The current health care crisis is multifaceted, ongoing, and incredibly significant to those within the profession. The reform the country is currently experiencing came as a result of several factors: high cost of treatment, ineffective payment methods, and millions of uninsured Americans in need. Though these problems have begun to enter the national conversation, there are still many issues that need to be addressed and fixed.

Nurses are often referred to as the front line of the health care system—meaning that the changes occurring on a national level will affect them directly, perhaps even first. With the coming reform, health care facilities and their nursing staff must account for slashed budgets, reduced personnel, and political pressure. Moreover, President Obama recently set aside more than $36 billion to create a nationwide network of electronic health records—a massive undertaking that will require a combination of proven communication skills and strategic management to implement, use, and manage.

In addition to these changes, the population is aging, Medicare funding is in jeopardy, and the nursing shortage is projected to grow to one million by 2020. As the public gains access to health care, the lack of nurses will be felt even more acutely.

Nurses must equip themselves with the skills necessary to manage and help solve these crises.

The next generation of nursing leaders will be charged with placing an emphasis on interpersonal and interdepartmental communication—translating and acting as a diplomat between the clinical and business sides of health care institutions. Nursing leaders must have a strong working knowledge of clinical practice and the business of health care, all within an everchanging political arena. Nurses holding both a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) and a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) will be better equipped to understand both sides of the equation.

This may be unfamiliar territory for the nursing profession. Executives must be able to identify key health care trends, watch regulatory rules and legislation—and be able to implement changes within their own organization based on these findings.

Dual degrees in nursing and business help nurses manage these responsibilities in more ways than one could count. Registered nurses are not generally educated in the business side of health care, and while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is excellent preparation for nursing clinical practice, patient care is far removed from the fiscal responsibility of bringing consumption and cost to sustainable levels. A business-trained leader, such as an M.B.A.-prepared executive, may be able to provide financial analysis of factors associated with treatment, providing the cost in real dollars and highlighting areas of strength or problematic gaps. Yet, while that training may prove invaluable in discovering economic stopgaps, understanding financial problems is not effective in providing a cost benefit unless a clinical solution can be found as well. Therein lies the primary benefits of obtaining dual M.S.N./M.B.A. degrees—understanding and linking both sides of health care.

M.S.N./M.B.A. programs aim to prepare students for mid- to upper-level management roles in health care organizations, including chief nursing executives, nursing managers, nursing supervisors, nursing educators, nursing informaticists, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and more. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, by 2015 health care costs will hit $4 trillion and account for 20% of the U.S. economy. By 2012, the number of nursing executives is expected to increase faster than most health care professions. Still, in today’s diffi cult economic environment, being as educationally competitive as possible is key to securing a position as a nursing executive.

Employers will be looking for nursing executive candidates skilled in communication and conflict resolution, leaders who have the ability to cultivate an ongoing conversation between patients, staff, and administration. M.S.N./ M.B.A. degree programs also generally provide more targeted business preparation, training students in areas such as relationship management, organizational leadership, business relations, and change management—skills which are more crucial now than ever.

Class work, prerequisites, clinical requirements, and other details of these dual degree programs vary widely. Students may obtain their dual degree at one school or through articulation agreements between two distinct schools of nursing and business. Accelerated programs often combine these studies even further, saving students both time and money. At Chamberlain College of Nursing, courses such as Leadership Role Development, Health Policy, and Informatics prepare graduates to serve as effective nursing leaders, able to understand the politics and decisions inherent in health care leadership. Business studies, including Managerial Accounting, Marketing Management, and Business Economics help students develop strong analytical abilities, understand health care economics, learn to resolve organization and business issues, execute health care strategies, and foster communication and interpersonal skills.

In order for the health care field to flourish in the face of a continuing recession and monumental policy changes, the profession must seek out and support individuals prepared for both the monetary and clinical challenges. The time for aspiring health care leaders to gather the knowledge and credentials they need is now. The industry’s success depends just as much on cost savings as on the finite resources vital to maintaining crucial care—namely, the people and practices that allow health care to function. Future nursing leaders must further prepare themselves to manage every facet of the coming changes to the industry, including attaining knowledge of both the business and the science of health care.

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