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Programme is a shot in the arm for students

Published on Friday, 14 May 2010
CUHK’s course will cover the basic principles of HR, policy and the way the health system works.
Photo: David Wong

Managing health care services, whether in the public or private sector, is becoming increasingly complex. Professionals in the field must oversee costs, policy, resources and the day-to-day delivery of quality care, while remaining responsive to new developments and changing patient expectations all the time.

"It requires a multidisciplinary approach," says Professor Frank Chan Wan-kin, assistant professor at the School of Public Health and Primary Care at the Chinese University (CUHK). "Health care management is a bit different from any other business because we are dealing with patients, but also with shifting paradigms relating to ageing, in-patient treatment, [disease] prevention and service improvements."

For this reason, the university is introducing a new postgraduate diploma in health administration starting in September. The objective is to prepare students for management positions in hospitals, private clinics, agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). They will learn the principles and methods of effective administration, looking at different operational models and covering aspects of financial management, policy development and reform.

"A lot of health professionals are very knowledgeable in matters of patient care, but when it comes to the management of health services, they are lacking in the necessary skills," says Chan, the programme director for the new course. "If they are going to pursue a career, it is important to understand all the issues related to health management and to know how to run a project or lead a team."

The diploma is intended not just for administrative staff but, potentially, also for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, whose roles and responsibilities are changing. They too need a broader perspective of how hospitals and clinics operate and what it takes to meet service requirements within the usual budgetary constraints.

Using the example of a nurse hoping for promotion, Chan emphasises that any senior role nowadays requires something more than clinical or technical skills. At the very least, it also takes a basic ability to plan service rosters, mobilise human resources, offer input on policy issues and maximise limited finances.

"If you don't have the perspectives and the management skills, it is more difficult to move the team forward and achieve the targets and mission," Chan says. "We will cover the basic principles of [human resources], policy and the way the health system works, so students can improve the quality of management and keep everything on the right track."

For the one-year part-time diploma, the first intake is expected to attract up to 20 students, but there is scope to expand to as many as 40. Overall, the core courses will lean towards practical applications and will highlight key legal, ethical and marketing issues.

The teaching format will be based on lectures, tutorials and project work, with English as the medium of instruction. As part of the programme, students will also have to complete two electives from a selection which includes health for special populations and public health law. Assessments at the end each module will involve a combination of coursework, assignments and examinations, and participants must pass all to graduate.

"As teachers, we will have our own professors, as well as medical executives from the Hospital Authority and healthcare professionals from the private sector," Chan says. "We want to emphasise how principles are applied in practice and introduce concepts for how to manage change." Chan believes every organisation and department involved in managing health services will see significant changes in the next few years. These will concern structures, procedures, patient care and finding ways to meet new challenges and higher expectations.

At the same time, these changes will create opportunities for promotion for people with the right qualifications and outlook. "There is a huge demand for health service professionals, but they have to know how to manage," Chan says. "I believe this course will equip them in a more appropriate way, while also dealing with public health concepts like smoking cessation and avian flu."

Though decisions have yet to be finalised, CUHK may introduce a master's degree in health service management to cater to the anticipated demand. This would complement its MBA in health care already on offer and provide another stepping-stone for professionals building a career in hospital administration, private clinics, in community medicine, or with NGOs.

Career boost  

  • Career opportunities in  health administration expected to increase
  • Professionals in the sector need management skills and the ability to plan for change
  • New one-year CUHK diploma offers a mix of practical and theoretical knowledge


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