Once Samantha Brooks found her calling in revenue cycle management, the decision to return to higher education was money in the bank.
"I wanted to go back to develop my skills," she said. "I am passionate about helping hospitals fight for the money they are owed and having a positive impact on their bottom line so they can focus on providing patient care."
Brooks graduated from the online Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) in December 2022.
"As a North Carolina native, I wanted to stay in-state," she said. "I have always loved UNCW; I almost went there for undergrad.
"I also liked that the online program was new. They had not had their first graduating class when I enrolled. It was exciting to be part of something new, have a say, be heard and form a network with students and faculty members."
Now beginning her seventh year at Ensemble Health Partners located in Blue Ash, Ohio, Brooks appreciated the online format's flexibility.
"What I liked most is it was a consistent format every semester," she said. "I knew what had to be done week-to-week — there were no surprises. The way the program was built was user-friendly."
During her time in the program, Brooks had the opportunity to sit on a student panel and make recommendations during a new faculty search.
"There are opportunities a couple of times a semester to be part of a leadership forum," she said. "I had some opportunities to engage with the program and let my feedback be heard."
Brooks grew up in Lake Norman, North Carolina, and planned to become a nurse after graduating high school before switching to business.
"I decided quickly I liked the business focus instead of the hands-on approach," she said. "Before I went to college, I never knew there was an administrative side of healthcare without clinical.
"I went down the route of going into business and got a degree in marketing. I found myself working for a healthcare company. I said, 'This is what I wanted to do all along.' I have loved it ever since. I love training people, as well. I would love to be a COO or CFO one day. It came full circle."
After graduating with an associate degree in business administration and management from Catawba Valley Community College in 2013, Brooks added a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte three years later.
"I have been on the operational training side within the revenue cycle," she said. "I oversee training for various electronic medical records and building training for revenue cycle and healthcare management topics. I found my love for finance."
That's why the finance courses in the online MHA program curriculum were Brooks' favorites.
"It comes down to, 'Numbers don't lie, so let's see where we can improve,'" she said. "You can tell so much about a facility based on their financial metrics right off the bat.
"Then you dive in and fix the root cause of the problem. I enjoyed the capstone course, too. We got to put financial analysis into play and make a strategic analysis for a healthcare system. That was right up my alley."
Brooks took the information she learned in the program and used it as a manager of operational talent development for centralized operational excellence.
"I was able to use what I learned in my career right away," she said. "That has been the most rewarding part and has kept me going in this program. Semester after semester, I can see it align and apply in my daily duties."
The overall experience of returning to college to earn a master's degree was positive for Brooks, who had lots of encouragement from her family and friends. She is a first-generation college graduate.
"They're very excited and supportive," she said. "They have never known anybody else who got their master's in healthcare administration.
"I have been able to form a great community with UNCW. I have great chats with my previous teammates on projects. We have formed our own network to help each other out."
Brooks did not walk in the December graduation, but she plans to cross the graduation stage in Spring 2023.
"My group of girls I made friends with in the program graduate in May," she said. "I want to do that so we can graduate together. I also like that the classes at UNCW have 15 or fewer people. Even though someone might take a semester off, you can keep track of everyone in your group."
With a master's degree, Brooks looks forward to seeing what the future holds. However, she is happy doing what she loves for a living now.
"The degree completely opens new doors," she said. "The program also focuses heavily on your professional development and long-term plan. They hold you accountable to continue growing, which is good.
"By the end of next year, I want to get my project management certification. It's holding me accountable because I put it on every project and plan."
Brooks, who enjoys camping and riding dirt bikes in her free time with her husband, Josh, is happy she decided to earn a master's degree in healthcare administration from UNCW.
"I would tell anybody considering this program to do it," she said. "Looking back, I can't believe it's been two years. It was very doable for me. You'll figure it out and make it happen.
"The structure of the program is so consistent in the way the classes are formatted. Every Wednesday, you'll have a discussion post due; every Sunday, you'll have everything else due. You get into a routine. Then, you look up and are done."
Learn more about UNCW's online Master of Healthcare Administration program.
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