Entering ’23 with Intentionality

Paige PowellM. Paige Powell, Ph.D., MHA 
MHA/MSHA Program Director and Associate Professor

If you look at VCU Health Administration class photos over the past decade, you will immediately notice a remarkable change. As the years go on, the faces become more diverse, and especially in recent years.

This change was intentional and strategic, the result of our vision to educate healthcare leaders who look like and share life experiences with the patient populations they leave VCU to go on and serve. 

Such intentionality is the theme I see as we look ahead into 2023.

Since I arrived at VCU from the University of Memphis in July, I’ve bore witness to the fresh vision that department chair Paula H. Song, Ph.D. has brought to our programs and people.

Our MHA and MSHA programs have been reshaped with intentionality. The new faces on our faculty, or the veterans here in new roles — those hires and shifts, too, done deliberately. The department’s two new certificate programs in health equity and financial management, and the existing certificate in aging studies, leverage our faculty’s expertise and our strategic priorities for educating not only MHA/MSHA students, but in expanding those options to students outside of the traditional programs.

None of this is to say the department was worse off before. No, these changes are about making an incredible, nationally ranked program even better.

In our MHA program, in a change that will take effect in late 2023, we’ve reduced credits for some foundational classes that did not require as much depth. In scaling back but keeping the overall credit requirement for graduation, we give students flexibility to pursue electives in their areas of interest. 

In particular, we want to guide them to pick up any of the certificates in health equity, financial management, or aging studies. They’ll be able to specialize in a particular field while still gaining the basic structure they need to be skilled leaders when they get out.

While all three certificates carry value, if the student isn’t as focused on finance or aging, I point them to health equity — a skill all leaders require. As healthcare organizations become responsible for both quality and the health status of their communities, they must pay closer attention to the diverse needs of their populations and find ways to improve care and make it more equitable for all. Our health equity certificate positions students to not only analyze those issues impacting health equity, but influence policy to advance these concepts in their communities. They take courses covering issues such as intersectionality and unconscious bias, and get to meet lobbyists and advocates with special interests who will show them how to look at policy objectively and successfully advocate in their communities.

On the MSHA side, a schedule and format overhaul will give current full-time clinicians and healthcare professionals, who attend the program remotely, more flexibility. There are now three, 3-day, face-to-face sessions per semester — two virtual, and one in-person — to cut back on the amount of time students must physically be in Richmond. Going forward, semesters will more closely follow a traditional academic year with summer and winter breaks; the program’s previous back-to-back six-month semesters offered little if any time to recharge. Our hope is that more flexibility and shorter face-to-face sessions, whether virtual or in person, are highly valuable.

Beyond our programs, we’ve restarted our Executive-in-Residence initiative, giving students a direct link to healthcare leaders who have committed a certain number of hours each month to students to complement their education. For 2023, this includes Howard Kern (MHA ’81), Chief Executive Officer Emeritus of Sentara Healthcare, as well as Sheronica (Barcliff) Burgess (MSHA ’13), an entrepreneur with expertise in healthcare quality. Both bring different experiences and pathways in healthcare leadership. We’ll continue to bring in exciting speakers, like entrepreneur and author Quint Studer, who spoke to students and held a workshop with leaders from a number of Virginia health systems in November.

We are actively involved in helping to revamp the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) and are looking forward to working closely with them to involve our students in more professional development opportunities. We are so thankful to continue our partnerships with the Central Virginia Healthcare Executives Group and Richmond Medical Group Management Association chapter. Their time and dedication to our students provides them with mentorship, guidance, and growth opportunities.

In March, 58 students from Taiwanese medical school Kaohsiung Medical University will return to the College of Health Professions and other sites in Virginia, for one week, for the first time since before COVID. They’ll learn about how the American healthcare system functions and visit healthcare facilities throughout Virginia. 

All these moves are done with purpose and intent in our mission to prepare practicing and aspiring leaders to reimagine healthcare across the nation and continuums of care. I hope you will follow our exciting progress in the coming year and I wish you all success in 2023.

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