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Filling the Gaps

Workforce demands drive rapid growth of health professions school


“I had reached the point in my career where I was stagnating,” he says, “watching co-workers around me get promoted. If I were going to take the next leap in my career, then having that graduate degree to unlock the door was a key component.”

So he enrolled in a new program at EVMS: Master of Healthcare Delivery Science.

“The program focuses on healthcare 2.0,” he says. “It’s heavy on analytics and using data to inform decisions, which provide a well-rounded perspective of healthcare administration. Plus, this online program is built for working professionals.”

After earning his MHDS degree in 2019, Mr. Simpkins, now Director of Managed Care for Sentara Healthcare, says, “It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made, both financially and professionally. It has been the catalyst to propel my career forward.”

Investing in new programs like the one Mr. Simpkins attended has been good for EVMS and the region, too.

When EVMS opened in 1973, a healthcare team typically consisted of a nurse, a pharmacist and maybe a surgeon or specialist if needed, all led by the patient’s primary-care doctor. In fact, educating more doctors to serve Hampton Roads is why EVMS was founded. And its campus is still home to a thriving medical school, with a current enrollment of 589 MD students.

But today, most EVMS students aren’t planning to be doctors. They’re enrolled in the 21 graduate-degree programs and 16 graduate certificates, offered by the EVMS School of Health Professions.

Now with a total of 795 students, health professions programs at EVMS have a come a long way since three students enrolled in Art Therapy in 1973. What’s behind the growth?

“The expectations of healthcare have changed,” says C. Donald Combs, PhD, Vice President of EVMS and Dean of the School of Health Professions.

“A lot more can be done today to help people maintain health and vigor. And the knowledge base underlying medicine is exponentially bigger than in the past. No one person can keep up with it. Physicians still know the most, but they’re realizing that their knowledge can be extended, and this can improve care dramatically.”


It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made, both financially and professionally. It has been the catalyst to propel my career forward.


Casey Simpkins
Master of Healthcare Delivery Science, 2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, employing more than 18 million workers. Professions like physician assistants and surgical assistants, for which EVMS offers master’s degrees, help extend care so that physicians and surgeons can meet the healthcare needs of a growing and aging population. But healthcare teams are needed for more than just individual patients.

“Keeping costs down and improving quality outcomes are better managed with a team approach,” says Brian Martin, PhD, MBA, Associate Dean for Administration. Dr. Martin is referring to master’s degrees in Healthcare Analytics, Healthcare Administration and Healthcare Delivery Science, the latter earned by Mr. Simpkins.

That Mr. Simpkins could earn his degree online is another factor in the School of Health Professions’ recent growth. Today, EVMS Online offers six master’s programs and three doctoral programs that are either fully online and asynchronous or a blend of online and in-person components.

Online learning appealed to Lt. Wisdom Henyo, a Medical Service Corp Officer in the U.S. Navy, who serves as Assistant Deputy Director for Administration at Virginia’s Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. In that role, he’s responsible for nine departments, an $85 million budget and a staff of 720 civilians, contractors and military personnel.

He’s certainly well qualified: He already holds two master’s degrees — one in Health Care Management and the other in Defense and Strategic Studies, Homeland Security/Homeland Defense. He’s also the father of two sets of twins. And he’s working on his Doctor of Health Sciences degree through EVMS Online.

“My children love that I’m able to spend time with them while I’m still able to do schoolwork,” Lt. Henyo says.

In determining which programs to create, EVMS decision-makers often consult with leaders of the region’s hospitals and health systems to learn where the workforce gaps are. But sometimes they’re surprised as they were with the Doctor of Health Sciences program that launched in 2018.

“We thought we would enroll at most between 10 and 15 students a year,” says Dr. Martin, who serves as DHSc Program Director. “But this year we admitted 32 students.”

The School of Health Professions also has added pro-grams to train healthcare educators and biomedical researchers.

Jessica Burket, PhD (Biomedical Sciences ’19), spent eight years studying Biomedical Sciences at EVMS, earned her master’s degree in 2013 and then continued on to earn her doctorate six years later.

“My training within these programs was critical to develop and refine my skills in research and teaching that ultimately led to my accelerated path in academia,” Dr. Burket says. “Now, in my new role as an Assistant Professor at Christopher Newport University, I often reflect on my EVMS training and experiences to help educate and mentor the next generation of researchers and clinicians.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need not only for biomedical researchers but also for expertise in public health. Fortunately, EVMS’ Master of Public Health program has a 24-year history.

“EVMS provided me a well-rounded, thorough understanding of public health as a whole, but also, specifically, a clear understanding of what shapes public health policy,” says Marc Kagan, MPH (MPH ’18), who works as a Supply Chain Analyst at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. “This has been especially relevant during the pandemic in my current role as an analyst for CHKD.

“We are constantly evolving and working through federal and state guidance related to the pandemic response,” Mr. Kagan says. “Having a thorough understanding of how pandemics, in general, evolve and impact communities has been very helpful in understanding what is driving these policy changes, and it has allowed us to make strategic decisions to better position our organization to respond effectively.”

Since some colleges and universities are expanding into the health sciences, being part of a larger medical community gives EVMS students an advantage. “There’s an opportunity for cross-pollination with our colleagues in other medical and health professions,” Dr. Martin explains.

“Medical and health education is all we do,” Dr. Combs adds, “which means that we have a leg up because of the depth of our experience.” He says EVMS is highly attuned not only to changes in healthcare delivery but what those changes mean to the competencies required.

“We’re rising to the need by helping to train people and doing what EVMS was built to do: improving the health of our community.”

The Rise of Health Sciences

Over the last decade, the EVMS School of Health Professions has more than doubled the number of degree programs it offers to a total of 21. Today, the school educates students in five doctoral programs and 16 master’s programs, as well as 16 graduate certificates.

Are you ready to propel your career forward? EVMS School of Health Professions has a program for you.