One group at Penn should actually be saying “Thanks Obama.”

There was an approximate 360 percent increase in applicants to the undergraduate health care management and policy concentration in Wharton for the class of 2018, and some professors say the raging health care reform debate drove the growth.

The cause of the unexpected spike in interest has “obviously been healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act,” Wharton professor and Chair of the Health Care Management Department Lawton Burns  said. “People are getting more exposure to all the intricate infrastructure of health care reform.”

In recent years, the department typically saw around 28 students apply to the concentration each admission cycle, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. This year the numbers shot up to around 130 applicants.

This may partly be because, in a difficult economy, the job outlook for people with a background in health care is bright. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2013 that the health care and social assistance sector will add five million jobs by 2022, and one-third of all new jobs in the United States will be in health care.

The concentration’s newfound popularity may also be because more students recognize that health care reform is a global concern, Burns said. “Health care is just a big ticket issue for everybody,” he said, pointing out that China is in the process of enacting reforms as well. “It is big in the East as well as in the West.”

Burns also sees Penn as a leader in the health care management field, because it is “the only Ivy League school and the only major business school that actually has a department of health care.”

The integrative nature of the concentration is unique to Penn, Burns said. There is “a lot of cross fertilization taking place” between the department, the medical school, the law school and the school of nursing, Burns added. “I think it’s a pretty happening place.”

Penn’s Health Care Management Department is “one of the top reasons I came to Penn,” Wharton freshman Anina Oliver said. “At other schools, you can do business or public health but even if you do a double major it’s not integrated well at all.”

“It’s already helped me in the internship market,” she added.

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