“You have to think about your customer, and in the hospital your patient is, in essence, your customer. The nurses are the ones who have that frontline time and know the customers best. Their perspective is going to be important for leadership,” Quick said.

The dual MSN-MBA program isn’t the first in the nation, but the pool of schools that offer a similar paring is small. Quick thinks that having this program as an option for potential students is a win for the region.

“This might plant the seed for someone who down the line is either going into hospital administration or looking at having their own practice,” Quick said.

Potential students

Brian Floyd, president and chief operating officer of ECU Health Medical Center, the system that services much of eastern North Carolina, believes that anyone can succeed in health care system leadership, but nurses have a particular propensity to be effective leaders. They know how hospitals work from the ground up and experience how the parts of a hospital come together as a whole. Also, the trust that nurses inherently build with patients and coworkers is rooted in practical awareness of how leaders come to their decisions.

“Nurses tend to be empathetic, and this also helps gain trust and confidence as a leader,” Floyd said. “Nurses typically do not present a power gradient with physicians and are more likely to act in a supportive and collaborative relationship.”

Forbes hopes to entice potential students with an opportunity to learn how to fill the dual role of nurse leader and business administrator. Forbes and his team conducted an informal poll with potential students and of about 40 who were asked, 37 said they would be very interested in the coursework. One student was already motivated enough to work out the logistics of applying to both colleges — nursing and business — to carve out his own course of study that the dual degree program will resolve for future applicants.

“It’s a heavy course load — two courses a semester, every semester including both summer sessions. But you can finish it up in 2 1/2 years,” Forbes said.

While demanding, Quick said the completely online nature of the MBA portion of the partnership should offer prospective students the flexibility needed to balance work and home life. Faculty from both colleges have a framework in place to help students manage coursework, but the flexibility in the individual programs should meet students’ individual needs.

“We offer our MBA courses in the summer and in eight-week blocks during the regular semester. Students really have a lot of options from the MBA coursework side to figure out what fits in best with their schedule,” Quick added.

Support for health care systems

Forbes said nursing will always be the largest line item on any health care system’s budget because nurses are the most patient-centric, and patient-intensive, members of the workforce in hospital and most healthcare settings.

“Instead of just striking numbers from a budget, there needs to be someone who can interpret and say, ‘We can handle this much efficiency gain on the business side, but that savings is going to result in a reduced level of quality of care at the bedside,’” Forbes said.

When conversations between the health care workforce and administration on how to balance patient care with keeping the lights on don’t happen, Forbes said distrust naturally festers. Advanced practice nurses with business administration education can foster “an environment of understanding amongst everybody.”

Floyd agrees with Forbes’ assessment that nurses who understand business can help build consensus and confidence in an administration’s business decisions.

Having familiarity with frontline operations is critical in determining what is important in helping shape the strategy of organizations. At the same time, influence to lead others to adopt the strategy is enhanced when the workforce appreciates that the leader has experience in direct patient care and is empathetic to their work, Floyd said.

Modern health delivery systems aren’t humanitarian organizations, but rather must compete as other complex business operations do, he said. As a registered nurse, Floyd understands the importance of having nursing staff who can speak the language of business.

“The skills obtained in MBA programs include data interpretation, financial and operational management, and leadership and organizational management, and the curriculum has been refined over years of volatility. The modern healthcare leader can benefit from decades of learning from business industries and apply those practices in the healthcare environment as it continues to evolve,” Floyd said.


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