Health administration students learn to manage rapid changes in health care

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Health care is a constantly and rapidly evolving industry. Students in Penn State’s Master of Health Administration program are learning first-hand how the skills and competencies they are acquiring in the classroom will be applied in their professional careers.

Recently, the program hosted a COVID-19 roundtable with panelists from clinical and administrative positions in organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penick Village and more. The event was facilitated by Maureen Jones, associate teaching professor of HPA, leveraging her connections to health care leaders on the front lines.

One of the most important concepts on which the MHA program is founded is obtaining the competencies needed to lead health service organizations dedicated to improving health and health care. The roundtable event offered insight into crisis planning in health care, implementation and response frameworks using the National Incident Management System.

“The event was helpful to me because it allowed me to think about emergencies from a different angle,” said Evan Wagner, residential MHA student. “As an EMT, I am used to being on the front line — up close and personal with emergency situations. The event gave me a chance to think about emergencies from the perspective of an administrator and apply some of what we’ve learned in our courses to a real-world situation, which is always helpful.”

Additionally, Johanna Welsh, World Campus MHA student, said the event provided impactful insight on how to be adaptable and implement competencies they’ve learned throughout the program while managing a large project, especially in a time of crisis. “Being a program coordinator for a health tech company, we’ve recently had to take expeditious measures to establish telehealth services for the vast majority of our clients," said Welsh. "Listening to the panelists explain their current workplace situation gave me a better understanding of all the components that go into successful health care management.”

The current pandemic places a special focus on this skill set to ensure students are prepared to lead in challenging and unprecedented times. Topics of the event included how hospitals prepare for emergency incidents, clinical operations planning, implementation and evaluation, and communications.

“This pandemic has demonstrated how critical the partnership is between providers and administrators in securing resources, putting plans in place to keep workers safe, developing communication plans for patients, staff and the community, and acknowledging the stress and grief that comes from being isolated from support networks and loved ones who are ill,” said Chris Calkins, executive director of Penn State’s MHA programs.

Students had the opportunity to discuss with the panelists how real-world application of frameworks involved in response to the pandemic are being addressed.

“Health care leaders need to think about both the patients they are serving and staff who are facing potential harm by doing their jobs in the face of a pandemic,” Calkins said. “It is not always apparent how risky health care work is on the front line, and this pandemic has brought that into focus.”

In addition to the roundtable, coursework has shifted to allow students to integrate the theories and concepts of work being delivered in their courses and their professional roles.

Whether it be students in the program who are preparing for their first career position or those who are serving on the front line, the MHA program provides opportunity to help understand the variables involved in managing health emergencies. To learn more about the Master of Health Administration program at Penn State, visit


Evan Wagner, residential MHA student and Johanna Welsh, MHA student Credit: Health Policy and AdministrationAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated May 05, 2020