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Managers in the Making

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As demand for medical services continues to rise, in the RGV and beyond, the call for qualified health care managers is louder than ever. The industry-driven MHSM program at STC prepares students for real-world operations in medical billing, record-keeping, electronic storage and more, providing a high-tech foundation for entry- and mid-level careers in health care leadership.
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Texas Border Business

MCALLEN, TX – There’s never been an “easy mode” when it comes to the health care game. But when you’re managing a medical operation in the Rio Grande Valley, in the thick of a pandemic? It’s safe to say that the difficulty is dialed up.

“The field is no stranger to crisis.” says Dr. Hilaire Saint-Pierre, Chair of Bachelor’s Programs at South Texas College. “But for the past year, health care organizations have a constant reminder … that conventional management practices must be viewed in different lenses.”

As demand for medical services continues to rise, in the RGV and beyond, the call for qualified health care managers is louder than ever. Finding educated, experienced leaders, though, is easier said than done. In fact, it’s expected to be one of the industry’s biggest ongoing challenges, even after the pandemic.

“The Valley is considered a medically underserved region,” says LuBeth Perez, instructor in the Medical and Health Services Management department. “We need health care leaders to work with officials at the local, county, and state levels to ensure our community receives great care and resources.”

In anticipation of the crunch, South Texas College launched its Medical and Health Services Management (MHSM) bachelor’s degree in 2011. Since then, the program’s numbers have multiplied from 45 students in the initial cohort to more than 250. And with the health crisis accelerating an already urgent need for medical infrastructure in South Texas, the MHSM degree is proving to be the right opportunity at the right time.

“It’s in response to the desperate need for the preventative health education in our area,” says Dr. Ali Esmaeili, Dean of Math, Science and Bachelor’s Programs, who has helped cultivate five bachelor’s degree programs at STC, starting with the B.A.T. Technology Management degree in 2005.

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The industry-driven MHSM program prepares students for real-world operations in medical billing, record-keeping, electronic storage and more, providing a high-tech foundation for entry- and mid-level careers in health care leadership. What’s particularly unique, says the dean, is that the curriculum has evolved with the rapid progress within the industry — not only technologically, but politically.

“This program provides unique sets of management principles, technological innovation in delivery of health care services, health care information processing technology, and governmental regulation related to health care service,” says Esmaeili, who admits that response to the MHSM degree was hotter than anticipated. “We are ahead of our projection.”

Thinking ‘past the first degree’

With health services managers commanding an average of $100,320 in an industry expanding by a staggering 32 percent annually, the program’s popularity makes perfect sense. What may surprise some, according to Perez, is the field’s inherent diversity and versatility.

Often, says the professor, students pursuing careers as respiratory therapists, medical assistants, EMTs and more will be so focused on their initial career that they “may not have the foresight to think past that degree.” Upon garnering work experience, and learning the ins and outs of organizational policies, some see a chance to climb the ladder. 

“It is natural to start thinking of leadership roles and advancing the career,” says Perez. “This program prepares students for such leadership roles.”

South Texas College makes this transition possible by offering the degree on a flexible, online basis, with optional live lab work being recorded for online broadcast. The innovative approach, driven by the constantly shifting nature of the industry itself, allows active health care workers to make headway in a management career without sacrificing a paycheck in the interim. 

In fact, says Perez, STC’s program is “geared for students with a lot of experience.” Thanks to a system that recognizes Competency Based Education (CBE), students can employ knowledge gained from work experience to sail through the required coursework, while meeting competency standards at work. Upon earning the bachelor’s degree, they’re prepared to enter mid-level management positions.

“They bring their on-the-job-training-type knowledge and can move quickly through those classes,” says the instructor.

Virtual health care ‘here to stay’

While the health care industry was “never at any moment free from challenges,” according to Saint-Pierre, the pandemic was a maelstrom incorporating virtually all of those challenges at once. Suddenly, health care managers had to adapt virtual solutions for daily operations, without dropping the ball on live care or COVID-related emergencies.

“[With] the COVID-19 worldwide emergency, the challenges of the field are compounded, while offering new opportunities to some sectors,” says the program chair.

In the wake of the pandemic, these virtual solutions have sparked a movement toward “telehealth” – a more convenient and potentially less costly way to engage with health care. As technology evolves to improve remote services, virtual care is expected to expand, making a versatile, high-tech education a must for prospective leaders. 

“Virtual health care is here to stay and will be used more than we have seen in the past decade,” says Saint-Pierre, who expects the biggest challenges within telehealth to lie in the areas of cybersecurity and patient privacy. “The Medical and Health Services Management Program at South Texas College plays a central role in preparing talents … to lead health care organizations during and post this time of crisis.”

For students and faculty in the MHSM department, the rewards of the bachelor’s program are twofold. On one hand, they’re making connections to lucrative and life-changing career opportunities at a fraction of the cost of a traditional medical pathway. At the same time, they’re boosting the overall quality and efficacy of medicine in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I am so grateful to be able to work with and learn from the students in the MHSM program,” says Perez. “As our students gain leadership roles, we can elevate health care services within our community.”

“Wherever those students go, they’ll have the preparation and skills to succeed and thrive,” agrees Saint-Pierre.

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