Joanna Bialy had built a career in health care administration as a problem solver — managing a clinic, overseeing several departments, managing an operational budget and much more for Kaiser Permanente.
The solution to continuing to achieve her personal ambitions was obvious: “In order to keep going up the ranks, you need to have your master’s,” she said.
So Bialy ’07 (Health Administration), M.S. ’14 (Health Administration) returned to California State University, Northridge for a master’s in health administration. The degree was the key to a series of promotions, leading directly to her current position as department administrator of Kaiser’s Santa Monica medical offices, where she oversees an entire building with multiple departments.
CSUN’s Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) program recently became one of just four such programs in California accredited by the Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).
CAHME confirmed what CSUN’s 2,000 MSHA alumni and their employers already knew: CSUN’s Master of Science in Health Administration program is a great choice for experienced professionals who want to assume management and leadership roles in a variety of health care agencies and organizations, including hospitals, nursing homes and managed care. At CSUN, students can learn skills in management, planning, marketing, consulting and related roles.
The three-year CAHME accreditation provides independent verification from a national organization that the program prepares students for leadership roles, said Brian Malec, coordinator of the MSHA graduate program, in CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development. The accreditation is based on the commission’s observation that CSUN’s MSHA program achieves the goal it has set for itself — being a leadership program for mid-career professionals.
The accreditation was based on a self-study, which involved data from students, alumni and community practitioner partners. CAHME evaluators also visited campus for three days. CSUN had to implement a process for monitoring its alumni to see how they advance in their careers. To keep the accreditation in the future, CSUN also must communicate with MSHA alumni to see how the program should evolve to continue preparing students for the needs of the industry.
“The CAHME accreditation is unique in that it builds off your program’s missions and values,” Malec said. “It’s not a prescription from the accrediting agency. CAHME determines if you are achieving the goals you have set for yourself. We’ve indicated we’re looking for mid-career professionals. That’s our mission, so CAHME asked us to demonstrate that we achieve that at a high level.”
All MSHA classes are conducted in the evening to accommodate work schedules. Students generally have at least two or three years of work experience, and students often come with many more years of experience.
“Working professionals contribute something to the class,” said “They bring in their work experience, they bring in the challenges and the successes they’re facing in their organization. They contribute knowledge and experiences to the class, not just take away from the class.”
Courses cover topics including health care leadership, management theory, change management, health care ethics, strategic planning, economics, finance and health policy. The program also offers a wide variety of elective courses, which permit specialization in delivery systems such as hospitals, nursing homes, and managed care and areas such as health informatics.
Most students complete the program in three years, taking three courses per semester. A part-time pathway enables students to take just two classes per semester for four years. In unusual cases, students can take an accelerated two-year pathway.
About half of the students in the program come with bachelor’s degrees in health administration, while the rest have varied backgrounds, including sociology, psychology, communications and business.
All students in the program work in a health care environment. CSUN teaches directors of finance, human resources supervisors, medical group managers, directors of patient experience and many other administrative roles. They are all seeking to advance their careers.
“Prospective students have to write a personal statement, [answering]: Why do you want to come here, how is it going to help you, where do you hope your career is going to take you?” Malec said.
Greg Adamczak ’01 (Radiologic Technology), M.S. ’09 (Health Administration), enrolled in the MSHA program in 2006, about two years after being promoted from a radiologic technologist to an entry-level supervisor in the imaging department’s registration and billing areas at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“I was swimming in uncharted territory for myself,” said Adamczak, who chose CSUN because he was familiar with the school and because of the MSHA’s focus on leadership. “The only way I would be able to swim with the bigger fish [at work] was to know more about what was going on. The MSHA program provided me a foundation education of healthcare leadership, and most importantly, taught me how organizations function.” Today, Adamczak is an associate director overseeing Imaging Business Systems, Administration and Informatics.
MSHA students are required to conduct a practical project that includes investigating a problem or process, and proposing a solution, if necessary. For example, they can look into the patient registration process, or the process of moving a patient from a bedroom to an imaging center, measuring the effectiveness of the process. Students are taught to begin considering options for the project in their first semester; the project is completed near the end of the program. Students present their findings and recommendations to their organization’s management.
Bialy’s project earned her a promotion. She wrote a business case for a dementia care management program for patients 65 years and older. She was soon tapped to open and manage the Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles geriatrics department. That experience resulted in a promotion to her current position, overseeing a newer building with new technology and new workflows.
“I have the luxury of having options now because I do have my master’s,” she said.
Both Bialy and Adamczak said the program’s benefits extend beyond graduation. They’re still in touch with former classmates. Adamczak keeps in touch with his professors. Bialy said she and other alumni try to take interns from CSUN whenever possible.
“It created lifelong bonds, professionally and personally,” Adamczak said.