Health Policy and Administration at Penn State—Department Highlights

Vision

Our vision is to be among the premier programs in health policy and health administration in the nation, contributing leadership to improving the U.S. healthcare system and the health of the public through education, research, and service.

Education

Our undergraduate program (B.S. in Health Policy and Administration) develops graduates with the knowledge, skills, and values appropriate for employment in entry-level management or policy-related positions. Our major also prepares students for graduate education in the healthcare field. All students are required to complete a 10-week internship as part of their educational program. With approximately 300 students, our major is in the top quartile in popularity university-wide. We are currently revising the undergraduate curriculum to emphasize new educational objectives and more competency-based approaches to teaching and learning. The new objectives reflect demographic changes in the population of healthcare consumers and in the healthcare workforce, as well as changes in delivery, organization, and financing embodied in national healthcare reforms. Specifically, we are developing a specialized focus in long term care and aging within the undergraduate curriculum. At the same time, we are working to enhance student opportunities for active engagement and hands-on learning, by extending and strengthening our partnerships with healthcare providers, organizations, and professional associations.

Our residential Master of Health Administration (MHA) program is nationally ranked and CAHME-accredited, with a focus on early career professionals. We currently enroll 15-18 students in each two-year cohort, including a small number of our most capable undergraduates in a 5-year integrated BS/MHA program. Our MHA delivers an innovative, competency-based curriculum that focuses on the industry context, professional content, and leadership capabilities relevant to the field of healthcare management. The educational experience emphasizes professional development and exposing students to a large number and variety of healthcare organizations and industry experiences. Faculty members are distinguished researchers and industry leaders who enable critical connections with practice, facilitate continual feedback from the field, and open doors for students. Our MHA alumni are active and provide valuable external oversight to the program and mentoring to students. Over the last seven years the program has capitalized on these strengths to achieve a placement rate near 100%, with students consistently landing opportunities with leading organizations such as Geisinger Health System, Duke University Health System, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Our online Master of Health Administration program serves working professionals seeking to enhance their career prospects and gain tools for challenging leadership positions in the dynamic field of healthcare. The online learning environment, created in partnership with Penn State’s World Campus, gives students the flexibility to achieve an MHA degree while maintaining current work and family roles. The inaugural class began in August 2012 and is expected to graduate in December 2014, after completing a twenty-eight month program. One of the great strengths of the online MHA experience is the diversity of experience, organizational context, and professional credentials of the students, which reinforces peer to peer learning. The first cohort includes students from nearly every sector of the healthcare industry. The online MHA program delivers the same curriculum as the residential MHA program, and faculty work in close partnership across the two programs to develop core competencies in all of our students. Each online cohort includes approximately 30 students. We expect continued growth in online enrollment over the next three to five years, with the potential to start two cohorts each year (Fall and Spring) in 2014.

Our interdisciplinary Ph.D. program trains applied health services researchers for careers in academic and non-academic settings. The core curriculum familiarizes each incoming cohort of 5-8 students with the organization and financing of health services, and includes HPA courses in research methods that cover research design, statistics, and basic and advanced regression models. In addition, students select courses from one of three tracks - health economics, healthcare management and organization, and population health. Other degree requirements include a research thesis and successful completion of a qualifying examination after the first year. We participate with six other departments in Penn State’s highly ranked and NIH-funded Dual Degree Program in Demography, which allows our students to earn a Ph.D. or graduate minor in Demography in tandem with a Ph.D. in Health Policy and Administration. Our graduates are employed in research positions at Duke University, Texas A&M University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Virginia Commonwealth University, RAND, the Research Triangle Institute, Novartis, and other research institutions. Students entering the doctoral program are generally funded on graduate assistantships from a variety of sources, including faculty research grants, a training grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation that focuses on cancer-related disparities in Appalachia, and various internal funds at Penn State.

Research

External funding for our faculty’s research comes from government and foundation sources, and has averaged about $3.5 million in each of the last three years. Our scholarship is wide-ranging, but clusters around studying the use of information and incentives to promote value, affordability and costs, ways to improve organizational performance, and the unique problems of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, people with chronic illnesses or disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, disadvantaged children, and residents of rural areas. Our senior faculty members are leaders in a number of Penn State’s research centers and institutes, and are prominent on editorial boards, on grant review committees, and in such professional organizations as AcademyHealth, the Academy of Management, and the American Public Health Association.

Penn State offers a stimulating and supportive environment for research collaborations that span disciplines and academic units. University-wide consortia (including the Social Science Research Institute and the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute) convene diverse groups of faculty, provide shared infrastructure, offer seed-funding in support of collaborative grant proposals, and serve as a focal point for interdisciplinary pre- and post-doctoral training. Our department is closely aligned with the Center for Health Care and Policy Research (CHCPR), a research center supported by the College of Health and Human Development, that brings together faculty and students across campuses and units with shared interests in healthcare. Significant numbers of our faculty pursue interests in population health through the Population Research Institute, process-improvement and information technology through the Center for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems and its affiliation with the NSF-funded Center for Healthcare Organizational Transformation, and cancer prevention and treatment through the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. We have a strong working relationship (encompassing education, research, and outreach) with the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Medicine, reinforced by many faculty members with primary and courtesy appointments in the two departments. The College of Medicine’s primary location is at The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, ninety miles from University Park, but Penn State is also developing a regional medical campus in the State College area.

Service and Outreach

We have an active program of outreach and alumni activities. The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH), one of 50 state offices of rural health nationally, is part of HPA. It connects rural communities and their healthcare providers to university faculty and national, state, and local resources for research, education, and service. PORH hosts multiple conferences in Pennsylvania, including the Rural Health Conference and the Rural Migrant and Immigrant Farmworker Health Conference, administers small rural hospital programs such as the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, and has extensive agricultural safety and health initiatives. We offer outreach and continuing education courses and programs through Penn State's World Campus and other units, in addition to the online MHA, which reach several hundred people annually.

We have more than 4,000 graduates who are active in alumni activities, primarily conducted through our alumni Affiliate Program Group (APG). These activities include the largest mentoring program in the College (serving 80+ students); an annual “Professionals in the Classroom” event; social and professional activities in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and other major cities; and a lively alumni LinkedIn network of over 1,000 connections. Our undergraduate and MHA programs each have Boards of Visitors composed of alumni and practitioners, as well as extensive industry connections through internships, residencies, fellowships, capstone projects, and more.

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