Writing in the recent Journal of Nursing Administration (JONA), a senior partner with the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer mulls a question increasingly on the minds of many a health system leader looking to recruit a CNO: What’s the best preparation, MBA or PhD?
While she’s careful not to alienate any nurse PhDs, the bulk of the piece focuses on the relevant match of the MBA with today’s healthcare climate. It also includes advice for nurses with executive leanings to consider carefully the MBA when planning their next educational step.
“What is often needed in today’s system CNO is a business executive with specialization in nursing, as opposed to a nurse who has learned the ropes of business and administration through years of on-the-job training,” Rachel L. Polhemus writes. “Leadership academies and certification programs in healthcare finance are worthwhile for CNOs looking to gain business savvy, but are not a substitute for an MBA.”
Her position is backed by a trio of sources she mentions in the essay.
1.The IOM Think Tank
Polhemus cites the Institute of Medicine’s influential Future of Nursing report from 2010, in which the think tank declares a need for the nursing profession to upgrade from “functional doers” to “thoughtful strategists, whose actions are based on education, evidence, and experience.”
This mandate applies not only to nurses at the bedside, but also to those in the boardroom, Polhemus notes. The MBA, she continues, “sets the tone for the ‘education’ component” for nurse executives.
The piece contains input from health systems themselves in the form of system CNO job descriptions and advertisements. “A master’s degree in nursing, healthcare administration, business, or related field is…required. An MSN with an emphasis in healthcare administration or business is preferred,” declares one. Another describes the CNO’s say in “strategic plans” and “strategic issues,” as well as the nursing leader’s “influence in driving measurable improvements in quality, patient satisfaction, and cost of care.”
Polhemus considers these descriptions to be telling.
“MBA-prepared nurse executives do not have a monopoly on strategic, results-driven businesslike thinking,” she notes. “However, strategy and execution are the primary curricular emphases of business school courses, providing graduates a framework for managing, leading, and effecting change at an enterprise or system level.”
3.The Nursing Profession
The increase in the number of nurses pursuing MBAs is proof of the profession’s belief in the degree’s worth. After all, if an MBA was irrelevant, who’d put out the money and time to earn one?
“We may see more MBAs getting recruited into system CNO positions if only because more nurse executives are pursuing these degrees,” Polhemus observes.
She notes, however, that the quality of the MBA program—as well as the ability of the nurse executive to blend book learning with people and patient skills, and even a bit of leadership charisma—matters, too.
“Success for the system CNO is about marrying current theory with best practice,” she writes. “In more and more large health systems today, it so happens that both theory and practice are heavily influenced by the business imperatives of today’s unique era in healthcare.”
What do you think about nurse executives earning advanced business degrees in addition to clinical qualifications? Are you or any of your colleagues currently engaged in an MBA program? Tell us in the comments section below!