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Executive Master of Public Health Program Attracts Diverse Clientele

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 04:22pm | By: Van Arnold

Gary Marchand has already climbed to the rank of chief executive officer and president of Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Miss. But he isn't content to let his administrative career languish in neutral.

Marchand is just one of several distinguished professionals to complete the unique Executive Master of Public Health in Health Services Administration (EMPH) program offered by The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Health. And the type of program Southern Miss educators say is producing tomorrow's healthcare leaders for Mississippi and the Gulf South region.

“As a healthcare executive I understood hospital operations,” said Marchand, who completed the program in 2008. “The EMPH provided me with a broader view of the healthcare industry, its many components and the challenges being faced by the American delivery system.”

The EMPH program differs from all other post-graduate degree programs at Southern Miss in that experienced healthcare professionals are sought for the advanced curriculum. Beyond the customary academic requirements, applicants in the EMPH program must also have a minimum of three years working experience in the healthcare field. The average student in the program has 14 years professional experience.

“This program is taught in an executive format for healthcare professionals who want to pursue an advance degree in administration,” said Ashley Atherton, EMPH program manager. “And these are people who have been working in the front lines of healthcare, thus they come into our program with a solid knowledge base of how the changing healthcare system is affecting our communities.”

The Southern Miss EMPH program represents the first of its kind and remains the only such degree option in the state of Mississippi. EMPH students attend class one weekend per month with the remainder of the curriculum completed online. And the participants in this 14-course graduate program receive unique perks along the way. To call the program customer-friendly is a gross understatement.

“The EMPH staff registers students for their classes, delivers books and course materials directly to each student, caters meals during on-campus course weekends – in short, handles virtually all non-course-related issues for our students,” said Atherton.

Why the royal treatment? “So that the students can focus their energy on the coursework,” Atherton noted.

Keep in mind these are not your typical college graduate students. The average EMPH student has 14 years professional healthcare experience. One of five already owned advanced degrees in such areas as business, medicine and nursing. The program features registered nurses, social workers, administrators and members of the U.S. Military.

Marchand noted that the 22-month program provided important flexibility to his hectic day-to-day schedule.

“I was attracted to the program by the balance of the curriculum. Healthcare, management and public health was the combination of studies that best fit the research and development needs I was look for,” he said. “The scheduled weekends made it feasible because I could plan my work and family activities around the program.”

Dr. Gordon Whyte, associate professor in the College of Health at Southern Miss, helped design the EMPH program six years ago with former Dean Peter Fos. Whyte said the continued growth within the healthcare industry places even greater importance on executive education programs like the one Southern Miss offers.

“The downturn in the economy is not having a negative effect on jobs in healthcare,” said Whyte. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry will generate 3.2 million jobs between 2008 and 2018, more than any other industry in the country. And our graduates are being prepared to assume management and leadership positions in this growth industry.”

Currently, the program includes 39 students – 19 in the Class of 2011 (second-year class, set to graduate in Spring 2011) and 20 in the Class of 2012 (first-year class, set to graduate in Spring 2012.

Although a majority of the EMPH students reside in Mississippi, the program also includes students/graduates living and working in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas and the District of Columbia.

As the state's only executive health services administration program, the EMPH at Southern Miss is uniquely positioned to provide convenient, comprehensive training for careers in upper management.