Since 2014, Linda Mast has been a core faculty member in Walden University’s School of Health Sciences. She is the former program director for the competency-based education (CBE) Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, which she helped develop. In addition, she has 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, working in the United States and Central America in academic medical centers, community hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, long-term care facilities and the military.
She recently offered insight into Walden’s MHA program, what students should know about getting into health administration and the skills needed to succeed in this rapidly changing industry, among other topics.
Talk about the challenges and rewards of teaching in an MHA program.
I have been with Walden University for five years, and it is by far my most rewarding teaching experience. Our students are diverse in all respects, coming from the District of Columbia, all 50 states in the United States and more than 150 countries. This enriches the learning experience for both the students and faculty. My students are often working and need a flexible learning environment or may be inaccessible to other learning options.
The MHA program is offered in both a traditional, course-based format and as a CBE modality through Tempo Learning®, which is a custom-paced learning experience that allows students to have more control over their schedule and apply their experience to the degree. It is so rewarding to actively engage with individual students throughout their learning experience.
The challenge to ensure that curriculum is relevant and current in the ever-changing healthcare environment is something I’m committed to every day, and my Walden colleagues and program director, Sarah Pavelka, PhD, are always happy to brainstorm new ideas. Membership in MGMA offers excellent networking and resources for me as a faculty member to bring current examples to my teaching. We are also fortunate at Walden to have a team of curriculum design professionals who partner with faculty to ensure all our courses and competency content give students a great experience.
What are students interested in and what are they talking about?
My students are passionate about becoming change agents to improve their industries and overcome disparities in healthcare delivery and access. They also enjoy talking about innovation and collaborating in new and creative ways. A topic that often comes up is how technology will impact the future of value-based care and population health management. For example, a favorite subject of discussion is the application of social media in healthcare.
We recently hosted a journal club webinar to discuss this more informally with students using a recent MGMA Connection article, “Social media and the physician practice workplace,” during which students enjoyed sharing their perspectives and experiences with faculty.
What makes Walden University’s program innovative?
Our MHA program is innovative in many ways, but our flexible learning formats really appeal to working professionals. The options for students to complete their degree in either traditional, online courses or the CBE modality ensure learning outcomes are the same, regardless of which format is best for them. Students appreciate that flexibility. Our program also offers authentic course work in population health, including a specialization that is also offered as a certificate.
What skills do administrators/practitioners need today to succeed in a rapidly changing industry?
We frequently incorporate input and feedback from employers and industry experts to inform our curriculum. Effective communication and willingness to approach problems creatively using an evidence-based foundation are a big part of this. Employers also want to know that MHA graduates are confident to jump in and solve problems in creative and effective ways.
From a veteran practice administrator’s view, what are key things students should know about getting into the field?
- Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer. I’m so proud to have been the first female ACMPE Fellow from my home state of Missouri and the youngest in the nation at that time. Earning that credential really helped me advance in my career.
- Develop a network of mentors and colleagues with whom you can communicate and collaborate. Walden advocates for students to become active in professional organizations that align with their goals. For students who are interested in either advancing their career in practice management or simply exploring this as an option, MGMA is the ideal organization to support that. The physician-administrator leadership dyad is a key part of success in the practice management world. Being able to speak with others who have experience with this on a practical level gives students the opportunity to apply what they learn in their program in their careers.
Do you have any tips for students as they begin to look for their first job?
- Work with your faculty, family and friends to identify ways to leverage your strengths and passions. Volunteering is a great option. Many of our students are very engaged in volunteerism, which is not a surprise given Walden’s mission for social change.
- Work on identifying specific career goals and map out a plan. Create a network of mentors and colleagues and get the word out. Make sure you have a competitive resume and great 30-second elevator pitch prepared when you meet people.