It has been 31 months since my decision in August 2010 to begin a doctoral journey. I have now completed 80% of the academic coursework and have learned a lot from 20 courses — most of them 8 weeks in duration — and writing 75 papers. I am currently studying Population Health and Epidemiology. After that concludes in May, there will be four more courses: Evaluation of Healthcare Programs, Contemporary Leadership Issues, and a Doctoral Seminar. The doctor of health administration program includes three “residencies”. These take place in one of several locations and involve an intensive week of study with faculty and students from your cohort. I chose Atlanta for my residencies and I have completed all three. The third residency, which ended in November, was 100% focused on the development of a research proposal that ultimately becomes the first three chapters of the doctoral dissertation.
I have been an Internet advocate for 21 years. My basic tenet has been that the Internet provides “power to the people” and one of the many areas in which this is true is education. Whether it is computer assisted instruction, e-learning, distance learning, or the latest craze of massive open online courses (MOOCs), the concept is the same—to enable people anywhere in the world to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and use whatever device they want to learn it on. While evangelizing the power of the on-line environment, I also embrace the validity and need for meeting in person. There is no substitute for what occurred in the third doctoral seminar Atlanta. Webcams and various forms of virtual reality can enhance an on-line experience, but no virtual capability can replicate the emotion behind the learning shared by students in the class. We all shared a passion for the Scholar-Practitioner-Leader model, and we challenged each other’s proposals, which was a huge benefit to all of us.
The largest challenge standing between the doctoral students and graduation is the dissertation. The goal that every learner shares is to develop a research proposal, get it approved, complete the research, and complete the doctoral dissertation. Some say that at least half of doctoral learners never complete their dissertation because of the incredible detail required to get a topic developed and approved for research. A typical dissertation is 200-300 pages in length. Some consider the process more than challenging – a friend of mine told me he completed all of his coursework and received an ABD degree – all but dissertation. A visit to Amazon can reveal many books on how to “survive” a dissertation. I still remember the meeting with the academic review committee when I had to defend my masters thesis forty years ago. It seemed challenging at the time, but I can now say that it was minor compared to what lies ahead for the doctoral dissertation.