Healthcare Administration Program Championed by Alumnus
Submitted on June 11, 2018
At its spring commencement, Georgetown College celebrated the graduation of its first Healthcare Administration (HCA) students – one year earlier than originally anticipated. The program received its initial approval in spring 2016; to date, a total of 19 students have declared HCA as a major or minor or have plans to do so in the coming semesters. Four graduated in May 2018.
Sarah E. “Libby” Whitis, Gheens Associate Professor – Management and Healthcare Administration, joined Georgetown College in fall 2015 to teach management and to develop the College’s new initiative in Healthcare Administration. With over 30 years of executive healthcare administration and clinical experience as well as 15 years of higher education teaching and administration experience (assistant professor, associate dean), Dr. Whitis is uniquely qualified to build GC’s HCA program.
The HCA program is an integrity-based program designed to educate and train all graduates in competencies specified by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) as well as focus on workforce readiness skills and evidence-based practice. The design of each HCA course assures each student the opportunity to put theory into practice and apply critical thinking skills in complex problem-solving. An essential part of each course is a practitioner project in addition to a required internship in the healthcare field. GC alumni have provided outstanding support in developing practitioner opportunities, guest speaking to classes on their expertise, and serving as “coach” for the project.
Alumnus Mark D. Birdwhistell, Class of 1977, has been one of the program’s strongest supporters since Healthcare Administration was introduced. Now Vice President for Administration & External Affairs for University of Kentucky HealthCare, Birdwhistell is both advocate and mentor for the program. Birdwhistell has received numerous awards for his achievements in the area of healthcare and disability rights and has been published on topics such as private payer strategies, aging and independent living, and Medicaid.
Considered an expert on healthcare policy and Medicaid reform with over 30 years’ experience, he is a much sought-after speaker at the national level on both. He still finds time each semester, however, to return to campus as a speaker for the introductory class on healthcare administration which explores healthcare policy, organization, and management, and to serve as program advisor and project coach. Through his support, internship opportunities exist at UK Healthcare for Georgetown College healthcare administration majors.
For an interview with the alumni publication GC Magazine, Birdwhistell shared his thoughts about the Healthcare Administration program and its importance as an academic offering for Georgetown College.
GC Magazine (GCM): Since the introduction of Healthcare Administration as both a major and minor at GC, you have been active as advocate and mentor. As an alumnus long involved in healthcare policy and reform, what benefit(s) do you see this program offering?
Mark Birdwhistell: This program is particularly close to my heart. My late brother, Dr. Jack Birdwhistell (“Doc”) had a vision for this program and he observed how I had taken my Georgetown College liberal arts foundation and channeled that into a dynamic career in health care. He wanted his beloved Georgetown College students to get a jumpstart toward these types of opportunities.
Before he died, Jack had asked me to prepare a proposal for this major. He gave that proposal to Georgetown College leadership and to President Greene. At Jack’s memorial service in John L. Hill Chapel, Dr. Greene pulled me aside to say, ‘We need to make your brother’s vision a reality.’
Jack would be very pleased because this program focuses not only on teaching students theoretical knowledge but also on preparing them for the future. By the end of the program, students demonstrate workforce readiness skills, meet industry standards of competency, and have gone through a rigorous internship which stimulates their future careers while providing them with extensive networking opportunities. Upon graduation, students are ready for a seamless transition into the workplace and/or graduate study.
GCM: What further development or expansion would you encourage?
MB: I encourage the program to continue building relationships with healthcare organizations and federal and state agencies across the state and nation to give students as much hands-on experience as possible across many different types of institutions. Having this diverse knowledge will broaden students’ perspectives on what health care is now and what it could, and should, look like in the future.
GCM: Having been involved in healthcare policy and organization for three decades or so, what critical changes have you seen? Do you now foresee? How can this next generation of leaders contribute?
MB: Healthcare delivery is rapidly changing. Part of this is due to advances in technology, but most of it is driven by payment policies and legislative and regulatory action at the state and federal levels.
More specifically, the scope of Medicaid coverage and payment has been a recurring theme, particularly over the last few presidential administrations. I encourage our future leaders to study the history and financial impact of Medicaid as they begin to explore sustainable solutions, such as the engagement opportunities included in Kentucky’s recent Medicaid waiver.
Finally, substance use disorder and opioid abuse, in particular, has risen to the forefront of the healthcare landscape over the past decade. In fact, 30% of hospital patients in our state struggle with substance abuse disorder. Our next generation of leaders should be aware of the breadth of this problem and should focus on finding ways to help our communities fight this scourge.
GCM: What areas of healthcare administration need the most attention?
MB: It’s valuable for students to gain exposure to all areas of healthcare administration, but to then narrow their interests to an area in which they can become an expert, whether they are intrigued by operations or information technology or nursing. The more focused students are about a particular area, the easier it will be for them to find mentors and to build their knowledge base. Students need the ability to communicate clearly their interests and goals.
GCM: You have been instrumental in establishing internship opportunities in the UK HealthCare program for GC students. What types of projects do students participate in at UK?
MB: The first two weeks of the internship involve a full immersion experience here at UK HealthCare. The students are paired with a member of our senior leadership team, and they attend work with their leader each day. They are exposed to all sectors of healthcare administration, from nursing to information technology, and are provided with a “feast of facts” from which they can identify their areas of greatest interest.
I particularly enjoy watching the transformation as the students arrive the first day looking lost in a world of acronyms and jargon, very quietly observing the new environment. By the end of the first week, they are fully engaged and enthusiastically sharing ideas and stories of interesting people and experiences that they had encountered that week. They quickly connect these experiences to classroom lecture topics which for me appear as “lightbulb on” moments in their respective educational journeys.
Upon the conclusion of the two-week internship, the students each hone in on areas of interest, around which they craft their final reports. This gives the students an opportunity to explore one particular area in great depth, conducting research and interviews with experts on that areas. The project empowers students to begin building their professional networks in a specialized area, giving them invaluable contacts who can mentor them after graduation.
GCM: What advice and counsel do you offer high school students who may be considering study and a possible career in healthcare? Are there areas with more potential than others?
MB: I would advise high school students to take advantage of every opportunity to get immersed in the world of health care. For example, at UK HealthCare, we offer a teen volunteer program that enables students to witness hospital operations first hand. I also recommend staying abreast of the latest healthcare news and trends by regularly reading health care periodicals and websites.
All sectors of health care need hardworking and ethical people who are open to learning and growth. Health care is a field that we will always need, and one that will only continue to grow with our aging population.
For more information on the Healthcare Administration offering, please contact the Office of Admission. 502-863-8009 or 800-788-9985. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.