photo of Dr. Glenn Yap in classroom

Some of the best advice Glenn Yap, PhD, MBA, ever received can be captured in just three words: “Listen to everyone.”

Dr. Yap, Assistant Professor and Director of EVMS’ new Master of Healthcare Administration program, insists that deceptively simple guidance has made all the difference in his career and encouraged him to keep an open mind and seek out people who don’t share his perspective or life experiences.

“You have to surround yourself with smart people and, most important, people who think differently,” Dr. Yap says. “If you’re only listening to people who think just like you do, you’ll have great conversations as you both fall off the edge of a cliff together.”

Dr. Yap’s own career reflects his commitment to going after the unknown. After earning his MBA from Miami University in 1988, he served for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired as a colonel in 2018. When he joined EVMS later that year, he had executive-level experience at hospitals and clinics across the United States, along with leadership roles in the Air Force’s Office of the Surgeon General and at the Army-Baylor Graduate Program in Health and Business Administration. 

At EVMS, he’s focused on improving healthcare access for underserved communities and ensuring his students have the support and advice they need to make informed decisions as they embark on their careers and find their passions. 

Q: What was your childhood like?

A: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. Both of my parents were born in the Philippines. Dad was a general surgeon. Mom helped at his office. I was the middle kid. My parents provided us with a safe, happy environment to grow up in, but it was not without its challenges. My sister and I were the only Asians in our elementary school. Kids that age make fun of each other for all kinds of reasons — “You have red hair. You’re too skinny.” Because we were minorities, we faced our own teasing and prejudice.

Q: How did you come to your military service?

A: While I was earning my MBA at Miami University, I talked with an Air Force recruiter who visited campus. I thought, “That could be interesting. Why not?” The plan was to stay in for four to six years. I ended up staying for 30.

I loved the Air Force. I learned so much. I tell everyone going into the military, though, “Those of us on active duty have it easy. It’s the kids and the spouses who have it hard.” I remember once, shortly after we’d moved to a new place, my younger son said, “I’m not going to make any friends here. We’re going to be moving soon.” I was very lucky all those years to have the support of my wonderful wife, Aranka, and two sons, Jonthan and Alex. There’s always a sacrifice.

I fully believe in the core values of the Air Force: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. They have shaped who I am today, and I’ve tried to instill them in my kids and my students. I think those values speak to what EVMS stands for, too.

Q: Why is mentorship such a big part of your work and what does it look like in practice?

A: Early in my Air Force career, a more senior officer sat down with me and my wife and said, “If you were to stay in the Air Force for 20 years, what would your life look like?” It was the first time we had been asked to map out that kind of vision.

Now, I encourage my students to create their own personal strategic plans. You want to be the CEO of a major healthcare system? Great! It’s more difficult if you also have five kids at home, and you want to spend a lot of time with them. It’s not impossible, but if you start to talk about the trade-offs up front, it’s easier to find the balance that feels right for you. That has been important in my life.

Related to that longer view, I tell students all the time, “Your first job — even your second or third job — may not be perfect. But does it move you toward your goal? Are you gaining experience?” It’s good to keep an open mind. Your plan can change. It takes time to find what you are passionate about.

Q: What do you find most fulfilling about your work at EVMS?

A: Many people mentored me throughout my career. I want to pay that forward with my students. I want to help them understand the challenges they will face. I want to help them find ways to follow their interests and find their focuses.

I’ve also been fortunate to be part of a research team led by Dr. Andrew Plunk, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and researcher in the Community Health and Research division of EVMS Pediatrics, looking at health disparities in the public health community. It’s an opportunity to effect change in a boots-on-the-ground way. We’re helping residents who are underserved in the healthcare system and working to make sure that they feel respected and safe within our community.

Q: What excites you most about your new role as Director of EVMS’ Master of Healthcare Administration program?

A: It’s a chance to work with even more students and to help shape something new. Compared to other programs, the MHA program is more business-focused, which is a good match for my background. It was created in direct response to workforce needs in Hampton Roads. Our area is growing and changing. We need to prepare the next generation of healthcare leaders.

Read more magazine stories from issue 14.1 or read stories from past issues.