DMU’s M.H.A. program offers personal professional connections

Students in Des Moines University’s master of health care administration (M.H.A.) degree program enjoy a personal connection to their faculty and classmates, even though students can complete the program entirely online.

“The program is fantastic in how it allows you to be able to take what you’ve done in the real world and apply that learning in the classroom, and vice versa. You gain development through the faculty and in collaboration with classmates – we learn from each other,” said Kevin Hejtmanek, D.P.T., a 2007 graduate of DMU’s doctor of physical therapy program. A physical therapist at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital in Lake City, IA, he is pursuing the M.H.A. degree – which he’s on track to complete this spring – to expand into administrative roles.

M.H.A. student Kevin Hejtmanek, D.P.T.’07, explains the process his team used during an exercise in a recent on-campus professional development seminar. (DMU photo by Brett T. Roseman)

M.H.A. students experience three professional development seminars during their course of study. One of those seminars recently took place on campus, allowing faculty and students, including Dr. Hejtmanek, some formal and informal face-to-face time. He is taking advantage of another offering of the M.H.A. program, the opportunity to experience a long-term care internship. The course is a field experience in which the student rotates throughout a nursing facility’s departments and functional areas to develop an intuitive feel for organizational life inside such a facility. Students who successfully complete the internship as part of their M.H.A. degree should be able to meet the state of Iowa practicum requirements to take the examination for licensure as a nursing home administrator, a status that’s regulated by the state. Dr. Hejtmanek is working with Brandon Kranovich, a 2011 graduate of DMU’s M.H.A. program and the director of health center operations at Wesley Acres, a living facility for older adults next door to campus.

“In my internship, I’m meeting and working with many different departments, from admissions and nursing to payroll and the social workers,” Dr. Hejtmanek says.

Caitlyn Reinhard, another M.H.A. student, praises the program for honing skills to “elevate our careers to the next level.” A data manager at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, she also emphasizes the accessibility of the program’s faculty, including during the online courses. “Dr. [Pamela] Duffy already has written two letters of recommendation for me,” she says.

MHA students Benjamin Ewing and Vladimir Michel compare notes during the Tool Time Lab. (DMU photo by Brett T. Roseman)

How the program trains students to connect the dots in the complex management of health care was evident during the seminar’s “Tool Time Lab.” Instructor Scott Burgmeyer, Ph.D., M.B.A., a consultant and executive director of the Iowa Quality Center, instructs student teams to achieve the goal of producing and developing five well-constructed airplanes, made of Lego building blocks, in three minutes. The teams’ progress, recorded on a whiteboard, reveal the task isn’t as easy as it might appear – but then the students improve by streamlining their construction processes, working as more effective teams and eliminating waste in movement and supplies. In comments after the teams achieve the goal, students translate the task to their work environments, from distributing hand sanitizer efficiently across a hospital to devising best practices and processes that “stick” even when personnel changes occur.

“With process improvement, we’re really talking about human performance,” the instructor says. “I want students to be able to make sure they’re addressing the right problem and backing up their methodologies with data throughout.”

The students’ time in Des Moines was not all work and no play. Students, faculty and alumni networked and relaxed at an off-campus dinner the evening of the first day of the seminar. There, Rachel Reimer, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of DMU’s public health department – which houses the University’s M.H.A. and master of public health degree (M.P.H.) programs – shared a few recent accomplishments of the department, its students and faculty.

Rachel Reimer, Ph.D., talks with alumni and students at a recent M.H.A. networking dinner. (DMU photo by Brett T. Roseman)

Dr. Reimer mentioned the University’s plan to move to a new 88-acre campus in West Des Moines in 2023 and the discussions under way in making that happen. “It’s exciting that we as a department get to have a voice in that,” she said.

She praised Adela Bajric and Ashley Vanorny, two M.H.A. students, for the volunteer activities – on top of their careers and academic pursuits – that earned them DMU Service Awards in 2019. She also expressed pride in Rodricka Brice-Curry, yet another M.H.A. student, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and certified respiratory therapist at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA, who was named the recipient of the 2020 Tim Campbell Scholarship of the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), the accrediting body for graduate programs in health care management. Rodricka and some DMU faculty will travel in March to the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress in Chicago, where she will accept the award.

Finally, Dr. Reimer gave a shout-out to Simon Geletta, Ph.D., professor of public health, who was selected by the U.S. Department of State for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange component. That program gives Americans the opportunity to travel to Africa to build upon strategic partnerships and professional connections that African participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship develop while they’re in the United States. As part of the program, Dr. Geletta will spend several weeks in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to hold educational and training sessions for health care leaders on implementing interventions to curb and manage chronic diseases.

“The future for our programs is really bright and really strong,” Dr. Reimer concluded.

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