Iowa’s MHA Program Prepares Future Health Care Leaders

By Jennifer New

Published on December 21, 2023

Iowa’s Master of Health Administration program is powered by an active network of alumni, faculty, and staff invested in students’ success.

MHA students and alumni greet each other at a speed networking event.

Most highly ranked graduate programs have something that sets them apart. This unique quality is what differentiates an exceptional program from the pack of great ones. For the University of Iowa’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, that element is its alumni network.

Iowa’s MHA program, one of the oldest in the country, holds a top place in annual rankings of health care management programs. It is distinguished by former students who are deeply invested in the growth and success of current and prospective students.

“The availability of the alumni network is unparalleled in the MHA world,” says John Corbeil (12MHA), chief executive officer of HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood.

His words are echoed by Kristin Wilson, director of the MHA program: “One generation mentors the next. Students don’t become great in a vacuum. They get incredible support from our alumni, faculty, and staff. It’s a whole team effort.”

Tightknit from the Start

One student currently reaping the rewards of this tightknit and generous alumni community is Maddie Huinker. “The alumni are very engaged with every aspect of the program,” says the Iowa City native. “I met alums during my application process, as guest speakers, and doing mock job interviews and resume reviews.”

During her two years as an MHA student, Huinker enjoyed being taught directly by professionals at University of Iowa Health Care. She was a graduate research assistant for UIHC’s chief growth officer and worked on projects ranging from predictive modeling to pediatric physician supply and demand assessment. Over the summer, she interned in Wisconsin and experienced the bond that links past and current program members. “I arrived in Eau Claire and right away a UI MHA alum reached out to welcome me to the community!”

“The availability of the [Iowa] alumni network is unparalleled in the MHA world.”

John Corbeil (12MHA), chief executive officer of HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood

An Array of MHA Careers

Like Huinker, who is currently in a two-year fellowship that will allow her to rotate through different areas of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, most students enter the MHA program intending to work in health care administration. There is an increasing array of career paths for MHAs, however, and one of the strengths of Iowa’s alumni network is its breadth in numerous sectors.

One example is Emma Ravenscroft (16MHA), who embraced data analytics well before it was expected knowledge for MHAs. She combined her degree with an MBA and followed her dream of working in consulting. Now a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting in the area of health analytics, Ravenscroft maintains communication with many of her former UI advisors, including faculty member Dan Shane, who created the MHA’s data analytics class.

“Emma has become a conduit for us and reaches out to share opportunities for our students at Deloitte,” Shane says. He adds that “while consulting firms used to look for MBAs, they are now much more open to MHAs.”

Professionalism as a Core Skill

Photo of 2023 Master's of Health Administration students.

Of the MHA program’s core competencies, professionalism—skills such as confidence in public speaking, ease in meeting new people, and strong written communication—is taught as a key part of leadership. Alumni are invaluable in providing opportunities for students to practice and improve these skills. They lead an annual seminar on effective networking that includes a speed networking activity. They give special talks, review resumes, conduct mock job interviews, and host field trips to health care centers across the Midwest.

“From the day students arrive, there is a consistent conversation about what it means to be a professional in the health care world,” says Shane, who believes it is the hallmark of the Iowa program. “A big part of this is our alumni modeling those expectations and norms.”

Some of the skills covered might seem less obvious—like dining etiquette for a professional meal. Eric Ramos (23MHA) says the annual etiquette lunch and executive presence seminar made a big impact: “We learned things like how to signal when we were done with a meal and what to do if we spilled coffee.”

Combining Leadership with Health Care

Ramos, who grew up in Storm Lake, Iowa, was attracted to the MHA program out of a desire to use his organizational and management skills in support of public health. He helped to take care of his grandfather throughout the older man’s later years. “In Mexican culture, you’re really involved in your elders’ health care,” he says of his family’s experience. “I was very impacted by seeing health care happening in the four walls of my home.”

He considered going to medical school, but after getting involved in student leadership roles as an undergraduate, Ramos became curious about ways to apply those skills to health care. When he learned about the MHA program, it was a natural fit.

While he is still early in his fellowship at Northwestern Medicine, Ramos is excited to be working on a project-based fellowship (graduates have the option of applying to a rotational or a project-based model). One of his projects is focused on increasing access across the health care system and improving the patient experience.

This attention to fit between graduates and their fellowships is reflected in Iowa’s outstanding job placement rate. Not only do nearly all MHA graduates have jobs in their field within three months of graduation—the class of 2022 had 100% success— but they often remain in the place where they are first hired.

“Our students seem to like their jobs and have long tenures, which is a good sign,” says Corbeil.

Another indication of the program’s success is the alumni who volunteer to help out almost immediately after landing in the job market.

Alumni Giving Back

There is a participatory quality to the program as one moves from prospect to student to graduate to active alum. Darcelle Skeete Burgess (13JD, 14MHA) is an excellent example of an alum who has gone through this cycle. She arrived in Iowa in 2010 to pursue a law degree with the intention of applying it to health care. Gail Agrawal, dean emerita of the College of Law, encouraged her to also pursue an MHA degree.

Alexis Soukup at the 2023 MHA Networking Seminar.

While at Iowa, Skeete Burgess interned with the chief compliance officer at UIHC; she also was a compliance intern at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids and a legal intern for the Iowa Hospital Association in Des Moines. A Miami native, she also interned in her hometown as a judicial intern for a U.S. federal district court judge as well as a law clerk in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Upon completion of the JD/ MHA program, Skeete Burgess was a Health Policy Leadership Fellow for Dr. David Satcher, 16th U.S. Surgeon General, in the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. This fellowship program focused on the promotion and implementation of policies and practices to reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities in health.

As an alum, Skeete Burgess has sought to strengthen and advance the MHA program’s commitment to diversity. She advocated for the MHA program to join the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), a non-profit association of Black health care executives. NAHSE promotes the advancement and development of Black health care leaders and elevates the quality of health care services rendered to minority and underserved communities. In the past five years, Iowa MHA students have attended NAHSE conferences and competed in the organization’s student case competitions.

Currently, Skeete Burgess is the interim chief compliance officer and interim chief privacy officer for Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia. She is president-elect of Iowa’s Health Management and Policy (HMP) Alumni Board and assists with the recruitment and mentoring of minority MHA students. She continues to advocate that the Iowa MHA program prepare students for an increasingly diverse world.

“Health equity should be of importance to health care leaders since the patient populations we serve continue to become more diverse,” she says.

The future of the Iowa MHA program is bright, with dedicated faculty and staff and a devoted alumni network helping to prepare and develop future health care leaders for the challenges ahead.