Thunderbird, Dignity Health partner to train global health care leaders

doctor with technology graphics

We all know the importance of health care services on a personal level. When any of us, or a family member, becomes ill, we need access to the most qualified, well-equipped clinicians, and we need to be able to afford their care. It is also difficult to overstate the importance, scope and magnitude of health care services from a business point of view.

A new partnership between Thunderbird School of Global Management and Dignity Health Global Education is poised to begin educating the leaders necessary to maintain the future health of global health care systems.

Aging and growing populations, greater prevalence of chronic diseases, and innovative — but costly — technologies all contribute to increased health care demand and expenditures. In its 2019 Global Health Care Outlook, Deloitte describes these conditions as an opportunity in which health leaders are uniquely poised to shape the future. But, analysts warn, it will take participation, collaboration and investment by all health care stakeholders — providers, governments, payers and consumers — to turn opportunities into realities. It will also take innovation.

Dignity Health Global Education, a joint venture between CommonSpirit Health and Global University System, is joining forces with Thunderbird to create an innovative approach to training future-ready leaders in global health care. Beginning in spring 2020, the partnership will offer a Master's in Global Management with an emphasis on health care services. A certificate program in health care management will be offered in fall 2019.

Proven track records in health and global education

“This partnership brings together two organizations uniquely positioned to reach future leaders in health care services,” said Tom Hunsaker, Thunderbird’s associate dean of innovation. “DHGEDignity Health Global Education recognizes the need and demand for education and training in health care leadership on an international basis. And Thunderbird has a proven educational platform that focuses on global leaders.”

Gregg Davis, chief administrative officer for Dignity Health International and Dignity Health Global Education board member, said, “We’re attracted to Thunderbird and ASU, because of the quality of their programs and their content, the quality of their educators, and because they already have a global focus.”

“Our intent is to take our best practices, our technology, our successes and deliver those same services on an international basis,” Davis said. “But it’s cumbersome to have people travel from overseas to our hospitals for training. We wanted to reach more people on a larger scale. The answer is through creating an education platform, an online platform.”

That’s where Thunderbird came in. Thunderbird has a global focus, a global educational network and a strong legacy in experiential training. This new partnership is also consistent with Thunderbird’s goal of developing global leaders in an age of rapid innovation and change, spearheaded by the school’s director general and dean, Sanjeev Khagram.

“Thunderbird is a very natural ally for Dignity Health Global Education given ASU and Thunderbird’s focus on innovation, focus on global education and recently focus on workforce development,” said Andrew Malley, CEO of Dignity Health Global Education.

Malley also said Dignity appreciates Thunderbird’s active global network of alumni, which rivals most educational institutions. “Network connections and global mentoring literally mean students have opportunities for lifelong learning,” he said.

The program: Business, health care, culture

This health care concentration will be part of Thunderbird’s specialized Master's in Global Management degrees, which earned the No. 1 Master's in Management ranking in the Times Higher Education/WSJ 2019 Business Schools Report. The course will be composed of 49 academic units covering leadership, health care business, practical/experiential training, global leadership and a wide range of electives.

Hunsaker said students coming to Thunderbird through the Dignity Health Global Education partnership will be able to tap into the transdisciplinary nature of the ASU ecosystem: “We have incredible technical expertise in specific health care offerings.” 

He described the three key aspects to this new program:

  • A strong foundation in business that is set in a global context.

  • Technical expertise as applied to health care services.

  • Multicultural understanding in a business setting, or "global mindset," which is unique to Thunderbird.

“And you bring those three together and layer it within the Dignity system — that’s very powerful,” Hunsaker said.

The Master's in Global Management program will explore the impact of decentralization on delivery of health care services, what the future of health care services looks like, how to adapt to changing needs of stakeholders, the impact and opportunities of technology and a wide range of health care-related business content.  

“Our mission is to deliver high-quality, cost-effective health care services on an international basis," Davis said. "Education needs to be a part of that and an online platform is essential to reach more people on a larger scale. So going into a partnership with ASU/Thunderbird to deliver a management program on an international basis is consistent with those goals and will be really impactful.”

In early 2019, Dignity’s reach expanded when it merged with hospital group Catholic Health Initiatives to create CommonSpirit Health, forming what is now one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the U.S.

Real-life experiential training

Although online education allows Dignity Health Global Education to reach a larger number of people through this partnership, there is still a personal touch and practical real-world experience. 

“One of the most important aspects of this program is that it is not all online,” said Gary Gibbons, clinical associate professor of finance at Thunderbird who specializes in innovation. “There is an element of practical training that is far beyond case studies.”

Gibbons, who has been involved in creating this program from its inception, said health care leaders will receive hands-on training in real-world settings: “They will be working on real business problems.”

“The criticism often of universities is that they are too cerebral,” said Malley, who is an education specialist with over 20 years of experience globally. “What we’re trying to achieve here can be applied to the workforce. The things you learn are the things you can do.”

The students: Health care professionals ready to lead

Gibbons said courses are designed to help prepare students to explore changes in the health care industry worldwide. They will be useful for professionals in a wide variety of health care services or in services supported by the health care industry.

Gibbons said the Master's in Global Management course will attract both clinicians and non-clinicians. As Malley put it, the careers in health care are similar to careers in society at large — it’s not just doctors and nurses. This course would be useful to both a nursing administrator moving up in the ranks and a sales rep from a pharmaceutical company.

“Sure, companies do their own training,” Gibbons said, “but not many have the capability to do their own global business management training.”

“While Dignity is our partner, this degree is open to employees of other companies,” Gibbons said. “This is the master’s degree that will combine multicultural aspects of the world’s economy, business principles including finance and accounting, a good solid foundation in health care, including health care, and health care treatment modalities and technology.”

Global open-door policy

Hunsaker said that the fact that Dignity is open to a major global initiative for education and training that is both internal and external facing is somewhat revolutionary.

Davis explained, “We don’t have to own everything. We said let’s partner with the top-performing highly rated academic institutions. We want to be collaborative and work with entities that share similar goals, similar missions, similar best practices.”

The need for collaboration in health care is unmistakable. In the U.S., health care spending grew 3.9% in 2017, reaching $3.5 trillion or $10,739 per person. As a share of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 17.9%.

Globally, health spending in 2016 reached $8.0 trillion and made up 8.6% of global GDP. In an April 2019 report on health care financing in The Lancet, researchers predict sustained growth in health spending will continue, with global spending projected to reach $10.6 trillion in 2030 and $15.0 trillion in 2050.

Hunsaker said this course is targeted toward individuals who are not intimidated by that scope, but find it challenging and have an interest in looking to the future for solutions.

“It’s for individuals who can connect the dots across systems, across boundaries," he said. "And it’s for companies that recognize how those skills are going to play an essential role in their future success.”

There are few more important industry sectors out there and few more complex and rife with issues that need to be solved,” Hunsaker said. “A whole new generation of global leaders need to be groomed so they can take this industry to the next level.”

Top photo courtesy of iStock

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