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Skilling Healthcare Professionals in a Rapidly Evolving Landscape

Skilling Healthcare Professionals in a Constantly Evolving Landscape

By Dr Sudi Lahiri

Course Leader for MSc Healthcare Operational Management

The only constant in healthcare is change and uncertainty – and this couldn’t be more apparent than in the emergence of SARS-cov-2.

Leading figures such as Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates did warn of the dangers of a global pandemic. After all, we’ve been here before with influenza at the turn of the 20th century and more recently in 2009. But no one could have predicted the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak globally and how swiftly it would turn life upside down.

There is still much to learn about the impact of the virus on patients and the NHS. Unknowns include how long immunity lasts, what the health consequences will be for survivors in the months and weeks to come, and how the health service and its workforce will need to adapt.

What’s unquestionable is the importance of a healthcare workforce that can rise to these challenges, one that is skilled in understanding complex systems and processes.

A new breed of professionals is needed who can envision the strategies necessary to deliver high quality care within an ever-changing health service environment. These experts must be able to develop and implement processes and plans that ensure effectiveness and efficiency. At the same time, they will have to communicate and engage with a diverse group of stakeholders to handle difficult workforce scenarios. The task sounds immense.

As leaders, they must also ensure the health system is responsive in providing care to all patients, those with diseases unrelated to Covid-19 and those with the condition.

However, this year’s graduates from WMG's Healthcare Operational Management (HOM) MSc are prepared for the mission ahead and already securing permanent posts within NHS trusts.

So why are our students in such demand with employers? The reason is we show them how to apply all the course elements in real life and adapt them to solve the problems of a specific hospital or healthcare setting. The Master's course offers expert insights into tailored approaches for analysing and understanding complex health systems, operational characteristics defining the service delivery structure, efficient use of data and information, measures necessary for sustained cost-effective improvement in the face of a changing service environment.

The theme of the first module they take is successfully managing change, to construct a reliable plan that factors in different levels of uncertainty. Never has this been so relevant given the global pandemic.

It doesn’t matter if a student’s background is clinical or not, if they’re a health employee or full-time learner, if they’re from Botswana or Bulgaria. We base our teaching on evidence from healthcare systems worldwide which can then be applied anywhere. One graduate is minister of health in their country, another has just won a managerial post in medicine.

Waiting times in A&E departments are a major concern not just for the NHS but for healthcare systems globally. Here at WMG, our postgraduate students learn to deconstruct and then solve this issue: they analyse resource allocation and how to ensure information flows correctly to the decision-makers. This strategy ensures each patient is appropriately treated and discharged within a four-hour target.

Handling today’s complex healthcare problems including those relating to Covid-19 demands a systems approach. To do this effectively requires interdisciplinary skills and knowledge. In this regard, the course incorporates the strengths of the Institute of Digital Healthcare (IDH); WMG; and Warwick Medical School, along with those of the NHS. Hence, instructors from diverse disciplines bring a multifaceted set of skills such as health sciences, industrial engineering, informatics, statistics, epidemiology, and health economics among others.

The benefits of this tripartite relationship are numerous. Students learn about real life problems and the NHS whose principles they are eager to adopt. They gain access not just to the workings of hospitals such as University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire but to primary care and mental health services. Hospitals benefit by incorporating the tools and techniques from the course.

Good quality data also underpins the effective running of healthcare systems. It can mean the difference between life or death as evidenced by the Covid-19 crisis. However, the complexity of a patient’s condition can present an incomplete picture. On the HOM Master's course students learn how to manage data and technology systems, a much-needed ability to facilitate dialogue with a hospital’s IT and informatics teams.

The full impact of SARS-cov-2 may not be fully understood for a decade. However, our graduates are equipped to deal with the unknown, to adapt to the demands of the forever altering healthcare landscape and deliver on quality, safety and cost.

And that bodes well for the future.