Emma Berghoefer graduated from Marquette in 2021 with a degree in biomedical sciences, intent on becoming a physician assistant. However, the deeper into her major she got, the less certain she was that PA school was right for her.
“I’m very passionate about health care and the science side was interesting, but it didn’t come as naturally to me,” Berghoefer says.
Something else did come naturally to her, though: business acumen. During her senior year, Berghoefer started taking master’s-level classes in the College of Business Administration, hoping to get an MBA, but she was still interested in her original passion for health sciences. The Marquette Graduate School offered her the chance to pursue both interests through courses such as health care marketing and economics.
“In high school, health care is marketed to students as being a nurse, a PA or a doctor,” Berghoefer says. “Throughout my time at Marquette, I realized that there was a lot more to health care than that, and that the business side could be just as impactful for patient care.”
While the University has a Health Systems Leadership Program in the College of Nursing, this graduate degree was open only to students with a nursing background. To create additional pathways for healthcare leadership, in March, Marquette’s Graduate School of Management partnered with the College of Nursing to launch a health systems leadership specialization within the MBA and MBA online programs.
The new specialization provides opportunities for students to gain health care administration expertise. Business students can now take interdisciplinary courses in health care ethics, patient populations, workforce solutions, and quality improvement side-by-side with nursing students to gain broad-based industry knowledge. Prior clinical experience is not necessary for these courses.
“It’s more important than ever that health care organizations have capable leaders who can work seamlessly with care providers,” says Karen Rinehart, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Management. “The health systems leadership MBA specialization supports health care professionals who wish to gain business knowledge through an MBA, as well as MBA students who are pursuing the specialization in support of career goals within the health care industry. Leveraging the incredible expertise we have in our nursing school is the best way to accomplish both goals.”
Like many Marquette MBA students, Berghoefer earned her degree while working full time coordinating budgets and contracts for clinical trials for a local health care system. At night, Berghoefer learned new skills that she could apply during the day, helping doctors make decisions about which trials are a good fit.
“My priorities are somewhat different than someone who’s only in clinical settings, but our perspectives come together to create a solution to a problem. That was the case in the MBA program as well, which made it feel very realistic,” Berghoefer says.
Marquette’s offerings offer an effective mix of business education and health care instruction. The health care-focused courses offered to students in the MBA are also part of the Health Systems Leadership graduate nursing program, which is designed to develop nursing leaders who can fill a variety of health care roles. Nursing theory and research courses are required for the MSN degree in the College of Nursing, but most courses are interdisciplinary.
A nurse interested in an advanced degree that supports leadership in healthcare may wonder which academic path to follow. According to Dr. Kathy Rapala, director of the program, the answer depends on a student’s career goals. Students in the College of Nursing’s HSL program graduate with a Masters or Doctorate in Nursing, which is a requirement to teach nursing courses in an academic setting. Certain health care settings and job descriptions may also have a degree preference. For other nurses, the business focus of an MBA with a specialization in healthcare may be more beneficial to personal or career goals.
Both the nursing and business school offerings are meant for working professionals. The College of Nursing program is offered almost entirely online; students come to campus for a trio of one-credit immersive learning experiences. Students pursuing a Marquette MBA may enroll in the MBA program with online, hybrid and campus classes or an alternative that offers a 100 percent online schedule.
That range of learning modalities was appealing for Berghoefer, who did not feel like she had to make career sacrifices to get a degree.
“These classes are made for people who are working, so my professors were always very understanding of that,” Berghoefer says. “If anything ever came up, if someone was traveling for work or had other life obligations, the professors would always be accommodating.”
Ultimately, the health systems leadership courses help a different set of people speak the others’ language. Nurses graduate with a business and financial skill set, while business graduates gain expertise in the community, patient and provider aspects of health care. Students in both disciplines emerge in a better position to make their organizations successful.
“You can’t be effective in health care without knowing how business works,” Rapala says. “Budgets must be drafted, people have to be paid — all the things we do in nursing are surrounded by business requirements. Students graduate from one of our programs with a much greater understanding of how to do that.”