Wharton EMBA Health Care Elective Offers “Big Picture” Perspective

While students come to Wharton’s executive MBA program in Philadelphia and San Francisco from a wide range of industries, one in particular has been increasing over the past couple of years – health care. In fact, 20% of this year’s incoming class in Philadelphia works in the health care, biotech, or pharmaceutical sectors compared to 10% of the class of 2010. This industry representation among students in the Wharton l San Francisco program on the West Coast is strong as well.

Wharton Health Care Management Professor Patricia Danzon, who teaches the EMBA elective “Management and Economics of the Pharma-Biotech Industry,” observes that there has been so much change in that industry — particularly at pharmaceutical companies which are thinking about things like how they are structured, M&A, and the relative role of pharma versus biotech — that people are looking for additional training to help prepare them for opportunities as they move into more senior executive positions.

“A lot of students have been quite specialized in a particular function at their company so by coming to Wharton for an EMBA degree, they get a broader view of the industry which is important to go on to other positions,” she explains.

Danzon’s course, which is co-taught in Philadelphia by Wharton Professor Lawton Burns, starts out with an industry overview and then focuses on different areas such as the evolution of managed care and provider reimbursement, drug commercialization and pricing, integrated delivery networks, and biopharmaceutical R&D and M&A.

 “Students in the course are from very diverse backgrounds. We currently have a pharmacist, a few physicians, some from pharmaceutical companies, and others from finance. So we have lectures on non-pharma and biotech sectors to round out the picture of the marketplace and to cater to a broad range of interests,” she says.

Second-year Wharton EMBA student Tony Meehan has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 17 years and has a PhD in chemical engineering, so when Prof. Danzon’s elective was offered this summer he immediately registered.

“It’s an interesting time to be learning about the pharmaceutical industry because of the dramatic trends in terms of the reduction in revenue growth and how companies have to evolve to respond to the changes,” he says. “Health care is a unique industry in that it has not really adapted as quickly to some management practices that are more common in other industries and this is an excellent time to study it as it adapts to new models.”

As for what Meehan, director of drug development at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, has gotten out of the course, he says, “It’s a microcosm that gives me a chance to see the broader picture of the health care industry and how both my company and I fit into that. In fact, one of the most important things I have gotten out of the overall Wharton MBA for Executives Program is the big picture perspective to think about how the parts fit together in a company.”

He adds, “It sounds like a cliché, but the program really has worked out as advertised. I am able to bring what I learn on Friday and Saturday back to work on Mondays through Thursdays and it’s very impactful. It has definitely changed the way I approach my job.”