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My Doctoral Journey – Part 1: Back to School

Foreword: In 2010, when I turned 65, I decided to go back to school and earn a doctorate in health administration. I had been serving on the board of a regional hospital network and was amazed to see how far behind healthcare was compared to the technology world where I had spent decades. I wanted to learn what makes the healthcare industry tick, why it is so complicated and expensive. As I progressed through four years of study, writing papers, conducting a research study, and writing a dissertation, I decided to share the experience in my blog. I am now re-publishing the edited blog posts and preparing them for possible inclusion in a new book.

Written: September 2010

The grandkids have their backpacks loaded up. I hate to see them bent over, hauling many pounds of books, and I look forward to the day when they have just a Kindle and some wholesome snacks in their backpacks with room to spare. The four grown children are thankfully gainfully employed, but two of them are back in school to advance themselves. Believe it or not, Pop-Pop is also in the mix.

I have been thinking about a doctorate for years. I have been fortunate to be able to earn a good education during my life, including three degrees. Nevertheless, I have a personal desire to achieve the pinnacle of education and use it to make an impact on something I am passionate about, healthcare.

My education and career up until now have been heavily focused on technology. My Bachelors degree was in electrical engineering. My Masters was in management science. The third degree was in law, which I started working on while in the U.S. Army. I believe in the near future there will be a merger in the healthcare field of traditional information technology and clinical information technology. Bioinformatics will make personalized medicine a reality and we will no longer have to rely on anecdotal medicine.

It will not be long until the healthcare information technology industry will be larger than the IT industry as we know it today. I want to be part of this revolution. By combining my information technology experience with a new focus on healthcare, I believe by being a Doctor of Health Administration, I can help develop techniques which can improve healthcare outcomes and quality of life for many people.

Having been a member of the board of the regional hospital near where I live and having participated as a member of the planning, technology, and medical affairs committees, I have been able to learn a lot and have become passionate about the key issues and opportunities which lie ahead. I plan to focus my dissertation on the intersection of the Internet, mobile computing, video chat, and remote primary care for patients. More on this as things develop.

Studying for a degree using the Internet as the classroom is hardly a new idea. When IBM made forays into this area years ago it was called “distance learning”. Some call it e-learning. I call it the natural way to learn. Whatever you call it, e-learning has come a long way. Over the last ten years I have looked at various programs which are offered. Most universities have some form of e-learning, but the one I found to have the broadest and deepest commitment is University of Phoenix. For them it is big business — $4 billion in revenue and $600 million in profit last year.

I was particularly impressed with their doctoral program. They follow what their School for Advanced Studies calls the scholar, practitioner, leader model. The idea is to combine scholarship and theory with practical skills and knowledge which you can use in the workplace. The course work is almost entirely online but there are three intense week-long residencies during the next three years to support and expand on the education received online. Being a student again fits well with e-tirement. I started on August 31 and have been doing research, writing papers, and participating in the online forums. So far, so good. The journey has begun. No turning back. Wish me luck! Oh, and if you don’t see an many posts here, rest assured I am posting scholarly work in the online classroom.