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A collage image of students at the College of Health Professions helping patients

DHA Alumni Spotlight

Kinneil Coltman, DHA
2012 Alumni, Chief Diversity Officer, Greenville Health System, Greenville, SC

Salvador J. Esparza, DHA
2010 Alumni, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge, CA

David H. Freed, DHA
2009 Alumni, Depute Commissioner, Summit Park Hospital & Nursing Care Center, Pomona, NY

Larry Leaming, DHA, FACHE
2007 Alumni, CEO, Roosevelt General Hospital, Portales, MN

Larry Mullin, DHA, FACHE
2003 Alumni, President/CEO, Samaritan Health Services, Corvallis, OR

Tim Putnam, DHA, FACHE
2010 Alumni, President/CEO, Margaret Mary Health, Batesville, IN

Gwyndolan L, Swain, DHA
2013 Alumni, Assistant Professor, Pfeiffer University, Charlotte, NC

Gary Wilde, DHA
2009 Alumni, President/CEO, Community Memorial Health System, Somis, CA

Kinneil Coltman
Kinneil Coltman, DHA
Chief Diversity Officer, Greenville Health System, Greenville, SC
Class of 2012

What is your one piece of advice for current students looking to pursue an advanced career in Health care leadership?

Be a volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities to lead, even if leading is not yet in your job description. Look for those special projects or initiatives that need managing within your organization or your community. The leadership experience that you can gain by raising your hand for these activities can help you prepare for the next level of leadership while also helping you get noticed by key decision makers who can help you get there.

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

In your doctoral education, you are learning a lot of seemingly different things at warp speed. At some point along the way, though, there is this magical moment in which all the disparate pieces of your education suddenly fit together. In essence, you begin to see health care administration from every angle and perspective. You learn to understand the big picture.

What are your most memorable moments from this program?

The connection with my fellow classmates was the most memorable part of this experience. To share a classroom with a diverse group of leaders from across the Health care industry was an amazing gift that keeps on giving.

What tools or skills do you believe had the biggest impact on your success?

Going into this program, understanding research methods had been a huge gap for me. After completing the program, I was able to start my own research projects and see them through to completion.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career?

Shamelessly seek out great mentors.

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

Build relationships with your classmates so that you can support each other through the challenges and rigors of the course work.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

Find a classmate who can serve as your accountability partner. Commit to calling each other weekly, and set deadlines to which you hold each other accountable. Most importantly, commit to finishing your dissertation within a year after passing your comprehensive exams. Otherwise, you run the risk of letting life get in the way.

What Health care issue concerns you the most?

Disparities in health and health care

What do you find most challenging and rewarding about leading a career in Health care?

Health care is a dynamic and complex industry. The longer that you work in this industry, the more you appreciate the necessity for great leaders who are brave enough to navigate these increasingly tumultuous waters.

Sal Esparza
Salvador J. Esparza, DHA
Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge, CA
Class of 2010

What is your one piece of advice for current students looking to pursue an advanced career in Health care leadership?

As organizational complexity increases in today’s Health care environment, we must commit ourselves to be effective transformational leaders in order to give our organizations the very best opportunity to succeed. The doctoral program can prepare you to lead effectively into the future. 

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

The most important thing I learned during the doctoral program was to be a strategic thinker and understand how to create a roadmap for organizational success.

What are your most memorable moments from this program?

The most memorable moments were the camaraderie that was developed with some of my fellow cohorts and the relationships that will last a lifetime. Another was receiving the dean’s award for outstanding doctoral project.

What tools or skills do you believe had the biggest impact on your success?

I believe the demand for higher-order learning outcomes required of the program gave me the sophisticated tools and skills needed to critically evaluate situations, whether they be organizational, political, economic, sociodemographic, or technical, and guide a course of action that is in the best interests of all stakeholders, and in particular the patients that we serve.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career? 

The most memorable piece of advice I received was that responsible Health care leaders must be life-long learners. It was that advice that motivated me to pursue the highest level of education I could obtain in my field.

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

Two things would benefit the DHA student during their didactic courses. First, is to realize that you are being taught by some of the best faculty and practitioners in the field and the knowledge you will gain is invaluable. Second, is to realize that you are in a cohort group of some very bright people and you must learn from one another.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

The thing that would benefit a DHA student while working on their doctoral project is to select one that you have a passion for. This passion will give you the motivation to “stay the course” and complete it in a timely manner. The support you will get from the faculty and chair of your committee will be immense.

What Health care issue concerns you the most?

I am most concerned about the health disparities among vulnerable populations that seem to be widening. The idea that one’s zip code has a larger effect on health than one’s genomic code is disconcerting.

What do you find most challenging and rewarding about leading a career in Health care?

Given my response to the previous question, my challenge is to help narrow those health disparities by being involved at the governance and political levels. Making even a small change in this area will be one of the most satisfying things I can do as a Health care leader.

David Freed.
David H. Freed, DHA
Deputy Commissioner, Summit Park Hospital & Nursing Care Center, Pomona, NY
Class of 2009

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

Our instructor introduced the first lecture in the first class on the first day of our doctoral program by asking why “executives” were labeled as such. The answer could be found right in the question: because all things considered, an executive’s most fundamental responsibility is to execute. So the most important thing I learned during my doctoral education was that moving comfortably from analysis to synthesis and from strategy to execution are necessities, not options, as concerns becoming an effective executive, one who adds real value by contributing generously and consistently. It has been said that leadership is about doing the right things and management is about doing things right. Doctoral education offered essential lessons in both domains, with execution as the common denominator between them.

What tools or skills do you believe had the biggest impact on your success?

There is a direct correlation between how little I wanted to study certain subjects and how incredibly valuable they have proven to be in the workplace. First, statistics: I’ve yet to meet the student who is anxious to take that course, but I am a rather different person as the result of doing so. I now see bell curves everywhere I go and I can view important decisions along a continuum of probable outcomes, not just deterministically as before. The increased array of possibilities has afforded me a genuinely more expansive outlook at work and at home alike. Second, planning: I learned to recognize that good intentions are not a plan and that “ready-fire-aim” is the all-too-frequent result of not being able to discriminate between them. Effective planning requires remarkable front-end patience but returns equally remarkable back-end dividends; the doctoral program is a wonderful opportunity to experience both.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career?

Effective project management, often involving complex, large-scale facilities, information technology, and clinical program development projects is an everyday responsibility of Health care leaders. Projects like these have such a chronically high rate of failure and disappointment that one observer has even suggested that the final two stages of project management should be “search for the guilty” and “distinction for the uninvolved.” In this context, the most memorable piece of advice I received early in my career came from a mentor who insightfully recommended asking this simple question before beginning any new initiative: “What will we have when we are finished?” If one cannot articulate the answer in either one minute or one page that anyone can understand and recite, then he or she should not commence the project or commit organizational resources to it. No person would start their car, just begin driving, and hope that their intended destination emerges by chance but many people regrettably start their projects, just begin attending meetings, and are surprised when the desired outcomes do not emerge. Asking, “What will we have when are finished?” assures that when all is said and done, more will not be said than done.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

Remain focused on a finite, well-defined research question, period. As a doctoral student you will only compile one doctoral project, so it is initially tempting to go not only very deep but also very wide and to good naturedly be as expansive as possible. However, proceeding in that manner inevitably leads to overwhelming the writer, project advisors, and ultimately the reader as well. I vividly recall being admonished to narrow my inquiry, complete my project, and use the long period of years following graduation to pursue my extensive research interests. At the time I was a little miffed but in retrospect “bite size pieces” and “one thing at a time” are always winning formulas in establishing clarity and momentum. Albeit counter intuitive, it is also easier to write seventy-five diluted pages of analysis than five concentrated, impactful ones so carefully limiting one’s research question at the outset is really the head of the river for everything that will flow downstream afterwards.

Larry Leaming
Larry E. Leaming, DHA
Chief Executive Officer, Roosevelt General Hospital, Portales, NM
Class of 2007

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

Use the Writing Center. It had been a number of years between the completion of my Master’s degree and my enrollment in the DHA program and my writing, especially APA style, was very rusty. All I needed to do was develop the discipline of completing my paper assignments far enough ahead of the due date to be able to send them to the Writing Center for help. It can make a significant difference in your grades.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

Study up and use your time management skills. The first two years of the DHA program are highly structured with scheduled classes and assignment deadlines. When you get to the dissertation you must develop your own structure and discipline to keep on top of your project and get it done. Set a deadline for your defense that meets the time line for graduation. If you miss the deadline you may find yourself missing graduation with the rest of your cohort. Break the project up into segments you can handle and give yourself deadlines to stay on track. Before you know it, you’re done.

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

Pick your doctoral program carefully. There are plenty of DHA programs out there and they are not all the same. Cost is important but not the most important thing to consider. If you want to use the degree to advance your career the quality and reputation of the program is very important. If you want to end up in a teaching and/or research position the quality and reputation of the program is critical. The DHA program at MUSC is, hands down, one of the most highly respected programs in the country.

Larry Mullins
Larry E. Mullins, DHA, FACHE
President/ Chief Executive Officer, Samaritan Health Services, Corvallis, OR
Class of 2003

What is your one piece of advice for current students looking to pursue an advanced career in Health care leadership?

The first piece of advice I would give to students striving to advance their health care career is to achieve the optimal degrees possible and to pursue both their studies and work with vigor.

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

The most important thing I learned was the theory that supported the leadership practices I had or wanted to learn. Really opened my thinking about leadership horizons and what is possible.

What are your most memorable moments from this program?

My fondest memory is of our "study nights" when the cohort would come together informally in support of projects and assignments. More importantly it was a time to learn about each other and our life experiences.

What tools or skills do you believe had the biggest impact on your success?

The most important lesson I learned was to become very comfortable in my leadership style and practices. The program really solidified my thinking about leadership practices and what helps produce the best leaders.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career?

Both the most challenging and rewarding thing about a career in health care is the profound effect you can have on people's lives and careers. A responsibility worthy of pursuit and not to be taken lightly.

Tim Putnam
Tim Putnam, DHA, FACHE
President/CEO, Margaret Mary Health, Batesville, IN
Class of 2010

What’s the most important thing you learned during your doctoral education?

My most valuable learning experience was not to base a decision solely on my “opinions and observations.” The delivery of Health care should be based on the rigor of evidence as much as the practice of medicine. During and after the DHA program I have witnessed Health care leaders who seem to completely ignore proven processes and successful care delivery programs; they lead solely on their individual judgment of what they believe will work. This is as dangerous and detrimental to the patient as a physician who ignores the evidence-based practice of medicine.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career?

Develop a strong network of trustworthy and committed leaders. There are many people working in our field who are dedicated to improving Health care delivery. These are leaders who are willing to work selflessly beyond their own jobs to improve the delivery of care for all. If you show the same passion, this network of people can be invaluable toward having a successful and meaningful career.

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

Give up all hope of having a life while in class. The rigors of full time employment and successful completion a program of this caliber will leave few hours for anything else. I vividly remember waking at 4 AM to work on an assignment just so I could spend the evening with my wife on our 25th wedding anniversary.

What Health care issue concerns you the most?

The fragmentation of the current Health care delivery system concerns me greatly. We have no shortage of good people doing good work; however, it is clear that they are doing their best in a poor system of care delivery that is completely uncoordinated. Traditional training for Health care leaders reinforces the goal of making their individual department, hospital or system better than their completion, not improving the delivery of care each patient requires. We need to challenge this line of thinking and develop a truly patient centered care delivery system the reduces or eliminates waste, duplication and error.

What do you find most challenging and rewarding about leading a career in Health care?

The most rewarding aspect of Health care is the ability to work with talented and compassionate people. I am convinced that many of our nation’s best people are those who have invested themselves in the care of others. It is an absolute honor to work with them.

Gwyndolan Swain
Gwyndolan L. Swain, DHA
Assistant Professor, Pfeiffer University, Department of Health Administration, Charlotte, NC
Class of 2013

What is your one piece of advice for current students looking to pursue an advanced career in Health care leadership?

My one piece of advice would be to be certain that this is the path you want to peruse. Think about what this advanced degree will mean to you and how it will benefit you in your quest for upward mobility in the health care industry. For me, I saw it as an important pre-requisite for future jobs I might apply for. Another reason for me, and one that many others will share, is their love of education and their quest for knowledge.

What are your most memorable moments from this program?

The most memorable moments from this program were the day that I experienced the “Ahaw Moment” about my doctoral project topic and the day my doctoral project proposal was approved. The most memorable moment of all was the moment Dr. Zoller said these works, Congratulations Dr. Swain.

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

I believe that beginning the DHA program with an idea of your dissertation topic will be most beneficial. I say that because each course requires research and a paper to be submitted based on that research. If you have an idea of what your doctoral project will be about, that research can be driven by that topic. I had an idea when I began and was able to compile many research articles on my topic.

Additionally, when you reach the research course and you are given the option of utilizing either your dissertation topic or using a fictitious topic to do your classwork on, you will find yourself ahead of the game when you can use this valuable time toward your actual doctoral project.

Finally, I recommend that you create a folder on your computer where you can house copies of all scholarly research articles. Each course in the DHA program requires vase amount of research. If you save all this information in one place, when you need to refer back to it, it will be easily located and accessed.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

Organizing and persistence.. The doctoral project is daunting at the outset and the cause of much anxiety. If you are not organized, you will find yourself covering the same ground over and over. This raises your anxiety and is the cause of many finding themselves in the category of ABD (All But Dissertation) for many years. You must keep working on the project and do so a little every day. If you are not persistent in your efforts, life will get in the way and you will lose interest and lose sight of the goal which is to be DONE. You should also work closely with your committee making recommended corrections as quickly possible while the information is still fresh. The worst possible thing you can do is put work on your doctoral project off. It is extremely difficult to get back into the grove when you let too much time go by from completing your course work to beginning work on doctoral project.

Gary Wilde
Gary Wilde, DHA
President/CEO, Community Memorial Health System, Somis, CA
Class of 2009

What are your most memorable moments from this program?

Besides the day I defended my doctoral project, I think the Washington D.C. trip during the second policy course was the most memorable. It wasn't that the trip was fun--it was a challenging course that required us to research and then make face-to-face contact with policy makers.

What tools or skills do you believe had the biggest impact on your success?

A) During the didactic courses, I used the "tortoise" rather than the "hare" approach. I studied every morning and tried to stay ahead of the reading and assignments. 

B) Before I started the program, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to strive to do well in every course, and clearly it paid off.

What was the most memorable piece of advice you received (or wish you had received) early in your career?

An older executive told me to get all the education I could get--then use it.

What would benefit a DHA student the most during their didactic courses?

My advice is to apply the principles you learn in the didactic courses to your own organization. Liken what you are learning to your own organization--the principle will stick and your organization will greatly benefit. Just one example: my organization benefited hugely from the strategic planning and the game theory tools I learned in program.

What would benefit a DHA student the most while working on their doctoral project?

Narrow your topic to something you are personally curious about. Don't formulate a pre-determined outcome. Set deadlines for yourself. Seek out a great statistician to help you construct and study your hypotheses. Have fun--there is an end to this chore.