Monthly Archives: September 2014

Preparing the Healthcare Workforce

A report by the Brookings Institution released this summer raises important questions about the need to look to the role of the pre-baccalaureate workforce in addressing the ongoing effort to achieve health care’s “triple aim“–improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction); Improving the health of populations; and Reducing the per capita cost of health care.  These frontline workers in health care are, literally, the ones with their fingers on the pulse of the patient experience and often provide keen insights into where wasted costs can be found.

One thing that struck me as I read through the report is how little mention is made of the role of universities.  The third recommendation of the report, “Develop and strengthen regional healthcare partnerships of employers and educators to meet regional healthcare workforce needs, with a focus on helping pre-baccalaureate workers increase their skills and advance on the job” seems to place more emphasis on the role of community colleges, than our major national universities.  And, quite clearly, there is a role for both.  Yet, with the development of online programs, the opportunities to partner in this way would seem to be growing.

In addition to making our programs available in an online format for pre-baccalaureate healthcare employees, what other changes do we need to consider in our curriculum and courses? At Penn State, we serve a student population that is largely young, inexperienced, and seeking an initial entry-level management or policy position.  Front-line workers are more experienced, more diverse in many ways, and seeking both to improve current skills and seek advancement, perhaps in both clinical and administrative areas. I suspect that our efforts in trying to partner with employers and these workers will require us to get a better understanding of their needs, and re-fashion our education to meet those needs.  It will have to become more relevant to their daily work, as well as better at connecting these front-line workers and their work to both their future path, and the future paths of the triple aim in health care.

Getting Your Money’s Worth Out of College

“It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know”, right?

In many ways, we share this nugget of conventional wisdom with students often in the form of encouraging them to network, network, network.  But, is it true?  A recent book, “Aspiring Adults Adrift”, raises questions.  The book is a follow up to a blockbuster study of students in college, “Academically Adrift”, and follows the fortunes of these students after graduation.  In a recent New York Times, the following quote caught my eye:

“Students who were interviewed in depth by Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa put great stock in collegiate social experiences that often came at the expense of academic work, emphasizing the value of the personal relationships they built. But only 20 percent found their most recent job through personal contacts, and of those, less than half came from college friends. “

A key predictor of post-college success? Not your network, but the extent to which the student’s critical thinking improved during college.  And there are some important factors related to that improvement:

  • Spending more time studying on your own
  • Taking classes where professors had high expectations

But, relationships and networking are not unimportant.  Other research shows that strong personal relationships with both faculty and fellow students can be critical for graduation and retention. As described in this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the book “How College Works”, notes how these relationships play a role in helping students find their way through college.

In fact, some of these relationships can be critical for future success, too.  As the article linked above notes:

“The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index found that having “a mentor who encouraged my hopes and dreams,” “professors who cared about me,” and “at least one professor who made me excited about learning” made students far more likely to be successful later in life.””

So, how to make sense of all this?  It looks to me like building strong peer social relationships helps students complete their degree and may get them some initial opportunities. A friend can help you get that first job opportunity–whether you succeed at that job, get promoted and achieve lasting success requires much more!

To get your money’s worth, and find deep and long-term success requires you to build your critical thinking skills, best achieved by taking challenging courses, making sure you take the time to study, and mentoring relationships with professors and others that go far beyond socialization.

As Dr. Barron said, don’t drive this blue and white sports car 20 MPH. To go places, you need to do more.  Are you seeking out challenging courses and putting time into studying for them? Are you building a relationship with professors and alumni mentors? These are the keys to that sports car.



Self-Confidence and Leadership

As Penn State students tackle our Career Fair this week, I am beginning another semester teaching my course on Health Care Leadership. As part of the first assignment in class, I ask students to look over models of health care leadership competencies from the National Center on Healthcare Leadership and the American College of Healthcare Executives and identify what they believe are the three most important competencies for young, healthcare leaders.

One of the most common competencies identified by students in this exercise is “self-confidence”. I always have mixed feelings about that competency.  On the one hand, I think it’s undeniable that having some measure of self-confidence is needed to take on leadership roles.  It takes some measure of self-confidence just to approach an employer at a Career Fair. However, I always reflect on Jim Collins’ discussion of the humility of “Good to Great” leaders, and I recall the Chronicle of Higher Education article on how to “Embrace Your Inner Insecurity”.

That article cites the work of Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and others suggesting that less confident individuals have greater success because they pay attention and respond to negative feedback, work harder to avoid being unprepared, and are perceived to be less arrogant by others.  I’ve heard from more than one employer about interns and new employees who get into deeper waters than they should because they are overconfident about their knowledge or abilities. The overly self-confident can also create an environment where others do not question their ideas, leading to a failure to examine other solutions or pitfalls of the leader’s plan.

I like the term used in the text I use for my class–well-cultivated self-awareness.  What young healthcare leaders need is not self-confidence and the blinders that may come with that, but a balanced awareness. They need to understanding their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others.  They need to base their life in solid personal values, not a simplistic belief in their own abilities.  They need to be open to the criticism and ideas of others, having a healthy self-doubt of their own ideas.  And, they need the humility to recognize that their success is inextricably linked to those they lead. In the long-run, I think self-awareness beats self-confidence.

HHD Student News, Sept. 10, 2014

Congratulations! You’ve survived the start of the semester.  Below you’ll see a hint of a few upcoming events, and there’s more information on those and other activities on my Events blog for HHD students.

The BIG event next week, of course, is the Career Fair. Whether you will graduate in May or just started in August, every student should go.  As a new student, you may just want to get a sense of the event, so you’ll be more comfortable for future career fairs.  I’d encourage you to talk with a few companies–just ask them what they look for in interns and employees.  If you are closer to your internship or graduation, of course, then you should be speaking to as many organizations as possible.  Networking is a critical part of getting that first opportunity, and here are a few of my thoughts on that topic.

I hope that you have a great week, weekend, and Career Fair. Remember that I have office hours for students from 1:30-3 PM on Thursdays (call 865-1427 for an appointment) and can also be reached by email ( or on Twitter (@DennisG_Shea).


  • Students interested in getting assistance with their speaking and presentations can connect with the Undergraduate Speaking Center in 7C Sparks Building (M-F, 10 AM – 9 PM). For more information check
  • The Penn State Learning Center ( provides tutoring in writing, math, and study groups on many courses.
  • Interested in being part of “State of State”? Committee applications are open and close Friday:
  • Interested in going on to do research in graduate school?  National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships are a great way to fund your graduate school plans. Deadlines run from late October to early November, so talk to your advisers and faculty NOW:
  • The Public Leadership Education Network provides numerous seminars on leadership through public service in science, policy, education, nonprofits, communications and technology and more.  Programs begin in mid-November and run though the end of the year.  Check out thier web page for more info:


Sept. 10: Global Health Minor Information Session, 7 PM, 110 Henderson Building (Living Center). More info

September 15: Will we ever get Americans active? Rethinking interventions as experiences, Chris N. Sciamanna, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences, Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey PA.  3:30-4:30 p.m., Ruth Pike Auditorium, Room 22, Biobehavioral Health Building.

September 15: State of the Department Address, Gordon Jensen, MD, PhD, Professor and Head, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Professor of Medicine, The Pennsylvania State University, 4:00 — 5:00 p.m., 110 Henderson Building,

Sept. 16-18: Fall Career Days, 11-4 each day in the Bryce Jordan Center. For more information see Career Services

Sept. 16: “A Place-Based Context for Addressing Health for Vulnerable Populations”, David Hartley, University of Southern Maine, 12-1 PM, 110 Henderson Building (Living Center). This talk is for all interested in learning more about research related to location–urban/rural, home/work–anywhere where the place matters for health.

September 16The Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity is pleased to announce a visit by Dr. Derald Wing Sue, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University and a pioneer in multicultural counseling and education. Dr. Sue will be speaking on “Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact,” on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 3:30–5:00 p.m. in Presidents Hall at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus.

Sept. 17: Managing your Credit Cards, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m., Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library. Penn State provides a full range of tools, tips, and workshops to help students develop their financial literacy.  Learn more!

Sept. 18: “Bridging the Gap between the Medical and Fitness Communities”, Robert Sallis, Founder of the “Exercise is Medicine” initiative and Co-Director, Sports Medicine Fellowship, Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center, Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, UC Riverside School of Medicine , TIME: 7:30 PM,  Ruth Pike Auditorium, 22 Biobehavioral Health Building

Sept. 25: Interested in learning more about business majors in HHD and other colleges? Business Majors Night!! There are many colleges across Penn State that offer business-related majors. Learn about them at Business Majors Night on Thursday, September 25, at 6:30–8:00 p.m., in 110 Business Building, University Park. You’ll hear from representatives in the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Communications, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Development, Information Sciences and Technology, the Liberal Arts, and Smeal College of Business. Register at

Sept. 29-Oct. 5: Exercise is Medicine Week.  Kickoff the event with the Dean’s campus walk, Sept. 29 at 9 am, meet up at BBH Building Terrace or join the walk when it passes your building! Events all week.  More info on Exercise is Medicine.

Making a Muddle of Health Insurance for Students

I want to hesitate in coming down too hard on The Daily Collegian’s article on health insurance and students.  Health journalism is tough.  There are very complex issues, and I’ve seen people with a lot more experience get things wrong.  I’m going to focus on trying to clarify a few issues.

First, the article starts with a predictable and fact-free sentence on the “severe criticism” and “flaw” of Obamacare.  It’s not a flaw.  The fundamental focus of the changes in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is to ensure that both individuals and employers either make provisions for their health care needs through insurance or face a penalty to enable those costs to be paid if they do suffer an accident, injury or need for health care.  By preventing free riders, the law prevents individuals and employers from passing the buck on to someone else. Under the past system, costs of the uninsured were either paid by taxpayers or were built into the bill of those individuals who had insurance.  That’s fundamentally unfair.

So, the requirement that universities offer the same protection to student employees that they do to other employees is a logical application of that basic design principle, not a flaw.  Substitute almost any other word other than “student” there–allow universities not to have to offer insurance to Hispanic employees or female employees or older employees?  That’s absurd.  Why in the world should an employer be allowed to deny students the opportunity to purchase insurance, simply because they are students? Student employees should be given the exact same opportunities as all other employees.

The article raises the specter of job cuts, but offers no substantive evidence of that impact. The law only requires employers to offer insurance to employees who work 30 or more hours per week.  Nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, fewer than 7 percent of full-time students work 35 or more hours, and that includes students who work at employers other than the university where they study (about 38 percent of part-time students work 35 or more hours). With about 80 percent of Penn State’s students being full-time students, this means the law applies, at most, to 10-15 percent of students.  And that’s under the unreasonable assumption that every single one of those students working 30+ hours is working all of those hours with Penn State as their employer.

In addition to failing to provide the context or data for the insurance requirement and its impact on jobs, the article mentions the taxes and penalties of the law, but ignores its key contributions.  While it does mention the new benefits that insurers are required to provide, it does not direct attention to the recent data on costs and insurance coverage.

As has been widely noted, the past 4 years have been marked by an incredibly low rate of health care cost growth, despite the taxes, penalties, and other features of the Affordable Care Act.  While the causal link between the law and the slow growth is still uncertain, focusing solely on the taxes and penalties without addressing the potential that the law is having a real and substantive impact on slowing health care cost growth is exceedingly misleading.

But, even that is not the biggest problem with the article.  No, the biggest problem is its failure to even mention the 2 most important numbers for students: 28 and 18.

In 2010, 28 percent of young people age 18 to 24 were uninsured.

In 2014–because of the expansion of coverage through parental insurance plans, the Medicaid expansions in many states, and the availability of subsidized health insurance through the state and federal exchanges–just 18 percent of young people were uninsured.

This unprecedented increase–nearly 3.5 million more young people with health insurance–is what ought to be front page news at The Collegian and elsewhere.


HHD Student News, Sept. 3, 2014

I hope all HHD students had a great Labor Day weekend. I had a chance to visit the Arboretum at Penn State–if you’ve never seen it, you should talk a walk across Park Avenue and check it out.

As we start to swing into high gear in the semester, I want to encourage you again to seek out some organizations and activities to join.  HHD has some fantastic groups who provide opportunities for professional development, service to the community, travel and networking, and much more.

And, I want to offer an open invitation to all of our HHD organizations–I’d love the chance to come meet with your group, talk about how we can improve HHD from your perspective, and hear about the activities you have planned.  Email me at or call Heather Zimmerman at 865-1427 to schedule a visit.

Don’t forget to keep returning to see the HHD Undergraduate Blog, follow me on Twitter @DennisG_Shea, and use #PSUHHD to tag things of interest to HHD students.

Student Events (More Events):

September 3: Study Abroad 101 Workshop for Students at 12 noon in 410 Boucke Study Abroad 101 is a one-hour presentation designed to give you an overview of studying abroad through Penn State

Sept 4: Interested in how food impacts health? There’s a meeting for students interested in a student farm and sustainable food systems program on Thursday, September 4 from 6:30-8pm, in room 116 Biobehavioral Health Building.

Sept 8: ISI Florence and Umbra Institute Information Session, 3:00 PM, 410 Boucke Building, University Park, Questions to Kate Fox, Learn about ISI Florence, a study abroad with tracks in general studies, business (summer), HDFS (summer), and sustainable agriculture and food systems (fall).  At Umbra in Perugia, there are general studies and food studies.  Our students currently study at Umbra through Arcadia University.

Sept 8: Health Services Research Colloquium, “Hospital Adjustments to Changing Demand and Provision of Uncompensated Care: Does Ownership Make a Difference ?” Sujoy Chakravarty, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor and Health Economist, Rutgers Center for State Health Policy

Monday, September 8, 2014, 11:30 – 1:00 pm, 118 Keller Building

Sept. 9: Office of Diversity Enhancement Programs Multicultural Orientation, 5-6:30 PM in 10 Henderson (Hintz Family Student Center).

Sept. 16-18: Fall Career Days, 11-4 each day in the Bryce Jordan Center. For more information see Career Services

September 16:   Dr. Derald Wing Sue, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University and a pioneer in multicultural counseling and education, “Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact,” on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 3:30–5:00 p.m. in Presidents Hall at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel

Additional Information for Students
Some great maps and info on The Best Job Markets for College Graduates.

Interested in getting involved in research with faculty?  Here’s a few tips:

You can look at research projects that faculty have posted here:

Info on funding for research and research conference travel? Try here:

One great experience for any Penn State student is to get connected to the diverse group of international students here at the university. Global Connections is a program that helps international students connect to each other and to students from the U.S. Read more about the program, volunteer to help with their efforts, and check out their blog

As I mentioned at orientation, one of the biggest challenges for students is managing their social life. Substance abuse is a leading risk factor for academic difficulties, assaults and injuries, and other problems. Penn State offers support to students trying to deal with these issues through Collegiate Recovery.  If you or someone you know could benefit from support, seek them out.

If your parents and family are coming for Parents and Families Weekend, please stop by HHD events. We’ll have an Ice Cream Social in the Hintz Family Student Center from 1-3 PM on Saturday, and BBH and Nutritional Sciences are both hosting events.  More info?

Have a great week!