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Business Education Health professionals climb the ladder into management roles

Students pursuing Lethbridge's graduate certificate can apply it toward completion of the master degree at a later date without having to repeat material – a pathway known as “laddering.”

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Collaboration, flexibility and experiential learning are features that now figure large in the design of degree programs for working professionals, an increasingly important target audience for business schools.

At the University of Lethbridge, a new master degree and graduate certificate for health-care professionals looking to become mid-managers check all the boxes for these new-look credentials.

A growing number of interdisciplinary programs between business and other faculties recognize their shared interests. At Lethbridge, based in the southern Alberta city of the same name, the master and certificate programs in health services management, to be offered this fall, were jointly developed by the university’s Dhillon School of Business and faculty of health sciences, a collaboration facilitated by a decision several years ago to house the two disciplines in a new building on campus.

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Meanwhile, flexible learning options are in high demand by working professionals. Those who enrol in the master or certificate programs at Lethbridge continue to work while pursuing their studies over 18 months through a combination of face-to-face classes (mostly on weekends) at Lethbridge’s Calgary campus and online delivery. As well, students pursuing the graduate certificate can apply it toward completion of the master degree at a later date without having to repeat material – a pathway known as “laddering.”

Finally, today’s professional credentials usually include a component of experiential learning. The health service master at Lethbridge weaves experiential learning through five modules, so that participants can job-shadow a health organization manager for several days and apply their academic material to real-life situations. Students wrap up their degree with a research project that allows them to demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge and apply it to a real problem or opportunity in health organization.

“Our focus is on training people across a variety of health professions to move up from their current entry-level positions to higher-level organizational positions,” says Carla Carnaghan, director of graduate studies at Dhillon. “Between the experiential [component], the laddering and the interdisciplinary [content], we think we can offer people the necessary education to continue to be even more successful in their careers.”

Both credentials target those on the front lines of medicine, including nurses, lab technicians and workers in patient-based clinics, who want to boost their careers without leaving their jobs.

“It is about access,” says Helen Kelley, associate dean of graduate studies at Lethbridge. “Individuals who are working professionals are looking for short-term programming that allows them to continue to work,” she says. “We wanted to provide an opportunity to those individuals to obtain graduate level credentials.”

Lethbridge joins a growing list of institutions that offer laddering so learners can seamlessly connect credentials without having to backtrack academically.

“Business schools are waking up to this [laddering option] and other professional schools are doing so as well,” says Ali Dastmalchian, dean of the Beedie School of Business at Burnaby, B.C.-based Simon Fraser University. “It is going to grow.”

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His school offers an online graduate diploma in business administration that leads into a master of business administration (MBA), if desired. Also at Beedie, students can earn a nine-month certificate in commercialization and technology and, if they choose, ladder into a 24-month, part-time management of technology MBA.

Beedie also announced this year an agreement with KPMG Canada for a select number of its auditors to earn a nine-month graduate certificate in accounting with digital analytics, with some adding a second year of study for a master of science in accounting with cognitive analytics.

“It is all about the students,” says Dr. Dastmalchian, of the new pathways. “It is not about us [at business schools]; it is about the students.”

That student focus also applies to Lethbridge’s new health management credentials, says Dhillon’s Dr. Carnaghan.

“People these days are quite mobile and want a chance to try things before making a larger commitment,” she says. “If they get what they need from the certificate they still have a credential. If they are more engaged or feel they need more they can proceed to the master [program].”

Dr. Kelley anticipates increased use of laddering as a design feature.

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“The university as a whole is very much interested in developing these laddering programs,” she says, citing three initiatives currently in the works.

Claudia Steinke, an associate professor who holds appointments in health sciences and business, assisted in developing the curricula. She continues to work, part-time, as an emergency hospital nurse and says the new credentials address a gap in the market.

“It is to try and improve the health-care experience on both sides of the fence,” she says, citing patients and those who look after their health.

She says front-line nurses, lab technicians and others often are promoted to mid-level positions without much management training. “It’s kind of a sink-or-swim position,” she says. “A lot of unit managers and department managers don’t feel like they have the proper training.”

With a June 1 deadline for applications, university officials anticipate an initial cohort of up to 16 students for the master program and three for the certificate. For now, the new credentials are expected to be offered every two years.

Follow Jennifer Lewington on Twitter @JenLewington or contact her at jlewington@bell.net.

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