Business Soft Skills in Healthcare

A Healthcare MBA student takes notes during an online class.Soft and hard skills go hand in hand. The latter encompasses proficiencies in specific types of knowledge — e.g., how to use Microsoft Excel, manage a social media platform or review website-related metrics — while the former refers to broader capabilities such as knowing how to encourage teamwork and make ethical decisions in challenging situations.

The two skill sets are synergistic. For example, the abilities to put together and execute an easy-to-follow meeting agenda — a soft skill — are basically prerequisites for getting any value from particular business solutions like video conferencing software, which is meant to enhance cross-team collaboration. Even individuals who have mastered the hard skills of using such tools benefit from soft skills creating optimal contexts in which to use them.

Why Soft Skills Matter in an MBA Curriculum

Students in an MBA program develop both types of skills to comprehensively prepare for careers in management and leadership. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), which accredits business schools worldwide, has pushed for a more prominent spot for soft skills in business school curricula. The AACSB highlights a few of the most important such skills, such as:

  • Adaptability
  • Cultural and ethical literacy
  • Emotional maturity
  • Humility
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Strategic and critical thinking
  • Listening

In a Healthcare MBA (HCMBA) program, students can acquire numerous soft skills applicable in both their research endeavors and careers. But why should today’s MBA students focus on developing soft skills, aside from their value in enhancing hard skills? And what is the importance of soft skills in healthcare?

For starters, employers are looking for candidates with expertise beyond the typical MBA curriculum core of finance and economics. A 2020 LinkedIn list of the skills companies around the world need most includes soft skills similar to those the AACSB encourages. Among the skills LinkedIn recommends are:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Persuasion

Healthcare Soft Skills for Business Leaders

Excelling in healthcare leadership requires proficiency in understanding the industry’s current challenges as well as its rapidly changing trajectory, two forces that pull it in opposing directions:

  • Healthcare is both highly regulated and high stakes, which makes the integration of new technologies and practices particularly challenging since they must comply with a significant body of existing statutes.
  • At the same time, there is a major impetus for wide-reaching change in healthcare, due to the desire to rein in costs and produce better outcomes for patients. The ongoing shift to value-based reimbursement is one of the biggest initiatives on this front.

In this context, an MBA program with a healthcare concentration provides students with the depth and breadth of expertise to navigate these issues and others. Examples of healthcare soft skills and knowledge covered in MBA coursework include:

Clinical Research

Clinical research is a team-oriented undertaking. As such, it blends soft (teamwork) and hard (scientific research) skills. Researchers must be adept project managers who can make informed decisions that consider the backgrounds of their research and development (R&D) teams and the needs of their clinical subjects.


How do diseases spread? What’s the best way to screen patients in a specific population for a given condition? Epidemiology coursework helps answer these questions and many more. With this knowledge, HCMBA students can gain sufficient background to contribute to efforts such as case-control studies and outbreak containment responses.

Global Regulatory Affairs

The complex regulatory environment of healthcare governs every task from pharmaceutical research to clinical trials. Moreover, these regulations vary between jurisdictions, meaning healthcare leaders must create and/or update their compliance strategies depending on the laws in question. MBA coursework covers the relevant U.S. and international legislation that healthcare professionals should be aware of.

Issues and Trends in Health Systems

Health system issues and trends coursework provides an interdisciplinary perspective on macro-level issues, trends and policies affecting the healthcare industry. Students work in teams to identify the major influences on healthcare in the contemporary U.S.

Health Information, Quality and Outcomes

The healthcare industry is always implementing new and updated technologies to support care delivery. From electronic health records to informatics tools, there’s no shortage of such solutions, but they are not always easy to implement or get value from. Healthcare MBA students learn about the common issues in health technology and how to use specific tools for better clinical and administrative results.

Healthcare Quality Analysis

Quality is a major concern in modern healthcare. Traditional fee-for-service models have rewarded health providers for the number of procedures performed rather than for their outcomes. A healthcare quality analysis course can expose HCMBA students to the different statistical and analytical methodologies for measuring quality so providers can comply with applicable quality-related mandates from bodies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Medicine Development

Creating new medical treatments is a complex, multistep process fraught with scientific and regulatory risk. Many R&D efforts fail to produce a product that can demonstrate acceptable results and earn approval from an oversight agency such as the Food and Drug Administration. HCMBA students typically learn about how to navigate specific challenges and ensure a consistent structure of related trials.

Patient Safety Systems

Each year, medical errors cost billions of dollars and lead to thousands of preventable deaths. An HCMBA program with a patient safety systems course provides insight into the common causes of medical errors and how modern technologies can help reduce it.

Regulatory Strategy in Developing Drugs and Biologics

Bringing a new drug or biologic to market requires extensive planning that accounts for business requirements, regulatory pressures and current clinical research. HCMBA students completing a course on these issues gain expertise to inform effective regulatory strategy for the lifecycle of drug/biologic development.

Healthcare MBA Courses That Can Improve Soft Skill Development

An HCMBA program’s core courses typically cover both hard and soft skills. Soft skills in healthcare are at the heart of classes such as the following:

Business Ethics and Public Policy

This course examines how organizations respond to ethical, social, economic and political influences. It also explores the intersection of public health policy and market systems in the development of industry rules and regulations. Students learn how ethics in healthcare shape key organizational decisions.

Global Perspectives

In this course, HCMBA students look at important differences between the domestic and international markets and their implications for management strategy. Today’s healthcare organizations, especially medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, often oversee complex multinational supply chains, making it essential to understand the unique environments of each country so that global healthcare resources can be best deployed.

Strategic Management

In this course, students learn how to critically analyze an organization for areas of opportunity, and how to formulate and implement strategies and public health policies. They look at examples of how strategic management is controlled and evaluated at various types of organizations.

Organizations and Human Capital

Human capital is a term that refers to the sum total of a person’s abilities that determines their capacity to produce capital via labor. The organizations and human capital requirement for an HCMBA often covers topics such as:

  • Motivation and compensation
  • Power and employee relations
  • Organizational culture and change
  • Staffing and performance management
  • Leadership and decision-making

General MBA Skills That Can Be Used in Healthcare

The typical MBA program has a core consisting of courses in economics, management, accounting and mathematics. This core includes the following classes:

  • Business Essentials for Dynamic Markets
  • Financial Accounting
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Decision Making & Data Analysis
  • Operations Management
  • Finance
  • Competition in the Global Economy
  • Microeconomics for the World Economy
  • Organizations and Human Capital
  • Marketing
  • Business Ethics and Public Policy
  • Strategic Management
  • Technology for Business in DC

Like the healthcare courses, these courses cover soft and hard skills in business, giving students the ability to apply advanced concepts in varying circumstances and as members of teams. With this knowledge, HCMBA graduates are prepared to compete for some of the most desirable positions in healthcare.

Getting Started with the HCMBA: Next Steps

Ultimately, becoming an HCMBA holder with well-developed soft skills means you can communicate, collaborate and empathize with others both inside and outside a healthcare organization. It’s not enough to have mastered the ins and outs of hard skills like business finance or to know specific case examples by heart — you also need soft skills in healthcare, based on issues and trends specific to that industry.

The George Washington University online Healthcare MBA program can be your gateway to many rewarding opportunities. The 100% online program offers courses designed to equip experienced and aspiring healthcare leaders with health industry-focused business skills. You can complete the classes from anywhere with an internet connection — without needing to visit campus — and you can skip the long commute and time spent in an on-campus classroom. Additionally, the customizable curriculum allows you to focus on the health topics of most interest to you.

Discover how the GW HCMBA can help you achieve your professional goals. 

Recommended Readings

Exploring the 7 Graduate Certificates as Part of the GW Online Healthcare MBA

Hard Skills You Can Learn in the Online Healthcare MBA Program

What You Can Do with an MBA in Healthcare Administration


Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, “The 10 Smart Skills of the Future”

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, "MBA Soft Skills: A Hard Approach for a Softer Workplace"

Financial Times, "An MBA Is Still a Great Boost for Salaries"

Financial Times, "What Employers Want from MBA Graduates — and What They Don't"

LinkedIn Talent Blog, “The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020”