The Beginning of Duke's Hospital Administration Program

Hospital Administration ClassDid you know that Duke’s School of Medicine was one of the first in the nation to offer hospital administration courses? When Duke Hospital and the School of Medicine opened in 1930, hospital administration was a new, relatively small field. Yet for the first School of Medicine Dean, Wilburt Davison, it was an issue of special importance, as the process of organizing and establishing the hospital had made him well aware of the need for good hospital administrators. He also believed it was crucial to have more well-trained administrators throughout the South in order to help raise the standards of health care in the region. Inspired in part by Michael M. Davis’ 1929 publication, Hospital Administration: A Career, which stressed the importance of training for hospital administrators and curriculum-centered work experience, Davison decided that Duke would offer graduates in business administration a two-year program. Above is a 1948 photo of Duke's hospital administration interns.) The program was designed with the belief that the strongest understanding of the hospital administration would come from experiencing as many aspects of the organization as possible, and required students to work a variety of departments, including the hospital admissions, the Hospital Administration Brochureadministrative office, the out-patience clinic, and even the storeroom. (To the left is a 1950's brochure about the program.)

Hospital administrators were responsible for many different aspects of their organization –- including financial management, human resources management, strategic planning, and supervision of business operations –- yet during the early 20th century, they rarely had a background in business or economics. In a 1948 speech “The Training of a Hospital Administrator,”  co-written with F. Ross Porter (one of the first graduates of Duke’s program), Davison discussed the problem: “While the eudcation [sic] of a nurse or a physician gives an excellent background for understanding the medical functions and relationships of the hospital, it provides little or no training in business management or in the financial and social relationships to the community upon which the ultimate success of a hospital largely depends…..and…men and women with business experience only Training of a Hospital Administratortoo often are unable to grasp hospital policy.” (Click on the image to the right to read the first page of the piece.) In the years that followed, other institutions increasingly recognized the value in training hospital administrators, and more programs were established throughout the country. Today hospital administration is one the largest industries in the U.S.

The name and nature of what was once called Duke’s hospital administration program has changed over the years. In 1964, the program shifted from awarding certificates to Master’s degrees. This degree was offered until 1986, when core courses were moved to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In 1991, the Duke MBA Health Sector Management program was introduced into Fuqua’s MBA curriculum, and today has over 400 students.