Educating and Training Healthcare Leadership in Times of COVID-19

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By Andrew Malley

Healthcare organizations scramble to keep up with a rapidly changing world and workforce

The world has run out of adjectives to describe 2020. Beginning with the worldwide pandemic caused by COVID-19, followed by protests and a tumultuous election season, so much has affected how we work, how we behave and how we prioritize. Here’s another area that is changing: how organizations and individuals receive the education and training necessary to steer through the chaos.

All of the areas noted, and in particular COVID-19, have impacted the healthcare labor pool. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May that 1.4 million healthcare workers had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The uncertainty over job security, combined with health and safety concerns, is causing more workers to consider leaving their jobs for good at a time when the industry can ill afford to lose people.

The question then is: How can organizations keep good healthcare professionals working and advancing in their careers? Similarly, how do organizations help those who’ve lost their jobs? And how will they keep those still on the frontlines from leaving?

Creating a “new normal”

Forward-thinking healthcare organizations are striving to create a new normal when it comes to a critical area for the industry — the education and training of their workforce — so they are better prepared to meet demands. 

Larger health systems routinely spend upwards of $4 million on workforce development, and for good reason. There are multiple competing priorities for healthcare organizations right now: In addition to COVID-19, they need to manage the clinical and operational demands of value-based reimbursement, care for a growing aging population with a shrinking number of doctors and nurses, fight against relentless cybersecurity threats — and find the right employees to do it all.

One of the many things healthcare leadership is doing in 2020 is taking a hard look at the value proposition and historic outcomes of their development programs. Often workforce development programs are coordinated with the lowest-cost bidder and through for-profit institutions. The new COVID-19 environment has made it clear this needs to change, and more hospitals and health systems are recognizing the need for added transparency, accountability and quantifiable ROI for the process.

Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) is one of those organizations. Recognizing the importance of workforce development, they’ve taken some bold steps to focus on the future of healthcare by investing in education. While there are many workforce development options available, DHGE opted for online programs that were developed by healthcare experts with the real-world experience needed to educate healthcare workers. Partnering with leading academic providers, DHGE is now offering diverse programs from an online RN to BSN to a Master of Global Management in Healthcare Services to Certificates in Healthcare Leadership, Analytics, Project Management, and a newly launched Healthcare Mini-MBA program, all to ensure the healthcare workforce can meet current and future demands. 

Focus on skills when evaluating education

Andrew Malley, CEO of DHGE, suggests not treating education as something that should be checked off of a list or pursued solely to amass continuing education units. Instead, he encourages healthcare professionals to enroll in programs that can give them real skills that will be relevant to their daily work.

“One way DHGE ensures that we create useful programs is to always build programs with industry leaders. Yes, we bring in universities to provide an academic framework and quality assurance, but we also bring in subject matter experts to shape the program and to join as facilitators and counselors. This ensures that when learners graduate, they have skills for the real world — and then they have confidence because they’ve heard from people like them who went through it all to get to where they are.”

Look to gain skills that make a large business impact

As health systems tend to measure the value of education in terms of return on investment (ROI) — be it through increased efficiencies or better patient care — DHGE encourages healthcare professionals to also gain skills that can help them make an impact in their organization.

“Despite having seen tremendous examples of leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare — and the world — is still struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic,” says Marvin O’Quinn, President and Chief Operating Officer of CommonSpirit Health. “We can’t expect our clinicians to be natural-born leaders and simply cope. The healthcare industry needs to give these professionals the business fundamentals, confidence as well as the winning mindset, combined with real-world lessons, to help our organizations grow and thrive. As the head of one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the U.S., I can attest that we don’t have time for people to get full MBAs in order to gain these skills. We need them now. If we are going to get through this crisis, we need leaders with education developed by health experts with proven track records that provide the guidance necessary to get through these critical challenges.”  

Be on the lookout for innovation and upcoming trends

The healthcare industry is complex and moving incredibly fast. All too often, the delivery of care lags behind innovation in areas such as diagnostics and advanced treatments. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to prepare the workforce for the digitization of work was a concern. Fifty three percent of CEOs and business leaders who were surveyed in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report agreed that “between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities in the next three years.” 

“Be relevant, look at what’s needed in healthcare not 20 years ago, but today, tomorrow, next year and in the next five years,” says Andrew. “Be relevant to the challenges that healthcare is going to be facing. For example, if you’re in clinical practice, learn about business. That doesn’t mean you have to do a full MBA. Take short courses to understand profit, loss, efficiencies, operational practices, mitigation, compliance, ethics and cybersecurity. It comes down to the notion of applied skills and competencies, things that make you better at your job in a real way, and that will make you a more compelling candidate for new positions.”

Leadership training take center stage as we look to the future

Many elective procedures have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. As a result, a number of health systems have had to make budget cuts: Furloughs, layoffs, temporary closures, and cuts to Human Resources and Learning and Development budgets have been some of the measures taken. Yet experienced healthcare leaders are recommending that health systems continue their investments in leadership training, even in times of the COVID-19 crisis — because the cost of poor leadership is not to be underestimated. In fact, it’s for this very reason that healthcare leaders are recommending even more training than ever before.

Patty White, RN, FACHE, former president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, has held various leadership positions in healthcare for over 30 years and stresses the importance of organizations continuing to invest in leadership training.

“In my career, I’ve witnessed that there are always ups and down with the financials in organizations,” she says. “On a downturn, one of the first things many people want to cut is education. I get it. When budgets are tight, hard decisions have to be made, and these situations are very stressful. However, I always hung onto education budgets in any position that I could because ultimately, making these cuts is short-sighted. The tides will change and you need to think about the long-haul and be committed to it. A leader that feels qualified with a skillset in their role is more likely to be retained, retain their employees and improve the quality of the patient experience. This means that ultimately, your investment in leadership training will pay off both financially by decreasing costs related to hiring and by improving outcomes for your organization.” 

Thomas Brink, former President and CEO of Indiana University Health Workplace Health Services, recommends that healthcare organizations rethink their educational strategies with leadership training in mind instead of simply cutting budgets.  

“If CEOs don’t develop their leaders, it will result in secondary costs: lawsuits, worker compensation cases, high turnover, costly mistakes and not accomplishing financial goals — the cost of poor leadership is very quantifiable,” he says.

Thomas says that for many years, health organizations delivered leadership training primarily through in-person training and conferences. “When I worked at IU Health, we did a known management training program. Over some years, we spent millions of dollars on that program — the costs amassed quickly considering we had to fly in about 1,000 managers from across the country, host them all in a hotel, and feed them for the one and a half days that the conference lasted.” 

Thomas says the advent of online education has provided a more comprehensive and less expensive option for leadership training. “I’m not talking about courses that have been shifted online hastily in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but high-quality programs that have been developed to be taken online,” he says. “Instead of pulling people together and spending a lot of money, you can give people access to a program where they can learn at their own pace.” 

Thomas says one of the best options is DHGE’s Certificate in Healthcare Leadership, developed in partnership with Duke Corporate Education (Duke CE, part of Duke University), which he says is comparable in quality to more expensive, in person programs. “You can easily do a cost analysis of an in-person program versus DHGE’s program, and I think you’ll find a clear winner,” Thomas says. 

About DHGE

Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) is the leading healthcare workforce development company. Dedicated to providing customized educational opportunities and a student-centric experience, DHGE develops online programs and workforce development solutions with industry, for industry. They achieve this goal by partnering with top-ranked academic institutions and thought-leading professionals.  For more information, visit www.dhge.org.

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