There has been a surge in activity in the life sciences sector in particular, with investment at a seven-year high of £734 million in the first half of 2014 in the UK, while larger global health groups have stepped up their hiring of senior managers.
In a survey of 5,669 MBA employers, research firm QS found that pharmaceutical, healthcare and biotech companies and have hired 9% more MBA graduates in 2014 globally – but there was a 20% surge in the United States and Canada.
The biggest drugs makers have always been attractive to graduates – with high salaries and global mobility – but there are now smaller pharma and healthcare firms aggressively pursuing MBA hiring to help them meet their growth potential, the survey notes.
“We work hard through our network of relationships to place students in jobs in the sector,” says Brian Golden, a professor of strategic management at Rotman School of Management in Canada, and chair in health sector strategy.
“Over the last few years we are getting better and stronger people coming into the sector,” he says.
Large healthcare companies have been on a hiring spree, fuelling an expansion into emerging market countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which have increased government spending on healthcare services.
The World Health Organization predicts that health expenditure per capita in ASEAN – the association of Southeast Asian nations – has more than doubled since 1998, reaching more than $68 billion.
This rapid growth has thrown the door open for new employment opportunities. General Electric, which has a healthcare arm, employs around 7,000 people in ASEAN.
“Governments committing to healthcare expenditure are helping the market, and definitely at the same time it provides more opportunity for the business to operate,” says Dave Utama, CEO of GE Healthcare Southeast Asia.
He says that having an MBA will be an advantage in this sector, but adds that the degree will not guarantee candidates a job.
GE Healthcare’s employee headcount in emerging markets grew at a compound annual growth rate of 15% during 2009-2012, while its sales from the business grew 4.5% throughout the same period, reaching $18 billion globally in 2012.
This growth has allowed it to expand its presence, establishing research centres in China and India, and several manufacturing plants across Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Latin America, while making $2 billion of acquisitions during the first quarter of 2014 in healthcare and oil and gas.
Increased demand for new technology, such as ultrasound, computed tomography and molecular imaging segments, is likely to lead to more employment opportunity.
“Technology is having a huge impact. The countries we operate in today will require advanced technology for support,” says Dave.
Business schools like Wharton, based at the University of Pennsylvania, have developed healthcare management tracks to help cater for an increased demand for managers in the sector.
The first of its kind, Wharton’s MBA program in healthcare management graduates students into careers at healthcare companies including DaVita, the Fortune 500 firm that it listed on the NYSE.
It draws students from outside of healthcare – industries as far removed as private equity and venture capital, as well as practicing doctors, who have shown an increased willingness to study business degrees.
Divya Dhar studied Wharton’s healthcare MBA after a lengthy career as a clinical practitioner, where she worked for health services providers in Auckland, New Zealand. After graduating earlier this year she launched Seratis, a mobile communication start-up that works with hospitals in the US.
“I continue to work in healthcare, just from the business side,” she says. “I love that I still get to talk to the same people who I believe on the whole care about the patient first, and are passionate about making a diffidence.”
She thinks that her MBA degree has been useful to transition into management. “You can easily and with confidence talk to business leads, strategic partners and investors, and understand their viewpoints,” says Divya.
A raft of other business schools in the US and Canada run healthcare specific management tracks, including the MBA in health sector management at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and the Owen healthcare MBA program at Vanderbilt University.
In Europe, Frankfurt School in Germany runs an MBA in international healthcare management, while others such as ESCP Europe run MBA programs in healthcare for executives.
Carla Viana was encouraged to join Fuqua’s program by the passion that alumni displayed for its healthcare track. “I got great value out of it [the MBA] – not only through the things you learn, but also the interactions you have outside the classroom,” says Carla, who enrolled in 2008.
After a summer internship with Johnson & Johnson, the medical devices and pharmaceuticals giant, she was hired on a full-time basis in 2010. “J&J is one of the main recruiters at Fuqua,” she says.
She was promoted to a managerial role, overseeing the marketing strategy in for the Nordic countries that J&J operates in – including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
At that level, she says, the majority of people have MBAs – but a specific healthcare track allows her to stand out. “It gives me more opportunities to progress,” says Carla. “It allowed me to get in easily, and I think it continues to give me opportunities.”
But MBAs have not always been attracted to the industry in great numbers. Lucrative sectors such as financial services have been a strong lure. “Historically the best and the brightest managers go into consulting firms and Wall Street, not healthcare,” says Brian from Rotman.
The Toronto-based business school runs a major in health sector management as well a healthcare centre, and benefits from its close proximity to global healthcare groups in the city such as such as GlaxoSmithKline.
Brian thinks Toronto is one of the three North American healthcare hubs, along with Boston and New York. But he admits that healthcare, while currently experiencing a hiring surge, is still competitive. “It’s never an easy ride because they [healthcare companies] all pick the best students from around the world,” he says.
Rotman’s Healthcare Management Association, a student-run club, is partnered with GlaxoSmithKline, Astrazeneca and MaRS Discovery District, among other healthcare firms, according to Karen Klein, its president.
She worked as a dental surgeon in South Africa but chose to begin an MBA in Canada to enhance her financial and business strategy skills, among other reasons.
“My aim is to work in healthcare organizations that are highly innovative and are looking to solve bigger picture problems, rather than continue to work as a clinician,” says Karen.
Back in the US, the Tuck School of Business runs a newly-established master in healthcare delivery science, a joint venture of the business school and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.
Its students – including pharmaceuticals executives as well as doctors and nurses – meet at Dartmouth, in New Hampshire, four times during the 18 month, part-time program.
It blends distance learning and bricks-and-mortar study – with six weeks of face-to-face teaching – so that participants can maintain full-time jobs.
Of the US-based program’s 45 students, 30 are actively involved in an independent consultancy that they launched, which provides clinical expertise.
The student-run start-up already has a number of clients including a financial services group.
“We have a real chance to make a big influence on the way care is practiced, and the value we get from the healthcare system,” says Bob Hansen, Tuck’s senior associate dean.