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Can Business Education Improve Health Systems?

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guy PfeffermannThis month I was one of 1,300 people who participated in the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, a conference organized in Recife, Brazil under the patronage of the World Health Organization, the Government of Brazil and the Pan American Health Organization. My job was to speak on a panel preceding the conference, at the invitation of Johnson & Johnson, about the contribution that business schools can make to strengthen health systems in the developing world.

There is no doubt in my mind that business education can contribute enormously to improving health systems, and not only in the developing world. Recent research by a group of economists led by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University’s Department of Economics shows that better management quality is associated with significantly lower mortality rates. In another study, Management Sciences for Health, a US nonprofit organization, ran a Leadership Development Program for teams of health professionals funded by USAID. A comparison between these teams and groups that did not receive the training shows pretty dramatic differences in outcomes. For the district-level teams that received the training, the average coverage rate for health indicators - such as fully immunized children under the age of one, women who delivered with a skilled birth attendant, etc. - rose from 54% at baseline to 67% six months after training. Comparison areas remained stable, with average coverage rates of 45%.

I was very surprised to find that, to my knowledge, the conference organizers hadn’t invited a single business school dean or faculty to participate. Yet business schools, of which an increasing number are in the developing world, are devoting considerable resources to educating health professionals, either in-house or in partnership with schools of public health.

To illustrate, here are a few examples of what GBSN member schools are doing:

  • The Tuck School of Business offers joint MD/MBA and MPH/MBA degrees with Dartmouth College.
  • MIT Sloan’s Groundwork Initiative works with clinics, hospitals, startups and non-profits to improve healthcare in Africa and Asia. To date they have completed 50 projects for more than 40 host organizations.
  • Berkeley’s Haas School of Business offers a MBA/MPH degree and an International Business Development program which together prepare students for leadership roles in all aspects of healthcare in emerging markets, particularly Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

  • Nairobi’s Strathmore Business School offers a Healthcare Management MBA, whose participants include hospital and clinic managers, managers of NGOs and faith-based health providers.
  • Last but not least, in September a group of African institutions launched the African Institute for Healthcare Management, which will pool faculty resources for advanced degree programs in East, West and Southern Africa. Initial participants include Strathmore Business School, Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town.

There are many other examples, and so I can only hope that global health organizations and funders, which are dominated by medical professionals, will sooner rather than later bridge the gap that still separates them from the world of business education.


Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network.

Tags:  Business Education  Business Schools  Health System  Johnson & Johnson 

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