Master of Healthcare Administration graduate brings diverse background to leadership roles
Peri S. Braxton-Sears, ‘22 says she made excuses not to pursue a graduate degree before joining the Master of Healthcare Administration (M.H.A.) program at Radford University Carilion (RUC).
It would mean a complete career change for her. She felt she was too old to start over professionally. She didn’t have any prior experience in the field. She was afraid of the expense. What if she failed?
“You are your greatest barrier, if you allow it,” Braxton-Sears said. “Know what you want, know your worth, know you can. There will be naysayers, moments when you want to accept defeat, compounded by moments that push you to your limits. Take a breath and remember your goal. That’s what I did.”
Today, Braxton-Sears has an M.H.A. degree, awarded at the spring commencement ceremony on May 6, 2022, and a thriving post-graduate career to show for that fortitude and courage. She even graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.
Prior to becoming a Highlander, Braxton-Sears spent nearly a decade as a law enforcement officer specializing in crime scene investigations, followed by a stint as a forensic autopsy technician. However, she felt a need for a career change, and healthcare spoke to her.
“I was originally certain that a career in medicine would feed my interests regarding patient care, science and process improvement,” Braxton-Sears said, “but candid conversations and research led me to the administrative areas of healthcare.”
Braxton-Sears began looking for healthcare administration programs in the area that would fit her needs. She said several factors drew her to the M.H.A. program at RUC, including institution credibility, diversity, student resources, program scope, graduate success rates and post-graduation employment rates. RUC boasted excellent success statistics in all of those areas.
“I also needed an online format to balance my full-time employment status,” Braxton-Sears said. “RUC hit the mark for all my essential needs and exceeded my expectations.”
Braxton-Sears said she felt the M.H.A. program would provide her with foundational knowledge in healthcare leadership while educating her about the complexity of the U.S. healthcare system. She said that she found the curriculum to be in-depth enough to introduce her to a variety of career choices she could explore.
“I was especially interested to participate in interdisciplinary teams,” Braxton-Sears said. “We all have various talents and backgrounds, and in healthcare, these perspectives from diverse team members are invaluable to helping students choose their career paths and provide them with new experiences.”
As a student, Braxton-Sears said her key to success was letting the instructors and leaders in her program know what her career goals and interests were early.
“Be self-aware and decisive,” she reflected. “Many of the opportunities available to me during my time as a student were forwarded to me because I communicated what I needed out of the program.”
Braxton-Sears said what makes the M.H.A. program at RUC unique is the genuine care and commitment faculty and staff have for promoting and investing in student success.
“Any institution can establish a string of courses, but the human participants can make or break the entire experience,” she said. “Fortunately, RUC and the M.H.A. program excel in that area.”
One of the experiences that Braxton-Sears had the opportunity to take part in was the then-newly formed M.H.A. mentorship program.
“I am still in shock that I was selected, but I am eternally grateful that I was,” Braxton-Sears said of being chosen as the first student to participate in the program by M.H.A. program director Rebecca McIntyre, D.H.A., MHSA, CCRP.
In the program, Braxton-Sears got to shadow Dr. Carnell Cooper, the chief medical officer at LewisGale Medical Center.
“My experience was very involved, and Dr. Cooper was a phenomenal mentor,” she said.
Braxton-Sears followed Cooper throughout the course of his day, with the opportunity to attend executive meetings, engage with staff and tour the facility. As time progressed, she said she was aligned with leaders and personnel in areas of her specific interest, including hospital quality, surgery, ICU, accreditation and risk management.
“I chose a blend of clinical and administrative to gain a more comprehensive perspective of how these areas operate individually and collectively,” she remembers. “Dr. Cooper would present scenarios to me that helped me shift my mindset to that of a hospital administrator, factoring all the possible outcomes, barriers, stakeholders and so forth.”
Braxton-Sears said the most valuable aspect of leadership she learned from the experience was the value placed on employees by leaders and staff throughout the organization.
“HCA is a large hospital network, and the leaders I was able to work with emphasized employee appreciation, support and inclusion, which are aspects of the busy healthcare workplace that tend to be ignored,” Braxton-Sears said. “These are things we, as leaders, can emphasize to motivate employees, reminding them that they are valued and influential to the organization’s success.”
Since her graduation, Braxton-Sears has embarked on a new adventure, interning with Carilion Clinic in the area of process improvement.
“Dr. McIntyre’s work and collaboration with healthcare organizations and leadership created the opportunity,” Braxton-Sears said. “I have been in the role now for just over a month, and the experience is wonderful.”
In her new position, which is synonymous with an entry-level project analyst, Braxton-Sears is helping with current clinical-based projects and will become involved with several more that will initiate soon.
“It’s fascinating beyond words,” she said. “The department is called Clinical Advancement and Patient Safety, or CAPS. Process improvement and quality are core units. It’s so rewarding to help develop ideas and improvements that positively impact larger populations.”
Braxton-Sears said her work with CAPS links perfectly with her desire to work as part of diverse teams while improving efficiency, performance and operating expectations.
Looking down the road, Braxton-Sears hopes to one day achieve the title of chief operating officer for a healthcare organization, start and own a healthcare consulting firm or both.
She praises the faculty and staff of the M.H.A. program for helping her achieve her goals so far and preparing her to rise to even greater heights.
“The instructors and staff in the M.H.A. program at RUC are amazing,” she said. “They go above and beyond and have a vested interest in student success. They are continuously improving the experience and extending opportunities to students that they otherwise may not have the opportunity to find on their own.”
For current and future M.H.A. students, Braxton-Sears offers some advice that could help them follow her path to success.
“Your educators want you to succeed, and they have the knowledge and resources to help you achieve greatness,” she said. “Take risks, be self-sufficient, be resourceful and be honest with yourself. Stay humble and engage in a culture of sharing knowledge. Participate in as many opportunities of interest as you can to help you discover a personalized path that will ultimately foster joy and passionate purpose. That’s what I did, and it has paid off for me.”
Learn more about the RUC M.H.A. program and the other programs in the Department of Public Health and Healthcare Leadership on the Radford University website.