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Every day College of Health Professions students, alumni, faculty and staff do extraordinary things. Read more about our latest achievements below.

‘A wild ride full of adventure, heroism, joy and challenges you will never anticipate’

An interview with 2021-2022 ACHE Chair Carrie Owen Plietz, FACHE (MHA ‘00)

Since graduating from the MHA program in 2000, Carrie Owen Plietz has made an indelible impact on the field of health administration. In November 2020, she was named President of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Northern California region, which provides care to more than 4.5 million members through 21 hospitals and more than 250 medical offices.

In March, she began her term as Chair of the American College of Health Executives (ACHE). We caught up with Carrie this fall as she reflected on the industry, women in healthcare, and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead after the pandemic.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the health administration profession?

Plietz with staff at Kaiser Permanente hospitalAffordability is not a new challenge, but it's just as important as it was 10 years ago. While we have made great strides, we must continue to be relentless about removing waste from the system, move upstream toward disease prevention, and innovate. Healthcare organizations nationwide have been anticipating staffing shortages for quite some time now and the pandemic has made this challenge even more apparent. Early pipeline programs will be critical to build bench strength for clinical professions. 

Healthcare is often times viewed as a slow-moving industry; however, this pandemic has taught us a lot about how quickly we can move in times of crisis. We'll need to continue to facilitate rapid change, quickly assess what did or didn't work, and spread best practices. Performance improvement and innovation are best done when listening to what our consumers want/need, tapping into our workforce to come up with great ideas, and quickly removing barriers that get in the way or slow down progress. 

What's the role of ACHE and healthcare organizations in moving the profession toward a more inclusive understanding of standards of professionalism?

What drives us at ACHE is our vision to be the preeminent professional society for leaders dedicated to advancing health. What defines us is our mission – a commitment to advancing both individuals and the field of health care leadership. 

We are committed to ethics and our values of integrity, lifelong learning, leadership, and diversity and inclusion. By playing an active role as a catalyst for the field, connector for the leadership community, and a trusted partner for our members throughout their careers, we are dedicated to moving the profession toward a more inclusive understanding of professionalism. 

Women are underrepresented in healthcare leadership positions. As a woman in a high-level leadership role, what advice would you offer women entering the field?

It is incredibly gratifying to make a difference in the health and lives of others. My advice: spend some time assessing what brings you joy, ensure you are clear on your own personal values, and know what you want from a role — not what other people want or expect. 

Make a plan to achieve your goals. Where are you today? What’s your next step? What do you envision as the trajectory of your career path over the next 5, 10, 15 years? Identify organizations that share your personal values as places you might want to be part of your professional journey. 

Finally, always remember you do not have to walk on water, all you have to do is swim across.  

As a healthcare leader, what have been your greatest takeaways leading through a pandemic? 

It’s been a remarkable 11 months for me since joining Kaiser Permanente last November – being given the opportunity to not only lead Kaiser Permanente Northern California, but to do so during a global pandemic has truly been an awesome challenge. 

While there have been multiple learnings for me and my team, the greatest takeaways for me have been the importance of being a mission driven organization and just how critical it is to be nimble, to innovate, and to demonstrate leadership in the midst of a crisis.

The people of Kaiser Permanente Northern California have a remarkable and unwavering commitment to its mission – to improve the lives of the communities it serves.

As the pandemic continues to change the world around us, our mission has never ceased to serve as a North Star, a guiding light keeping us in the fight to heal our sickest patients and to ensure we get as many of our community members vaccinated as possible. 

The ability to stretch and flex to meet the health care needs of our members and local communities in what has been a constantly shifting landscape over the past 20 months of the pandemic has been incredibly important. When demand for COVID-19 testing far outpaced supply in early 2020, we moved quickly to significantly expand our testing capabilities. The expansion included building a new $14 million testing lab in Northern California. The lab opened in May 2020 and was built in less than two months. It can process up to 20,000 tests per day.

Early in the pandemic, Kaiser Permanente was able to swiftly move to offering our members telehealth appointments as an alternative to in-person care. From March to November 2020, our physicians conducted nearly 3.7 million video visits, compared to approximately 100,000 for all of 2019. This remarkable work around telehealth is a terrific example of Kaiser Permanente’s ability to innovate on-the-fly to provide members and patients with excellent care and service, while also supporting COVID-19 mitigation efforts to combat the spread.

Understanding that getting as many people as possible vaccinated is the best way to end this pandemic, Kaiser Permanente led the way in its decision to mandate vaccinations for all our physicians and employees in August, which was closely followed by a similar mandate for all health care workers by the State of California. Our leadership in implementing a vaccination mandate shaped the conversation at both a state and national level – ultimately helping to increase vaccination rates across the board. 

You serve on the VCU Health Administration Alumni Advisory Council. Why is it important to you to remain engaged with the program as your career has progressed?

Throughout my career I have been supported, encouraged, and motivated by so many individuals and organizations connected to VCU. The university has not only provided me with a great education and a strong springboard to my career through their Administrative residency program, but also opportunities to build lifelong friendships with fellow students and professors. 

I have also had the pleasure of being a preceptor to students during their own residency training and supporting them in their careers, where I have learned as much from them as they have from me. Mentoring and being on the Alumni Advisory Council are just two small ways for me to give back to VCU.

What advice would you give students who are entering the healthcare field?

Make sure you are entering the profession for the right reasons. Are you called to care for others, improve our systems, and is healthcare your passion? 

Healthcare leadership is not an easy path. From the inherent flaws that remain to be solved, to the need to move toward a new model of preventative care, a successful career in health care requires incredible dedication and personal commitment.

It is a wild ride full of adventure, heroism, joy and challenges you will never anticipate and one that has the power to save lives. Be humble, ask for help, raise your hand for the assignment no one wants, fix a problem no one has spent time to fix, make a difference — and always, always put the patient at the center of every decision.

Build your internal and external network and work at it at every step of your career. VCU Alumni always have an open door.


VCU Health Administration alum named head of The Joint Commission

Headshot of John Perlin

VCU Health Administration MSHA alum Dr. Jonathan B. Perlin has been named as the next president and CEO of The Joint Commission. He is currently president of clinical operations and chief medical officer of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare.

Founded in 1951, The Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 22,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. The Commission seeks to continuously improve health care for the public by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value.

Before joining HCA in 2006, Perlin was Under Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He was a champion for early implementation of electronic health records, and led VA quality performance to international recognition. Perlin also is a commission member of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), a nonpartisan legislative branch providing Congress with analysis and policy advice on the Medicare program.

"I know that he will continue to transform The Joint Commission’s critical work to improve patient safety and quality of care in health care organizations across the country and around the world,” said Dr. Mark R. Chassin, current President and CEO of The Joint Commission.

Read the full story at the Joint Commission.

VCU Department of Health Administration announces new PhD program director

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Health Administration has appointed Laura McClelland, PhD as the new director of the PhD Program in Health Services Organization and Research (HSOR).

As program director, McClelland will be responsible for recruitment efforts for both part-time and full-time doctoral students; overseeing the curriculum of the PhD program; mentoring and supervising degree progress for doctoral students; as well as interfacing with the program’s robust HSOR PhD alumni community.

“I am honored to take on the role for a program that has reliably produced so many outstanding PhDs that have gone on to lead distinguished careers,” said McClelland. “This is an incredible opportunity to build on the many programmatic successes of our previous director and faculty emeritus, Dr. Jan Clement.”

McClelland who has been a member of the Department of Health Administration and taught in the PhD program for 10 years, says that a top priority is to grow the program’s full-time enrollments. 

CHP funded student scholarships and stipends will enable the HSOR PhD program to attract the brightest research-oriented students, which will further strengthen the reputation of the program, and also synergistically fuel productive research collaborations for its students and faculty,” she said. “The latter, in turn, enhances the reputation of our college. It's a win-win. In the long-term, we want to further strengthen our reputation as a top-tier PhD program that reliably produces highly productive health care organizational scholars.”

McClelland has expertise in the areas of health administration, organizational behavior, management and organization theory. Her research interests include workplace compassion, employee well-being. and patient experience. Her work examines the nature and effects of organizational compassion practices on important outcomes for healthcare organizations. 


Her research is published in leading health services and social science journals, including Health Services ResearchMedical Care and Human Resource Management Review, and is cited in popular press outlets such as CNN and Kaiser Health News. Additionally, her work was featured in VCU Health’s annual report this past year.



“I consider it a privilege to take on this role at such a unique time for our department and college because we are better resourced to best support our students and in turn produce strong PhD graduates,” said McClelland. “We have successfully recruited a number of leading scholars in the field to join our department faculty, which further strengthens the caliber of our curriculum and research mentoring. In addition, due to CHP's commitment to our PhD program, we are now able to fund up to four incoming full-time PhD students who each will receive full tuition scholarships, a stipend for their living expenses, and provide support to attend research conferences.”


McClelland encourages anyone who is interested in a career in research and teaching, with a passion for studying health care organizations and health services research, to reach out to see if the VCU HSOR PhD program can help you achieve your goals. For more, visit here.

Health Administration Alumni Spotlight: Robert S.D. Higgins, M.D., M.S.H.A.

Robert S.D. Higgins, M.D., M.S.H.A., has been appointed president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and executive vice president at Mass General, effective December 2021.

Picture of Robert S.D. Higgins

A 2005 graduate of VCU’s Master of Science in Health Administration program, Higgins currently serves as surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and is the William Stewart Halsted Professor of Surgery and Director of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

To read the full announcement, visit here.

Two long-time Health Administration faculty set to retire

The VCU College of Health Professions’ Department of Health Administration will soon bid farewell to two accomplished faculty members, who are set to retire in the near future.  

They include Jan Clement, Ph.D., Cardwell professor and director of the doctoral program in health services organization and research, and Carolyn “Cindy” Watts, Ph.D., Sentara professor in the Department of Health Administration.

photo of Jan Clement

Clement has dedicated more than 30 years to the department, serving as a faculty member, as well as program director and interim chair during a time of transition between chairs. In 1994, Clement was the first female faculty member to earn tenure in the department.

Specializing in healthcare financial management, she has published numerous articles about the financial performance of hospital firms, strategic alliances and subsidiaries of larger firms. She has also studied not-for-profit firms extensively, including the returns provided by not-for-profit acute care hospitals to communities, financial management tools for not-for-profit firms, and provision of charity care in the face of market competition. Clement also completed studies with regard to the relationship of financial performance of skilled nursing facilities to their quality of care.

A woman smiling in professional attire

Watts joined VCU as the Richard M Bracken Chair of Health Administration in 2010 and served as department chair until 2019. She is currently the interim MSHA program director.

Watts studied economics at the Johns Hopkins University, and her research has focused on organizational, reimbursement and regulatory issues in healthcare markets. Her previous research explored the impact of various legislative initiatives on health insurance risk pools and the implementation of various hospital reimbursement models and medical home demonstration projects in Washington State.

She has worked with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association on a project to measure value in Virginia hospitals. She also was an inaugural member of the planning committee for the Virginia Healthcare Innovators Awards, and served on an Institute of Medicine Task Force to evaluate the Lovell Federal Heath Care Center Merger. Watts has completed several projects on various aspects of prison health care for the Virginia State Department of Corrections. She serves on the Board of Health Brigade, a free clinic in Richmond, as well as various committees with AUPHA (Association of University Programs in Health Administration).

“I am thankful to these two remarkable individuals for their longstanding commitment to fostering and building exceptional leaders in healthcare,” said Paula H. Song, Ph.D., Richard M. Bracken Chair of the Department of Health Administration. “The success of our programs and numerous accomplishments throughout the department are a testament to the strong foundation they have each helped to build.  I sincerely wish Jan and Cindy the best as they each begin a well-deserved and exciting new chapter.”

The VCU Department of Health Administration is a premiere research department geared toward creating innovative, compassionate, and business-savvy leaders to reimagine healthcare. The Master of Health Administration program is rated in the top five among its peers in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit here.

Malorie Burkett
VCU College of Health Professions


Two Faculty Appointments

The VCU College of Health Professions announced the appointment of two new faculty members who recently joined the Department of Health Administration.

They are Saleema Karim, Ph.D., and Nathan Carroll, Ph.D. Both will serve as associate professors in health administration.

“I am excited to welcome Saleema and Nate to the College,” said Paula Song, Ph.D., Richard M. Bracken Chair of the Department of Health Administration. “Their extensive backgrounds in teaching and research expertise in healthcare financial management will be a tremendous asset to our department as we continue to prepare students to become innovative leaders across healthcare.”

Picture of Saleema Karim

Karim comes to VCU after serving in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, in Little Rock, Ark. Throughout her career, she has taught classes in healthcare financial management, operations management, and quality. Karim’s research interests include hospital financial performance, quality and access, disparities and reimbursement/payment systems.

“I am looking forward to being part of the health administration and VCU team and the opportunities to collaborate and innovate with faculty, to teach and motivate the next generation of health administration students and to be involved and influence policy within VCU,” said Karim. “I hope to contribute and have a positive impact on the VCU community, state, nation and globally.”

She received her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.; Master of Business Administration and Master of Health Administration from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and doctorate in health services research with a minor in financial management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Picture of Nate Carroll

Carroll previously was assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His research focuses include value-based payment, organizational responses to changing reimbursement systems, the financial management of health care organizations and return on investment for quality improvement activities.

“I have enjoyed the chance to teach great students over the past seven years, and learned a lot about training students to make good financial decisions for the organizations they go on to lead,” said Carroll. “I'm looking forward to bringing those skills to the students I'll be working with at VCU. Similarly, I've learned a lot about how financial incentives impact organizations' delivery of care, and I'm hoping to use that insight to develop partnerships with some of the accomplished researchers in the department, at the university and at the medical center.”

Carroll received his Bachelor of Science in commerce (finance) and economics from the University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce; a Masters in Health Administration from VCU; and doctoral degree in health services organization and policy, from the University of Michigan, Department of Health Management and Policy, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“VCU has done so much for me and I grew a lot during my time in the MHA program,” he said. “As a student I remember being impressed by the high bar the faculty set as teachers, but also as researchers. The current faculty have continued to maintain those high standards, and I'm really excited to participate in that tradition and that I get to do so with a great group of colleagues.” 

The VCU Department of Health Administration is a premiere research department geared toward creating innovative, compassionate, and business-savvy leaders to reimagine healthcare. The Master of Health Administration program is rated in the top five among its peers in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

New Associate Dean for Research and Strategic Initiatives

pic of Dr. Daniel Lee

Lee comes to VCU after serving as professor and associate chair of health policy and management at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and faculty director of the Griffith Leadership Center at the University of Michigan. His main research interest is in health care organizations. In addition, he has conducted studies on issues related to health care utilization, physician manpower, and health information technology. His current research applies the theories of social capital, social support and social networks to the understanding of health care organizations and patient behavior.   

“The dean envisioned having someone on her leadership team who could think out loud with her in charting new grounds and direction for the College,” said Lee. “This is beyond just focusing on the research within the College. What I see in front of us are opportunities to do something innovative, new, exciting and hopefully effective and impactful.”
Lee’s work has appeared in major health services research and management journals. He has received recognitions from several regional and national associations, notably the Best Pre- and Post- Doctoral Presentation Award from the Association for Health Services Research in 1997, the John D. Thompson Prize for Young Investigators from AUPHA in 2002, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research in 2008, and the Medical Care Research & Review Best Paper Award in 2009. He currently serves on the boards of AUPHA and National Center for Healthcare Leadership.
He received his doctoral degree in health services organization and policy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; his Master of Science in public health from National Yang-Ming University; and his Bachelor of Science in zoology from National Taiwan University, both in Taipei, Taiwan. In his spare time, Lee enjoys cooking, gardening and reading. He and his family will relocate to Richmond this summer.

Paula Song Begins as New Chair for Health Administration

pic of Paula Song

Since 2017, Song has served as program director for the residential master’s program in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and a research associate at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. As program director, Song has focused on programmatic improvements, enhancing efforts around diversity and inclusion, and engaging in national organizations. Under her leadership, the national ranking of UNC’s master of health administration program rose from no. 5 to no. 3 according to U.S. News and World Report.  
Song began her career as a health administrator, and subsequently transferred her interests in health administration to teaching and research. Her current research focuses on the financial management of healthcare organizations, payment reform, and how alternative payment models impact utilization and access to health services for underserved populations. Her work has been published extensively in leading health services research and healthcare management journals. She teaches courses in healthcare accounting and finance and has co-authored five leading textbooks in healthcare finance.
“I feel very fortunate to contribute to a dynamic field that has an impact on people’s lives and healthcare experiences,” said Song. “I look forward to continuing my research at VCU to address emerging questions relevant to health administration and policy, teaching and mentoring students and colleagues to be successful in their careers, and leading programs and the Department of Health Administration.”
Song is actively involved in national professional organizations such as the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) and the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). Most recently, she was named the 2020 recipient of the John D. Thompson Prize for Young Investigators by AUPHA. The Thompson Prize was established to honor John D. Thompson, a professor of health administration education, who set teaching, commitment to learning, collegial relationships, and health services research standards which are without peer.
She received her doctoral degree in health services organization and policy, her Master of Arts in applied economics, and Masters of Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in biological basis of behavior from the University of Pennsylvania.
An avid long-distance runner, Song enjoys spending time with her husband, two small children and their dog. She and her family will reside in Richmond.

Dean's Seed Funding Award

"Preconception Care and Pregnancy-related Morbidity and Infant Health Outcomes among Women with Disabilities using Virginia PRAMS Data"

pic of Ann Shih, Ph.D.

Ann Shih, assistant professor in Health Administration department will be collaborating with Virginia Department of Health to achieve the following objectives:

  • To understand the preconception health and preconception care among women with disabilities and how it differs from their counterparts.
  • To investigate factores associated with preconception care-seeking behaviors and how disability status affects the associations.
  • To investigate the associations between preconception health, preconception care, and pregnancy-related outcomes, and infant health outcomes.

Have a story about the College of Health Professions in action that you'd like to share? Contact us at mgburkett@vcu.edu or (804) 828-7247.