HBS Healthcare Initiative Makes Strides in First Year

The statistics are astounding: Healthcare expenditures currently represent over 16 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and are expected to continue their upward trend.

In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush described the rising cost of healthcare and the many challenges facing the industry, which, at their core, are fundamental issues of leadership and management. In recognition of the need to develop strong, effective leaders in the healthcare field, the Harvard Business School Healthcare Initiative was born.

The Healthcare Initiative is a multi-disciplinary program that strives to centralize and further expand healthcare resources and opportunities at HBS. Though the initiative was not launched until 2005, there has been growing interest in healthcare among HBS faculty and students recently. During the 2005-2006 academic year, the MBA program offered six healthcare electives (compared to only one offered by Regina Herzlinger in 2001), and approximately 20 percent of the faculty currently conducts research in the healthcare space.

According to Professor Richard Hamermesh, faculty chair of the Healthcare Initiative, “HBS has always had healthcare, but until now it has been disjointed. The Healthcare Initiative aims to organize these offerings and opportunities to have a more central impact.”

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. In fact, more and more students are choosing to attend HBS over other MBA programs with tailored healthcare programs, in part, as a result of the initiative.

Hampus Hillerstr”m (NF), an HBS student pursuing a dual MBA and Masters degree in Health Science along with MIT and Harvard Medical School, found the unique offering at HBS appealing: “I chose to attend HBS because it has the best general management program, and I learned that the school was positioning itself with the Healthcare Initiative to get the best students with a healthcare interest to study here.”

Elisa Dannemiller (NH), who studied medicine at Georgetown University before arriving at HBS, also welcomed the emphasis on general management: “There is a lot to gain from learning about other industries. A lot of the problems in healthcare are fundamentally business problems, and the only way to tackle them is apply creative solutions that often come from out-of-industry.”

The impact of the HBS Healthcare Initiative can be seen across several departments, including MBA academics, career services, and admissions. While the number of MBA healthcare electives has increased in recent years, HBS faculty members are continuing to develop new courses. For example, plans are underway to add a science-based course in conjunction with Harvard Medical School that will offer a dual approach to learning: the first half of each class will focus on the science behind a specific disease (e.g., heart disease), while the second half involves a case-based discussion of a company developing a new technology to address that disease (e.g., drug-eluting stents).

However, students electing to take healthcare-focused electives are not the only ones benefiting from the Healthcare Initiative. While approximately 10 percent of HBS cases across disciplines are currently set in healthcare environments, one goal of the Healthcare Initiative is for the percentage of healthcare-related cases in the HBS curriculum to reflect the larger U.S. economy (15 percent).

Reactions of students from all backgrounds have been mixed. While many students feel the number of healthcare cases, particularly those set in the pharmaceutical industry, is already noticeably high, other students, including Adrian Brown (NC), welcome the opportunity to study general management through the healthcare lens: “The broader the range of industries we cover across our courses the better. Healthcare offers a uniquely challenging set of management issues that can help bring a lot of color to a case discussion.”

Professor Richard Bohmer, who teaches the EC course, Managing Health Care Technology and Operations, also highlights the benefit of infusing healthcare into the HBS curriculum: “HBS leverages the RC year to provide a strong general management education set in a variety of industries, and healthcare is an essential part of that education. You cannot have a leadership role in a major American corporation today without having to think about healthcare at some point.”

In addition to academics, the Healthcare Initiative is also focused on enhancing career opportunities for HBS students. Relying, in part, on alumni support, the Healthcare Initiative hopes to add 50 summer and full-time postings with greater diversity in function and company-type (e.g., providers, health insurers, VC, etc.) for the 2006-2007 academic year. Right now, demand outstrips supply, and with nearly 10 percent of each class seeking jobs in healthcare, students often do their own networked job search.

Heidi Vanderbilt-Brown (OF), co-vice president of careers for the HBS Healthcare Club, commented on the current gap between supply and demand, “One thing students in healthcare need to realize is that many healthcare industry recruiters have gone away empty-handed in the past. Beginning this year, the Healthcare Club has been working with the Healthcare Initiative to collect data on what kinds of jobs students want. The Healthcare Initiative will show recruiters that Harvard is serious about healthcare MBA training, and that the students these companies want to hire will be enrolled here.”

While the Healthcare Initiative aims to help students find job opportunities in the healthcare field, it ultimately hopes to attract more top MBA candidates with an interest in healthcare. Such candidates often seek targeted MBA programs – like that of Wharton or Berkeley – or consider pursuing other degrees, such as a Master in Public Health (MPH) or Master in Health Administration (MHA).

The goal of the Healthcare Initiative is to educate MBA candidates about opportunities in healthcare at HBS and the various resources available to them. According to Hamermesh, “HBS does not lose very many students to other programs, but for the few we do lose, the reason is often healthcare. We now have a website dedicated to the Healthcare Initiative so prospective students can learn about healthcare opportunities at HBS. For the first time, we are having applicants check off their career interests and are following up with students who indicate an interest in healthcare to answer any questions they may have and direct them to appropriate resources.”

While there is still much work to be done, in its first eight months the Healthcare Initiative has begun to develop a strong infrastructure to enable HBS students, faculty, and administrators to identify and create new opportunities in healthcare education and careers. Zach Hornby (OA) said, “While the Initiative is still in the early stages, it is definitely ramping up. It’s great that administrators have acknowledged the importance of healthcare, and I look forward to watching the program evolve in the coming years.”