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March 2015

Sharon Qi understands the challenge of providing long-term care to elderly relatives. She watches her parents, who reside in Pennsylvania, arrange care for her grandparents, who live in China.

“It’s really hard and difficult,” Qi said. “You want to take care of your loved ones, of course, and at the same time you have to be practical, and it’s impossible to always be there for them.”

As a pharmaceutical student at Rutgers University, Qi saw her parents working hard to provide care to her grandparents. Soon she realized her passion was not in pharmaceuticals, but instead in the area of aging and geriatric care. Qi then decided to leave Rutgers and enroll at Penn State.

“I have always been interested in long-term care, I just never realized it,” Qi said.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) studying a wide array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Qi, who found a home in the Department of Health Policy and Administration (HPA), is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

“What really drew me to HPA is that the program is very branched out and you really choose how you want your experience to be,” Qi said. “You can really challenge yourself by taking difficult classes, joining activities, and taking advantage of research opportunities. The research opportunities really helped me.”

In the summer of 2014, Qi took on a unique summer internship to gain further experience in health policy administration in the area of geriatric care. For 10 weeks she resided at a long-term care facility in New Jersey while working as an administrative assistant to the facility’s executive director.

On a daily basis, Qi worked with the executive director as well as all other department heads, including Human Resources, nursing, dining, marketing, and the business office.

Qi’s work also included creating a spreadsheet for the skilled nursing department. The document included more than 1,000 data entries and assisted administrators by tracking the frequency of hospital visits for residents. The database assists administrators with its goal to reduce hospital readmission.

Qi also attended daily management meetings regarding facility operations.

“What was really interesting for me was the fact that you could have an issue in the HR department, but it’s not only the HR director that is going to figure out a solution,” Qi said. “What happens in HR is ultimately going to impact every single department, so what was really interesting to see is that while all of the directors were experts in their own department, they were also willing to help other departments as well. It was a teamwork-based environment.”

Living and working at a long-term care facility provided Qi with the career exposure she was seeking.

“It’s very different because I was personally experiencing it and working in the environment, versus just learning from a school book. I learned that nothing is really black and white. You have to reach a consensus and stick with that decision. Yes, consequences may happen with that decision, but it’s the better decision compared to the other options,” Qi said. “I saw the work put into making those decisions and I think that is what is really going to help me, because it really teaches me to work with a team. No one can make the best decision on their own.”

In September, Qi's research paper was selected as a winning undergraduate-level paper in the Francis G. Caro Student Paper Award Contest at the University of Massachusetts.

Her paper, “The Effects of Social Isolation on Chronic Illness Among Older Adults: A Review of the Literature,” discusses the impact of social isolation on the aging U.S. population, a population already stricken with a chronic disease epidemic. Qi, wrote the paper following independent study at Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging during the spring 2014 semester.

Qi is vice president of the HPA Club, through which she has met guest speakers who work in the health policy and administration field.

“I have learned there’s no typical or average day for those professionals. It’s really day-by-day; everything is changing,” Qi said. “You learn very quickly it’s not a typical 9 to 5 job.”

Qi is also president of the Gero Club through the Center for Healthy Aging, where students work with older adults and shadow professionals working in the aging network. Some of the volunteer efforts include teaching seniors in the State College area how to use newer technology, such as iPads and social media.

“It has definitely been an eye-opening experience. My generation is so accustomed to technology,” Qi said. “You really have to step into their shoes and understand this is really brand new to them and not second nature to them.”

In addition to HPA, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Human Development and Family Studies, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management. Learn more about HHD.