of problem-solving. For others with a professional background outside of healthcare, this often means understanding the particular challenges of the industry and reinforcing business skills, like development and finance.

An excellent leadership team is composed of individuals who lean on and learn from each other’s strengths. “For me, my training was in finance, so that is a strength I can always bring to the team,” says McManus of his background. He has also worked in operations and supply chain management within the healthcare industry. “I’ll never have the clinical and relationship skills of a physician, but you always want me in the background to bring a business viewpoint to the conversation.”

With a shortage of talent in the Bay Area and across the U.S., access to high-quality training is critical for the future of healthcare leadership.

Currently, too few people have the leadership skills in the healthcare field, says McManus. A shift in thinking and training is necessary to address this. “New healthcare executives need to develop their skills in collaboration and communication and to deepen their understanding of this quickly evolving field,” says James.

Graduate programs are an effective option for professionals to evolve their existing skills and expand their critical thinking. The new Healthcare Leadership program at Dominican University of California is offering two tracks in this area–a Masters of Science in Healthcare Leadership and a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Healthcare Leadership. Whether changing career paths or looking to advance within the field, candidates will develop those essential learnings and modes of thinking in order to lead effectively.

“The type of talent we need in healthcare in the future is different than what exists today,” says McManus. The future of healthcare is dependent on those individuals who learn to lead us forward–balancing healthcare experience and management expertise.

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