Almost as quickly as you understand something about health care, you can forget it. That's a given for graduate students these days.

"The moment you are taught anything, it's obsolete, especially in health care," said Kenneth West, a chief financial officer with a Hospital Corporation of America facility in Florida who holds a master's in health systems administration from Georgetown University.
Oddly enough, that makes a graduate degree even more important. "You're learning critical thinking skills that can continue to develop throughout your career," West said.

Patricia Cloonan, chair of Georgetown's Department of Health Systems Administration, said that's one reason the university requires mentorships and projects that give students career previews.

"We create opportunities for students to get a real feel for what work would look like," Cloonan said. "At times this experience even changes minds. They might come in interested in systems but wind up more interested in policy."

Like many graduate programs today, health care administration curricula are built on experiential learning, with a focus on case studies, projects and teamwork.

For Eileen Grande, who earned both an MBA and a master's in health care management from Marymount University, that experience has been invaluable, even if it involved creating a business plan for a nut- and gluten-free cupcake bakery.

"It's not the topic; it's the exercise," she said. "You have to do the same marketing research for cupcakes and hospitals. Who are your competitors? Who's your market? The financial concepts translate straight through regardless of the sector."

AGE: 28
HOMETOWN: Greater Rochester, N.Y.
DEGREES: MBA and master's in health care management, Marymount University; bachelor's in political science, Spring Hill College, Alabama
CAREER GOAL: Still working toward deciding her ultimate course. "Can I get back with you on that?"
QUOTE: "Can you say you had fun in grad school? I definitely did," even though the process was nerve-wracking. "But it makes you realize at the end of the day that you are prepared."

AGE: 30
HOMETOWN: Ponthatoula, La.
DEGREES: Master's in health systems administration, Georgetown University; bachelor's in nutritional sciences, Louisiana State University
CAREER GOAL: Hospital chief executive officer or executive within a larger health care system.
QUOTE: "I like the Jesuit education, the way Georgetown builds in the idea of caring for the whole person. It's made me a much more thoughtful administrator."

Age: 25
DEGREES: Completing a master's in health systems administration, Georgetown University, in May; bachelor's in Latin American Studies, University of Oklahoma
CAREER GOAL: Working in health policy at the federal or state level
QUOTE: "My passion is working with underserved communities, particularly communities in the southwest."

AGE: 34
DEGREES: Pursuing an MBA and a master's in health care management at Marymount University; bachelor's in business administration from the University of Maryland University College
CAREER GOAL: An administrative position in the military health care system
QUOTE: "With everything that's going on, it's an exciting time to be a health care student right now."


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