Master’s program in health care management teaches students to manage real issues

COVID-19 crisis has been a discussion topic in recent classes

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 28, 2020 – One of the keys to learning is the sharing of ideas and experiences, listening to a classmate’s point of view and brainstorming solutions.

That couldn’t be truer than in the University of Rhode Island’s new online graduate program in health care management. And in a program geared toward health care professionals, those experiences now regularly include dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in one form or another.

“The whole program is about managing real-life issues and these students are health care leaders or aspiring leaders,” says Kathryn Jervis, director of the graduate program and a professor of accounting. “These are extremely important discussions to share information about current health care events.”

The Master of Science in Healthcare Management, offered through the College of Business, opened in January and starts its first summer course May 5. The program is geared toward current and future health care professionals, preparing them to integrate leadership and knowledge of health care systems to enhance the management of patient care and quality of health organizations. The graduate program is part of the University’s new degree and certificate initiative, URI Online.

“In a focus group and through surveys, we found that health care practitioners desire knowledge about business concepts, skills and tools to deliver high-quality care efficiently and effectively,” says Jervis. “Providing health care is an extremely complex process to manage. Whether a clinician or a health care administrator, professionals often require leadership skills, ability to manage finances, data management, quality and process improvement, and a basic understanding of laws, ethics and public relations.”

When the graduate program started in January, the coronavirus was just becoming identified in China. In the program’s first class on leadership in health care, students already were sharing experiences about the crisis during online discussions, and that has continued in Jervis’ class on financial management of health care.

“Every single person on the planet has been impacted by COVID-19 in some way – whether that be financial, loss of an experience, increased work hours, disruption of daily routine,” says Karli Collins, an assistant athletic trainer at URI and a student in the program. “While this course is financial management, we are able to still bring discussions about our experiences in our various professions.”

Those discussions have included the impact of health care reforms and how the crisis has affected classmates who come from varied professional backgrounds.

“Our class discussions and readings have been enjoyably diverse with the range of perspectives we all have from various careers in health care,” says Collins, of West Kingston. “Experiences shared have been from those working in a pharmacy, a hospital, urgent care, insurance administration, patient care and business administration.”

Collins’ experiences include serving as assistant athletic trainer for softball and football at URI and three years at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Since mid-March, she has been working remotely, conducting telemedicine visits with athletes and communicating with coaches, support staff and strength coaches. She also works as an emergency medical technician. During the crisis, she has volunteered with the Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps, assisting with inventory, stocking and preparing supplies. Collins, who has a master’s degree in sports and exercise science, is pursuing the master’s in health care management with the goal of moving into the administrative side of athletics.

The experiences Martin Lafferty have shared come from a long career in the military, a background in civil engineering and now chief of facilities at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence. Lafferty, who was commissioned an Army officer at URI in 1981, retired from the Army in 2015 as a colonel.

“The older – or as Professor Jervis says, the nontraditional – students tend to have a deeper pocket from which to pull personal experiences,” says Lafferty, of Saunderstown. “These personal vignettes augment the textbook material and add a greater texture to the discussion. It illustrates contextually how the classroom presentation plays out in the real world.”

At the VA Medical Center, Lafferty has seen COVID-19 become the primary focus. The hospital has increased its surge capacity, improved its internal protection measures and pared the staff to only essential workers to reduce exposure – while also increasing telehealth outreach and providing non-virus care, says Lafferty, who is acting associate director of operations and incident coordinator for the medical center’s pandemic response.

While the financial management course material doesn’t directly address the crisis, it does touch on such issues as the general wellness of the population and health care industry and legislative efforts to improve quality and value of care. “The net result could be healthier citizens who are better prepared for pandemic threats,” he says.

Lafferty says he’s found the course and program challenging, especially as his days can stretch to 12 to 14 hours at the hospital. “This program provides those of us in health care with the ability to expand our knowledge base and the opportunity and flexibility to participate,” he says. “I could not have gotten this experience any other way.”

The online Master in Science Healthcare Management degree is a 30-credit graduate program that includes two stackable certificates – Health Leadership and Administration, and Quality Improvement, Process Measurement, and Information Systems Management – that can also be earned separately. To earn the master’s degree, students must complete the certificates, and an elective course and a final practicum. The structure of the seven-week, online courses allows students to move at their own pace, meeting deadlines for assignments. But students have the opportunity to finish the degree in two years with courses offered during the fall, spring and summer semesters. Students may enter the program during any semester. The summer semester starts May 5.

URI Online provides students and professionals access to a URI education anywhere and anytime across the globe, offering fully-online undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in such areas as communications, cybersecurity, digital forensics, dietetics, nursing and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.