Graduate Capabilities for Health Service Managers: Reconfiguring Health Management Education @UNSW

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Master of Health Administration program at UNSW was extensively revised in 2006 to ensure that it effectively meets the challenging and dynamic environment of health service managers in local and global health contexts. This paper describes the innovative approach to the redesign of the health management program within the Faculty of Medicine. It outlines the method and considerations undertaken, particularly in identifying and embedding new graduate capabilities within the program. The paper concludes that using an outcomes-based approach and engaging with key stakeholders provides opportunity to identify and promote critical capabilities needed by managers to support the challenges confronting health services, including workforce flexibility. Further research is required on how such curriculum initiatives might impact on the performance of health service managers, but initial indications are that the health industry recognises the need and value of this approach.

Aust Health Rev 2007: 31(3): 379-384

The Master of Health Administration (MHA) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) was established in 1956 with funding from the Kellogg Foundation, as the first postgraduate program in health management in Australia. Health managers from all over Australia and the region undertook the program through distance mode, and international students were able to complete the program full-time on campus.

The MHA has been regularly reviewed and revised, with a changing focus on hospitals, health services and health economics. In 1999 a Master of Health Services Management (MHSM) was created to meet the needs of health managers from less developed countries, following delivery of the MHA offshore in Hong Kong. By 2005, the suite of local and international programs was serviced by 11 different core courses.

Despite high enrolments and industry support for the program, a recent horizon scan revealed a rapidly changing set of demands for health service managers, with added emphasis on leadership, risk management and workforce flexibility. This trend is matched by pressure for accreditation of health services personnel within a climate of increasing accountability and performance measurement in the workplace. Hence, a comprehensive redesign of the program including core curriculum was considered timely.

Why graduate capabilities?

Reform in health professional education across the globe has been a continual process for more than 20 years,1,2 with the most recent reforms leading to a greater emphasis on the outcomes of education.3-5 This move towards outcomes-based education is seen as significantly different to previous innovations that focused on the learning process rather than disciplinary content. For the last decade there has been significant pressure on higher education programs to be more workplace focused and nurture capabilities for lifelong learning and professional effectiveness.6-8 As a condition of government funding, every Australian university has a statement of the generic capabilities of its graduates.9 Other identifiable professional drivers include accountability to external stakeholders and program accreditation bodies for the competency of practising physicians10 and moves to establish a common set of standards for doctors in an increasingly globalised medical workforce.

Graduate capabilities or attributes are generally understood as:

. . . the qualities, skills and understandings a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution. These attributes include, but go beyond, the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses.11

This focus on attributes demands that academic programs move beyond traditional teaching and assessment, disciplinary knowledge and boundaries to a wider perspective. "Universities seek to graduate students who can 'do' as well as 'know', who are able to think critically, analyse, problem solve, and communicate". …