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Three people wearing masks in conversation. [View Image] Beginning this fall, a new Bachelor of Science in Health Services program will provide VCU students who are passionate about improving health care — but might not be as interested in clinical aspects — the opportunity to advance their careers. (Getty Images)

New health services degree gives students a chance to make change in health care

A bachelor’s degree program starting this fall at the VCU College of Health Professions can be an avenue for students interested in addressing health disparities or improving health care as a system.

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Health care jobs are in high demand during the pandemic. And with student interest in health care careers on the rise (according to educators’ responses to a January 2021 Education Week survey) Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions is offering more options for students.

Starting this fall, a new Bachelor of Science in Health Services program will give students who are passionate about improving health care but might not be as interested in clinical aspects the opportunity to advance their careers.

“This new degree program aligns with VCU’s overall mission by providing future health care leaders with a pathway to advance in a high-demand field,” said Susan Parish, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s College of Health Professions. “We are proud to offer a one-of-a-kind program that fosters inquiry and innovation while equipping students with skills needed across a range of health care delivery settings.”

The new degree will prepare students with foundational knowledge and skills to serve diverse patient populations and work collaboratively with colleagues in entry-level health care administration positions at hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, primary care offices, public health and long-term care facilities and other similar settings. Students interested in addressing health disparities and creating change in health care may find the new program valuable, said program director Laurie Cathers, Ph.D.

Cathers, who also leads the Ph.D. in Health Related Sciences program, and Lauren Mortensen, a senior program specialist for the B.S. in Health Services program, spoke with VCU News about the new degree and the opportunities it will offer students.

The Bachelor of Science in Health Services (BSHS) program is designed for students who wish to create a pathway into the healthcare field. The program will prepare students to work as medical and health services providers charged with planning, directing, and coordinating medical and health services. Graduates of the B.S. in Health Services program will be able to work in diverse healthcare settings, such as hospitals, specific clinical areas or departments within those facilities, health management organizations or in medical practice groups.

Who should apply for this new program?

Cathers: The program is an undergraduate degree for individuals who want to contribute to the health of their community, who want to engage in health systems, to make changes, to reduce health disparities, and overall increase our community health and wellbeing.

What will this program allow students to do?

Cathers: The students who have been trained here can go into a variety of different positions in the healthcare field. For me, I'll speak to my personal experience. I'm a social worker, but I didn't want to be a clinical social worker. I was [all] about community research, advocacy and change in the community so I wanted to work on a more what we call macro level, big-picture level, where you're working within systems but also working with individuals to empower them and build self-efficacy to increase health and wellness.

That's why I'm so excited about this program, because I believe it gives students the options who want to work on those different levels  both macro and micro — the opportunity to find their strengths, to engage in advocacy, to help patients build self-efficacy, to help bring interdisciplinary health teams together so we're working as one unit to holistically treat a person. I think this degree provides students an opportunity to be leaders in helping everyone come together as one community.

What can students expect to do as part of the program?

Mortensen: Students will learn to collaborate on decisions related to staffing, scheduling, business operations and service delivery in a health care environment. The program also will prepare students to meet essential health services administration responsibilities including handling fiscal and budget management, planning and implementation of office policies and procedures, and collecting and analyzing data to support health care delivery. 

In addition, through case-based learning, students will gain knowledge of leadership and organizational theory, with the ability to participate in performance improvement activities within the work context. They’ll also have an opportunity to complete a service-learning project as a student.

What kinds of classes are offered in this program? 

Mortensen: The curriculum is going to cover all types of health care. We have health care economics; we have person-centered care courses; we have rehabilitation counseling-centered courses. We really, when putting the curriculum together, tried to make sure that the student that graduates from this program is going to have every employment opportunity available to them so they really have a holistic experience in the program. 

For more information about the Bachelor of Science in Health Services program, visit bshs.chp.vcu.edu.

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