The first MBA programme targeted at health care professionals, to be offered next year, will meet the growing demand among doctors for further knowledge and skills. The new Health Care MBA, a three-year, part-time programme offered jointly by the faculties of medicine and business administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), is designed for senior doctors, nurses and health administrators. It could also help doctors interested in taking up planning and administrative duties. 'If you want to run a hospital, you need to know about budgeting,' says Andrew Chan Chi-fai, director of MBA programmes at CUHK. 'The new MBA training is for those who are prepared to take on new duties.' With the establishment of the Hospital Authority, hospitals have been given more autonomous power and are expected to ensure greater accountability with good financial planning. The new MBA course combines knowledge traditionally associated with the public and private sectors. The first two years of the MBA course concentrate on business-related areas such as accounting, cost/managerial management, marketing management, organisational behaviour and financial management. Corporate concepts such as acquisitions and mergers will not be covered. The focus of the final year is on public health-related studies, from environmental health and communicable diseases to epidemiology, disease prevention and health promotion. This is a specialised and increasingly important area of health care in Hong Kong, but is not yet part of the curriculum for medical undergraduates. Applications for the course are being accepted until the end of February. Professor Chan says an MBA training is useful for everyone. Prior knowledge in finance or accounting is not necessary. 'Anybody with an analytical mind can do it. It is designed to prepare people for management roles,' Dr Chan says. 'We will begin with simple business concepts, then move on to more complicated ones relevant to the commercial world in the upcoming programme. The future graduates would have acquired contemporary knowledge relating to management.' Public sector employees can also benefit from an MBA, as good management practices are intended to help each organisation reach their objectives, and not just make a profit. 'Similar MBA courses that are not geared towards the commercial sector are available overseas as well,'says Professor Chan. An increasing number of medical professionals are taking on management duties these days, either in hospitals, at the Department of Health, or the Hospital Authority. Sydney Chung Sheung-chee, dean of CUHK's faculty of medicine, expects the Government's push for health care reform to exacerbate the demand for management programmes for health care professionals. President of the Master of Public Health Alumni Association, Christopher Lum Chor-ming, says the economic downturn has also heightened the need for efficient planning. Doctors are rarely familiar with terms like 'accountability' or 'liability', he says, but increasingly they face the challenge of striking a balance between providing quality patient care and making the best use of public resources. Rising public expectations of doctors and rapid advances in medical technology add to their need for continuing education, says Dr Lum, a consultant at Sha Tin Hospital. He is one outstanding example, currently studying for his second master's degree in nutrition and exercise science. Like other committed practitioners, he wants to be involved in disease preventive work as well, instead of being confined to delivering services in a hospital setting. 'In the past we were taught to focus only on one end of the spectrum of patient care. But I want to widen my scope of knowledge, and gain an understanding of issues affecting the whole health care system,' he says. Some doctors are already pursuing other forms of postgraduate training through distance learning, but there is need for a local programme to give them local perspectives, says Edith Lau Ming-chu, a professor at CUHK's department of community and family medicine. A survey recently completed by her department among 350 senior doctors and hospital ward managers revealed a strong interest in management training. While the vast majority have no postgraduate degree relating to health administration, half expressed an interest in an MBA (health care) programme. Asked what modules should be included, most voted for strategic management and management information systems. More than half of the respondents also saw managerial economics, local environment of business and evidence-based health care as essential components of the planned programme.