MHA Online Student Profiles

The online Master of Health Administration program brings together students from around the world to learn the skills needed to become leaders in the health care sector. Here, we chronicle the journeys of four students, from the moment they first became interested in health care to the present day as they pursue their degrees in health administration.

Sharifa Wahab

Kabul, Afghanistan

Sharifa grew up in Kabul during a period of stability for the country. After graduating from high school, she followed in her father's footsteps and attended dental school. She then opened her own dental clinic and began to see patients.

One night her father returned home from work and told everyone to pack just one set of clothes and get in the car. He locked the house and drove the family to Pakistan

"When the Taliban came into power, it was dangerous to be an educated woman," said Sharifa. "Men would come in the middle of the night and abuse women. Women were prohibited from going to school or work."

After living for a while in Pakistan, the family moved to Germany. There, Sharifa got married through an arranged marriage. With her husband she moved to the United States.

"My husband was a very abusive man; he never wanted me to fulfill my dream of becoming a dentist," she said. "In 2001, he left me and my three young children alone. I worked all day and took classes at night."

Sharifa eventually passed the National Board Dental Examination through the American Dental Association and is now applying to dental schools. "I want to give a better life to my kids and prove to them if a single mom with no family and support can achieve her goals then they can too."

Now a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, Sharifa joined the online M.H.A. Program because she wanted to learn the business side of health care so that after she finishes dentistry school--for the second time--she can open her own dental clinic. "The degree in M.H.A. will open the doors of many opportunities within my area of knowledge," she said. "After receiving my M.H.A. degree I surely will accomplish my goal of completing dental school."

Minh Tran

Saigon, Vietnam

At the age of 11, Minh Tran and her sister left their home in Vietnam to live with their aunt in California. Life in the United States, her mother believed, would be safer and provide greater educational opportunities than would Vietnam, whose people were plagued by poverty and persecution following the Vietnam War.

Over the next six years or so, Minh's mother returned to the United States to visit her daughters about two to three times each year.

"It was definitely hard for me," said Minh. "I cried every time she left. Looking back at the whole situation, I experienced a tremendous amount of hardship; however, there is not a doubt in my mind that moving to America was a positive change in my life. It allowed me to grow and take on responsibilities without parent figures at a young age. If it was not for this, I would not have become the person I am today; persistent, caring, and mature. More importantly, it allowed me to achieve my passion of becoming a health care provider."

After completing a doctor of pharmacy degree at Washington State University, Minh began a pharmaceutical internship at Yakima Neighborhood Health Services in Yakima, Washington. "I returned to school to get an M.H.A. degree because I want to enhance my knowledge and skills in the business of health to make a difference in the lives of my patients," she said.

Minh said, specifically, her career goals are to gain exposure in the management field of pharmacy, to develop leadership skills, and to make a difference in the lives of others as a health care provider. "I believe this degree will help me achieve these goals by further facilitating my career development in our dynamic health care system," she said.

Meredith and Daniel Mills

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Meredith and Daniel Mills had been working in corporate job roles in Philadelphia for 5 years--he with a Fortune 200 insurance company and she with an S&P 500 clothing retailer--when they began to feel unfulfilled by what they were doing with their lives.

"We both came from families that are very giving and empathetic, and we wanted to feel we were giving back through our day-to-day work," said Daniel.

They had just begun interviewing for new positions when Meredith's grandmother passed away. She and Meredith's grandfather--one-time governor of Pennsylvania--had owned and worked in businesses in the health care industry for the past 50 years.

"At my grandmother's funeral, my grandfather asked me when I would join the family business," said Meredith. "He often jokes about this with the grandchildren, because he really wants to see the business passed to the next generation. Usually we smile and laugh things off, but this time the question spoke to me. I knew that this time, the question could really create a new path for me."

The couple talked about the possibility and eventually decided to take the plunge together. They rented their house in Philadelphia, moved back to central Pennsylvania and joined the business, Country Meadows, which includes 10 campuses focused on retirement, personal care, memory care, and skilled care services. Daniel is the executive director and Meredith is the marketing director at the company's flagship campus in Hershey.

"We quickly learned that although we understood how to make business decisions, the medical complications and acuity of care that we were facing with our residents were difficult to comprehend at times," said Daniel. "We wanted to make the best assessments and decisions, and we wanted to be able to guide families through the maze of long-term care options. though we learned a lot during our first year in long-term care, we wanted to extend our knowledge base and truly be leaders and contributors in our company."

According to Meredith, it did not occur to her and Daniel to attend graduate school because of their hectic work schedules and long distance from a major educational institution. "The World Campus format changed that for us," she said. "We chose Penn State because of its great reputation in medicine and teaching and because very few other institutions offer an M.H.A. degree, let alone one online."

Meredith added that even just a few months into the program, she and Daniel already feel that what they are learning through the readings, presentations, and discussions is immediately relevant to their day-to-day work.

"We enjoy getting the perspectives of classmates from other areas of the industry and being able to look at issues and challenges from so many angles with their input," she said. "We are confident that through this program, we will gain credibility in our industry, networking opportunities with our classmates and professors, and most importantly, the ability to do the absolute best job to support the seniors that we have the honor or working with, so that we can ensure that they have information about and access to the best care possible."