MHA Degree

SPPD Revises Master of Health Administration Degree

By Cristy Lytal

Professor Mike Nichol Professor Mike Nichol, director of SPPD graduate programs in health, with students
Photo by Tom Queally

While the United States reforms its health care system, the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development (SPPD) is following suit with a revamp of its Master of Health Administration program.

“We’ve revised the curriculum to emphasize some of the key areas that are going to be health system priorities for the foreseeable future: issues around the quality of care, health finance, health policy analysis, management and the use of health information technology,” said Michael Nichol, professor and director of graduate programs in health. “In addition to broad coverage of these issues, students will have the opportunity to choose two out of these five areas as specializations.”

In all five specializations, the revised master’s program will focus on quantitative methods in analysis – an area of increasing importance due to the widespread use of electronic health records.

Shawn Pfendler, an incoming Master of Health Administration student who will start this fall, appreciates these opportunities for specialization and the program’s emphasis on field experience.

“The specializations allow you to tailor the degree to whatever you envision for your education,” he said. “On top of that, the program’s geared very heavily toward work experience, so you do a residency while you’re in the program, and it’s 1,000 hours, which is a pretty serious commitment. It allows you to work on real projects and have measurable outcomes at the end of your project, so when you go to apply for jobs or further education somewhere else, you can have legitimate outcomes based on the work that you’ve done in your residency.”

In addition to revising the curriculum, SPPD has instituted a cohort system by limiting admissions to the fall semester.

“The students are really excited about the possibility of a cohort,” Nichol said. “They will essentially be taking the same classes during the first year, and then during the second year, they’ll select their specialization electives. So there will be a much better chance for them to get to know their colleagues within the program and to share their health management experiences.”

Lydia Middleton, president and chief executive officer of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, believes that USC is blazing a unique trail with its revamped degree.

“We have a lot of programs that do a great job at preparing generalists, and then we have individual programs that may focus in one or two different areas,” she said. “But USC is the first program I’ve seen that has given students the option to specialize in five different areas – making them just a notch more prepared for their first job or, depending on how long they’ve been in the field, for their next job than they would be without that specialization.”

Prub Khurana MHA ’06, administrative director of strategy and planning for Facey Medical Foundation, agreed, pointing out that “as long as students can opt to pick a couple of tracks or one track that they really want to specialize in, they will be much better suited to enter the workforce.”

The highly competitive program, which usually admits approximately 30 students per year, has already seen the number of completed applications for fall jump by more than 40 percent.

“The health care field is so constantly changing that it’s really important for programs to be able to keep up to date with all the new research and all the trends – especially with health care reform this year,” said Sukhpreet Pabla, president of the USC Student Health Council. “I think the changes in the program are going to be really good for everyone.”