The medical tourism industry is growing. But even though all its subfields are expanding, it seems that higher education systems are lagging behind. The lack of a curriculum focused on training professionals for a career in medical tourism is highly evident. So far, there are only a couple of programs in the world that exist with such a focus.
But perhaps that is starting to change.
In 2008, Dr. Robert Gerl co-founded the European joint-educational MBA program on health and medical tourism, cross-border healthcare and health destination management at the University of Applied Sciences in Deggendorf/Bavaria, Germany. This is the first master’s program of its kind.
Additionally, Florida International University in Miami is in the planning stages of a medical tourism certificate program.
But why is this so important? Up until now, people have been entering the industry from marketing, hospitality and legal backgrounds. And if the industry has been growing, surely its professionals are doing something right?
They absolutely are, but they could be doing even better, said Dr. Dan Cormany, a visiting assistant professor of meetings and events at FIU. Cormany is on the University’s committee that is working to establish a medical tourism curriculum within its hospitality and tourism program.
“There is a lot of preparation that goes into helping medical travelers that is not yet understood by the average hospitality or business professional,” he said, explaining why the educational focus is essential.
“You could have the very same medical quality in two different locations, but if all the other aspects of the care and concierge treatment are pulled together, it’s going to be a much better experience for the patients and for the facilities that are trying to establish themselves as medical tourism destinations.”
He said there is a lot of ignorance among regular travel professionals about minor details that are so important to patients. For example, hotel decorations should not include paintings of food or wine because they could potentially be nauseating to someone who just had an intense procedure. Also, patients should be able to schedule housekeeping visits so that they are not disturbed at the time they are accustomed to napping.
These are minor details that are tailored toward medical tourists, ones that will set one facility apart from another. Cormany also said that his research has shown that there tends to be a stronger emphasis on the economics and insurance side of medical tourism when there should be a stronger balance with the hospitality side.
“What we have tried to do is basically cover the different segments of medical tourism,” Cormany said of FIU’s curriculum. “We need to look at it from the hotel and hospitality areas (hotel transportation, diet, concierge), also from a hospital perspective (arrangement, convenience, color, flow), also from a marketing perspective (how do you market a possible medical tourism destination?) and as the medical facilitator (who pulls this all together).”
Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism will be able to study medical tourism as their special focus. However, students outside of the degree could also study the courses and receive a certificate. The committee has created a rough draft of the six classes that will be offered.
Cormany said the program is still in its early stages, so none of them have been approved yet. Currently, the potential courses include: Introduction to Medical Tourism, Hospitality Hosted Medical Tourism, Hospital Hospitality, Medical Destination Marketing, Service and Design for Medical Travelers and Medical Tourism Site Visit.
The site visit will be a hands-on experience in which the student travels to the medical destination and works with the travel facilitator.
Cormany said the program won’t be ready for at least a year because the school is currently examining the job outlook in the industry, surveying students and reviewing and revising the curriculum.
He said the higher education systems have been slow to offer these types of programs because data is hard to come by. Hospitals measure numbers differently, like whether a tourist traveled there specifically for treatment or just happened to get sick while on vacation. This lack of data requires that a lot of groundwork be laid before the subjects can be taught. But in addition to academia being resistant, so are students.
“They are very pragmatic about it because they are looking at colleges as preparation for a career,” he said. “And until there is more recognition of medical tourism in the general community, they will be resistant to taking classes. And where are they going to learn about it? Only through media stories or personal experiences.”
But Cormany believes this is going to change. American cities like Las Vegas and Miami are embracing the industry as they try to market themselves as medical tourism destinations. In addition, as changes occur in the United States’ medical system, people are going to investigate alternative means of healthcare.
“I really think in the next three or four years this is going to mushroom,” he said. “There will be a lot more attention given to this topic, and that’s when the general public will start paying attention – I hope.”
About the Authors
Renée-Marie Stephano is the President of the Medical Tourism Association™. Ms. Stephano is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Tourism Magazine, Health Tourism Magazine and Healthcare Development Magazine. Having a background in international marketing and relations, health law and litigation, she provides a valuable service to the Medical Tourism Association™ in these fields. She may be reached at:Renee@MedicalTourismAssociation.com
Daniela Abratt graduated in May from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and minor in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance. She has previously interned at The Miami Herald and will attend law school at Florida International University in August 2012. She writes for the Medical Tourism Association’s Medical Tourism Magazine and Health Tourism Magazine.