M.H.A. seminar helps students hone competencies to enhance effectiveness, achieve success

As the executive director of a health care organization engaged in telehealth – the use of technologies to provide health care electronically – Deborah Seale, Ph.D., worked with individuals who were highly adept at using technology but who were less comfortable working with people, and individuals who worked well with other people but less so with technology.

“Both physicians and technicians have strong personalities, so having to work together made for some contentious relationships,” she says. “In health care, we all have these great disciplines, but our disciplines can narrow our perspectives.”

Now an assistant professor in DMU’s public health department, Dr. Seale says for people to work well across those disciplines, they need to develop and apply certain competencies. They include specific knowledge and skills as well as interpersonal skills like flexibility and adaptability. Giving students tools and techniques to hone those qualities is an important component of the professional development seminar in DMU’s master of health care administration (M.H.A.) degree program.

Team leadership, collaboration and communication are just some of the competencies DMU’s M.H.A. program fosters in its students.

“In delivering health care and making it better, you can’t do that in your own little microcosm,” Dr. Seale says. “Clinicians, administrators, technicians and others all have a role in our success. Without all their functions, we would fail.”

In the professional development seminar, Dr. Seale asks students to identify three competencies they want to work on and three they believe they’re good at. They then develop a plan to improve in the first three and to leverage the other three most effectively. Dr. Seale describes some of the students’ experiences:

  • A medical student initially resisted having to develop financial skills, given his young age and the fact he would eventually work on the clinical side of a practice rather than the administrative side. He came around, however, when he realized he was going to have to manage his student loan debt as well as retirement or savings investments.
  • A student was torn between facilities management and quality assurance, both areas in which she had experience. To identify the best area for her, she took advantage of the program’s connection to the American College of Healthcare Executives to network with professionals in each area.
  • Another student wanted to gain experience in strategic planning. The organization in which she worked was going through a strategic planning process. The course helped her develop a plan to “get an invitation to a seat at that table,” Dr. Seale says.

Elise Barlow, an M.H.A. student and president of DMU’s Health Leaders Club, used the professional development seminar to identify ways the program could best benefit her.

“A lot of my goals surrounded leadership experience, and making sure I spaced time during the week for my course work that would lead to me being successful both professional and academically,” she says. She works as the assistant program coordinator for the family medicine residency program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“It’s been refreshing being able to incorporate my school work into my professional duties, and vice versa,” she notes.

Amir Ansari, M.D., enrolled in DMU’s M.H.A. program to facilitate his goal of transitioning from clinical practice, as an emergency medical physician at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, SC, to administrative practice as the CEO of a health care organization. A member of the DMU Health Leaders Club, he is experiencing most of the program as a distance learner but chose to participate in the on-campus version of the professional development seminar.

“I wanted a curriculum that would better prepare me for my future career path. DMU’s focus and commitment to the health sciences validated my reason for choosing this program,” he says. “I enjoyed meeting my fellow students and faculty during my on-campus professional development course. As far as course work is concerned, I do not feel as if I am a distance learner.”

The M.H.A. professional development seminar also helps students accept that if they fail in some way, that can be a valuable learning experience. They learn the importance of giving and receiving feedback per the “situation-behavior-impact” model of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The model promotes feedback based on identifying a specific situation, describing the observed behavior (including when and where it happened) and explaining its impact on oneself. Dr. Seale adds a fourth component: solution.

“Competencies are about behaviors. Understanding what’s driving behaviors – your own and those of others – requires reflection,” she says. “It requires being able to have that insight and having those discussions, without being judgmental, to achieve solutions.”

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