November 2023 | 

Rising to the Challenge: Health Care Leadership

Constant change is a reality for most industries — but in none of them are the kind of systemic, disruptive, and evolving developments that are now transforming health care. For practitioners, just keeping up with new medications and treatments (six new gene therapies were approved in the second quarter of 2023 alone), evolving patient expectations and preventive care protocols, regulatory developments, and workplace shortages could take up much of their time — if they weren’t already working full days improving the health of their patients. These issues, plus concerns including shifting reimbursement models and AI, are also critical for health care insurance payers, pharma leaders, entrepreneurs, and producers of medical devices and technologies.

“This is the reality of health care today,” says Marissa King, professor of health care management at Wharton. “There are staggering challenges that other industries aren’t experiencing. If you are working in health care, whether as a practitioner, a payer, or a producer, you need to understand all of these issues. Being an expert in one isn’t going to help you.”

A New Opportunity to Create Solutions

Preparing leaders to take on these challenges is nothing new at Wharton. The school’s Health Care Management department is one of the world’s oldest, graduating its first class of MBA students in 1971. The department’s distinguished faculty includes internationally renowned scholars and practitioners at the forefront of heath care services, economics, technology, and management, many of whom are coming together in the new Health Care Leadership and Management: Leading Through Change program to empower leaders within the health care ecosystem to deepen their knowledge, improve decision making, and drive change in the industry.

Designed to provide a holistic understanding of today’s most pressing concerns and ground-breaking developments, the program leverages the expertise of faculty across departments at Wharton and the Perelman School of Medicine, including David Grande, the founding director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics; Christian Terwiesch, co-director of Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management; and Roy Rosin, chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine and the interim executive director at the Center for Health Care Innovation.

The program has been designed to meet the needs of leaders across the health care ecosystem, including insurers, doctors and nurses, pharma executives, and medical technology experts. “The classroom will look like one from our MBA program,” says King. “Participants are more accustomed to being at odds with one another during the course of business. But as a learning community, seeing eye-to-eye isn’t necessary. By design we will help them test their biases, and work and come to some resolutions together.”

Program Specifics

The program addresses three levels of concern, all explored through the specific lens of health care. The first is business acumen, which works very differently than in other industries, whether concerning finance, operations, or entrepreneurship. Leadership is the second level, with sessions that will provide participants with tools and techniques for strengthening their negotiation and persuasion skills, creating psychological safety in the workplace, and understanding how better to manage power and politics. Third is a deep understanding of the industry from the perspective of practitioners, economists, business experts, and health care investors.

The hands-on program includes a negotiation workshop, a first-of-its-kind innovation simulation, and a team leadership exercise. Participants will meet each morning with Professor Guy David, academic director of the program, to consider key takeaways from the previous day’s sessions and create a personalized plan they can begin to implement when they’re back at work. Another highlight is a Fireside Chat with Ezekiel Emanuel, health care management professor, co-director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, and former White House special advisor on health policy to the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the National Economic Council.

“People are overwhelmed,” says King. “They feel that addressing one aspect of an issue they are facing either won’t make a difference or will have a negative effect somewhere else. We will explore these issues and energize participants, making them more comfortable with the realities of the industry and showing them how they can start to implement changes.”

Ultimately, she says, “we want to empower them to be more effective decision makers and change leaders. The only positive to working in such a challenging industry is that there is room to experiment. Even though you won’t be able to solve every problem, your leadership can make a difference. And in health care, that means positively affecting the lives of many people.”

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