“If you really want to learn and dig deep, you need a program like UConn’s to build a very strong foundation of knowledge. What you learn is applicable in your nursing career. And if you’re starting out on your own business venture, maybe completely unrelated to nursing, or you’re creative and just want to start exploring how to develop an idea, this is definitely the program to take.” – Amy Setesak, Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Spring 2024

Headshot of Amy Setesak, UConn graduate of the Online Healthcare Innovation Graduate CertificateEmpowering Nurse-Driven Innovation

As an oncology nurse, Amy Setesak is passionate about innovating to elevate patient care and drive positive change. After years as a bedside nurse, Amy was searching for a new challenge when she discovered the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate at the University of Connecticut (UConn). As a natural innovator, the program has empowered Amy with the skills and knowledge to bring her innovative ideas to life. She is now part of a team designing and developing an innovation center at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) to cultivate a pathway for nurse-driven innovation, and as an entrepreneur, she has independently formulated a nutritional beverage that she is about to launch into the marketplace.

Searching for her path

As a registered nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering, a large oncology medical center in New York City, Amy is actively engaged in many multifaceted roles. “I’ve been a bedside nurse for 15 years. I have chaired Practice Council, which looks at revising nursing policies and procedures with the most up-to-date evidence and new products. I also help run our high-alert medication group, tasked with understanding and finding solutions for concerning events that happen with medication administration or related processes. Our group is multidisciplinary with representation from the quality department, pharmacy, leadership, and critical care, acute care and perioperative nurses.”

But after 15 years as a bedside nurse, Amy was ready for a new challenge, and the traditional nursing tracks were not calling to her. “I was feeling a little lost. Fifteen years being at the bedside is draining in some ways, and I wanted to be challenged again. I was feeling like I was going through the motions: I had mentored and precepted many nurses, worked in many different settings, and had been a part of many different committees. I was accepted into programs for the nurse practitioner track, but my gut was just telling me it wasn’t the right fit. So long story short, I was looking for something more.”

When Amy discovered the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate at UConn, she knew it was just what she was looking for. “I have always had an interest in business and project management, and I love being creative. So, I was trying to think of a path to take to help me grow in those areas. I was honestly just searching for a direction to take, and I came across this program, and I thought, ‘This is the best thing!’”

Looking for opportunities to innovate

Initially inspired by her mentor, Amy has a history of looking for opportunities to innovate. “I’ve been observing my mentor for years. She started a very interesting program at MSK. She’s a nurse leader (manager) now, but she was a bedside nurse when she started it. She created a video surveillance program that integrates technology to help prevent falls in the hospital. I watched her navigate the whole process of researching what currently exists, what the available tools were, and how to bring it all together, create a budget, a whole business plan for the hospital – as a nurse. I was with her for the entire journey, which changed my mindset towards project and team management. Ever since she added me to her team, we would look for opportunities to innovate. We collaborated with biomedical engineering to explore ideas for new medical devices and make mock prototypes. She and I applied to the ANA Innovation Accelerator program with one of the medical devices we drafted that would help strip surgical drains, and we got accepted into that program.”

As a natural innovator, the program aligned with Amy’s aspirations to elevate her capacity to successfully bring her ideas to fruition. “Before starting the program, I had wanted to do a study on patients using wearable technology (e.g., smart watch) to perform a trend analysis of vital signs to help detect early signs of sepsis or clinical deterioration, which included an escalation algorithm to alert the nursing team of meaningful changes from the patient’s baseline. I created a pitch and a plan for a pilot study, but I wanted to learn how to improve my delivery and execution of building and presenting an idea to a large organization. This program covered all those learning needs.”

Flexibility fit perfectly with demanding schedule

Navigating a demanding full-time career, the flexibility of the online asynchronous program fit perfectly with Amy’s needs. “I couldn’t scale back working full time, so I needed something where I could maximize my time off and not have to worry about scheduling shifts off, which is really crucial because our schedule is made way in advance and can change. It has to be equitable for everyone, whether you’re in school, have children, or building a business. So, the flexibility of the program fit perfectly with the demands of my schedule.”

Amy began the 4-course, 12-credit program in fall 2022 and will graduate this spring 2024. “I did one course a semester, which was really great, because I wanted to navigate the responsibilities of taking the class into my lifestyle. Some nurses jump right back in to full- or part-time programs with other tracks, but I liked doing one course a semester.” Amy adds, “I’m really sad: I don’t want it to end!”

Inspiring faculty

As a UConn alum, graduating with her BS in Nursing in 2008, Amy was excited to be a student at UConn again. “UConn is a strong, wonderful university. They’re progressive and support their students. I think that is important. It was fun to be back – and to be a student again. One especially inspiring highlight of the program for Amy was learning from Dr. Tiffany Kelley, the program director and instructor for all four courses. “Dr. Kelley is fantastic. She’s a great communicator. She really cares: You just know it and feel it. That’s really important to me because I think a lot of people are just going through the motions. She’s really inspiring: She’s been an example and mentor to nurses to branch out beyond the silo of the caregiving, task-oriented role. She was also very good at building bridges and networking, always offering and foreseeing an opportunity and giving me the heads-up.”

Solidifying learning through application

The way in which the program was organized worked perfectly for Amy, enabling her to solidify her learning while building upon it further with each course. “The way Dr. Kelley designed the program is perfect because you learn the foundations and theory behind innovation, and then you learn how to apply it to real life in a very meaningful, gradual way. We’re developing a pitch at the end, but what’s helpful is, in each course, your projects lead into that last semester. In each course, you’re utilizing and implementing your knowledge right away, which really solidifies it, allowing you to build on it for the next semester. I think it’s the perfect layout for a program. The way she organized it was really applicable and helps you remember what you learned in the previous courses. And she incorporated resources from other organizations that were very user-friendly, which is a big plus for me: modules and reading resources that I’ve downloaded and will probably keep for a very long time because I keep referring back to them. Dr. Kelley really thoughtfully put this program together.”

Shifting direction midway

Amy is currently completing the last course in the sequence, NURS 5114: Healthcare Innovation Development - Capstone. Along the way, she shifted direction for her final capstone project. “I originally started the program with the sepsis screening with the smartwatch for trend analysis. I was passionate about that because I had started that project before even learning about the program. It’s really a difficult pilot study to apply for and accomplish, and it just seemed a little unattainable to do right now. I was trying to really partner this program with something I could put into action. I asked Dr. Kelley if I could switch it to the innovation center since it was directly applicable to a real-life project that I could bring to fruition. So, I switched halfway, which was a good learning experience as they’re two totally different projects, and I applied the tools and information learned to each. I haven’t given up on the trend analysis yet; it just wasn’t the right time.”

Nurse-driven innovation: Bringing a dream to life

When Amy shifted her focus last fall, the innovation center was still merely a dream. Amazingly, that dream is now becoming a reality. “It was something that my mentor and I had always dreamed about, but my shift in focus came before the donation and being assigned to the innovation taskforce. MSK’s Nursing Research Director learned about me taking the UConn program and had previously helped me and my mentor with a grant for another project which led us to be a part of the team assembled for the innovation center. Oftentimes, nurses give up a lot of their ideas as they act as consults in many groups, and either physicians or engineers end up leading the projects. Sometimes nurses don’t get acknowledged for their contributions. So, a main goal of the innovation center is to protect nurses’ intellectual property and have them be a part of the whole journey of ideation exploration, to prototype development, to partnering with vendors if it’s a device that seems scalable and marketable.”

Amy goes on to explain the synchronicity of the unfolding magic: “At the end of last year, our organization received a donation to be used for nursing innovation that demonstrates how the community is learning about nurse-driven innovation. Our Chief Nursing Executive assembled a team of directors, nurse leaders, a nurse practitioner, and me to start researching and mapping out a direction towards building an innovation center or pathway in our organization. It was perfect timing for me to be a part of this team as I was gathering tools from UConn and the ANA accelerator program to help with this process.”

Reflecting on the timing, Amy adds, “It really kind of flowed and aligned perfectly. I think it’s the right time for the innovation center. It’s been the right time for it. And nurses are interested. They were doing things in micro pockets and not having the resources or support. So, this center will now provide that, which I think will bring in a lot more interest, and it will grow.”

Communicating at a higher level

The knowledge and skills Amy gained from the program have greatly impacted her capacity to contribute to the design and development of the innovation center. “The program influenced almost every aspect of how I could contribute to the group. Working with directors who are very used to managing high-level projects has been incredibly inspiring. As a nurse, I have experience and expertise and knowledge of the nurse’s perspective. What the UConn program enabled was for me to be able to confidently speak on a higher level about budget planning and project management.”

Mapping out pathway with design-thinking

Learning to apply the design-thinking process throughout her time in the program has proven pivotal for Amy as she contributes toward mapping out the structure of the innovation center. “We’re still building out the center, but it’s going to be some sort of pathway where a nurse or APP (Advanced Practice Providers: Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants) submits an idea to be reviewed by a council. We will provide feedback if we think that idea needs to be further developed or if they need to do a little bit more research. If the idea is more mature, we will help to move it to the next level and collaborate with biomed, our engineering team, develop a prototype, apply for a grant, etc. We really want to help funnel and pull in resources for these nurses and APPs who are busy at the bedside. The council will be a supportive resource, and the educational pathway will empower our nursing team with knowledge and tools. Throughout the UConn program, we did a lot of work on the design-thinking process, which has really helped me change the way I see my surroundings, troubleshoot challenges, and contribute to the creation of this pathway at my organization.”

Championing nursing innovation track

As a mentor to young nurses, Amy is excitedly spreading the word about the UConn program to encourage other nurses to explore nursing innovation as an alternative track. “I’m in a unique situation where I’m probably the oldest nurse on our unit, and they look to me for what to do next in their career. Some of the traditional tracks for nurses include nurse practitioner, nurse administration, nursing education, and nursing informatics. I am now able to show them that there’s this other avenue to take that’s not always discussed at mentorship meetings. They also think it’s really interesting to be creative and to be a part of innovating initiatives. Healthcare innovation programs are creating opportunities for the nursing community to learn about innovation and recognize how important the role of the nurse is in creating sustainable and scalable solutions. I think nurse innovation is going to blossom and move full steam ahead, especially when supported by healthcare organizations.”

Becoming an entrepreneur

In addition to working on bringing the innovation center to life, Amy embarked on another innovation project during her time in the program. Completely independent and separate from her work at MSK, she formulated and created a nutritional product that she’s now commercially formulating to bring to market. “I developed a nutritional protein beverage. It's going to be called New Day. Protein is good for your immune system for fighting infections and building lean muscle mass that helps you to have a healthy metabolism for life. I also want to market it toward oncology patients who have nausea and vomiting during treatment, and who cannot tolerate anything that is thick or savory. We’ll see where it goes. It’s a very competitive space and it’s highly capital-intensive, but I’m just gearing up for proof of concept through my network of channels to sell and learn about my product adoption. I received the first lab samples this week. The lab creates the commercial formula that allows me to apply for the FDA registration and commercially sell it. So, this is a very exciting week. I’m hosting blind taste-testing with strangers, friends, and family with a QR code and survey. It actually feels real now. Amy says the certificate program, in particular Dr. Kelley, has been integral to her success in this endeavor. “This program has helped me with this business tremendously. Dr. Kelley was very supportive to me and was there for me when I was feeling overwhelmed. She was a sounding board for me. I think she had felt things that I was feeling, and she was a great resource to me. I thank her so much for it.”

Changing her lens

Reflecting on her growth throughout the program, Amy points to a significant shift in how she looks at an idea: “The program changes your lens of how you look at problems or ideas. Before I looked at all the positives and had the blinders on that ‘this is such a great idea.’ You really have to change your lens and look at every angle and see how it could fit into the world, and how you could actually develop a sustainable and scalable idea. That’s how you can make a strong argument if you’re bringing an idea to a budget committee or a grant application. This program prepares you for the real world.”

Recognizing the broad applicability of the program, Amy adds, “If you really want to learn and dig deep, you need a program like UConn’s to build a very strong foundation of knowledge. What you learn is applicable in your nursing career. And if you’re starting out on your own business venture, maybe completely unrelated to nursing, or you’re creative and just want to start exploring how to develop an idea, this is definitely the program to take.”

“Even if you don’t know if you’re necessarily going into a healthcare field, this certificate program is beneficial for anyone who is doing innovative problem-solving work. For anyone who is thinking of going into business or entrepreneurship-related endeavors, this program really helps support learning those skills as well, and it gives you the opportunities to explore what funding is out there: What does the process look like? How can you start a pitch deck to start up your idea and get it off the ground? So, I think it works for a lot of fields; I don’t necessarily think it’s just for healthcare-related fields.” – Shea Charles, Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2022

Headshot of Shea Charles, UConn graduate of the Online Healthcare Innovation Graduate Certificate

Innovating for Equitable Solutions

Shea Charles has a long-held interest in supporting goals of equity, whether applying this frame to her focus on geographical barriers to healthcare accessibility, or shifting her focus to mentoring, supporting, and advocating for postsecondary students with disabilities. Her decision to pursue the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate at the University of Connecticut (UConn) was driven by her interest in finding solutions to complex problems. While her interests have since expanded beyond healthcare, Shea says the skills she learned through the program are broadly applicable across many domains, have already impacted her approach to the research process, and have enhanced her future career opportunities.

Solving problem of healthcare accessibility

After earning her BA in Ethnic Studies from the University of Hawaii at Monoa (2020), Shea relocated to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in Geography from UConn. Her research focus was on geographical barriers to healthcare accessibility. This focus is what led her to pursue the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate. As Shea explains, “I was looking for certificate programs with topical courses relating to healthcare. When I was googling UConn graduate certificates, I found the Healthcare Innovation program. It seemed very applicable to healthcare accessibility in terms of solving the problem, not just identifying the problem.” Beginning the 4-course, 12-credit program in spring 2021, Shea completed the last course in fall 2022.

Manageable: Not a burden on course load

As a full-time doctoral student with an already heavy course load, Shea found the pace and structure of the certificate program very manageable. “I really liked the flexibility that I had because the courses were completely online and synchronous. Being able to work on it on my own time was very useful. I also felt like it was a very quick program because I did it in two years. So, for me as a student, it idn’t burden my course load; it was just one course a semester to build into getting the certificate.”

Supportive, approachable faculty

Learning from Dr. Tiffany Kelley, Director of the program and instructor for all four courses, was a highlight for Shea: “I really enjoyed Tiffany. She is a great professor. She was always there if I needed to reach out. At one point, we were considering putting her on my dissertation committee. She’s great and really approachable. She wants to help you learn, and she’s supportive of your endeavors, even outside of the certificate program. I really enjoyed working with her and learning from her.”

In addition to learning from Dr. Kelley, Shea valued the opportunity to learn from myriad guest speakers via virtual interviews. “Tiffany would interview the guest speakers, and we would watch those videos. I thought those were very informative and a great resource because they were coming from very different fields and very different industries. Being able to learn from those diverse perspectives was great.”

Broadening perspective through collaboration

Shea enjoyed collaborating with her peers via the HuskyCT/Blackboard online platform, an opportunity she says is rare for an online course. “There was a collaborative aspect where we would reply to each other’s projects. I think that was really nice to have especially for an asynchronous, online course, where you don’t generally get to connect with your peers. I really enjoyed that. It was very beneficial to hear other perspectives, especially because a lot of us were coming from different fields, so it was useful to get those outside perspectives.”

Rethinking approach to dissertation research

Describing the overall structure of learning in the program, Shea explains, “The program itself is like seeing your own project from beginning to end. I enjoyed the courses because I felt like they built on each other, so it didn’t feel overwhelming in the beginning. The first course sets a good groundwork. Based off our initial idea of innovation, every semester we built onto it. Then there was a final project at the end that was like a deliverable: It was almost like if we were pitching to a funder. In that project, we started from the beginning (‘how did you start with the idea?’), all the way through the research and into the end where we did a timeline of launch dates, like estimating when we want to launch the innovation. It felt like that project encompassed all the projects and learning that I did over those two years.”

Learning to navigate through all the stages of the innovation process is already impacting Shea’s approach to her dissertation research. “That skill set – specifically innovation theory, systematic literature reviews, putting out a timeline for the project and a launch date – those were all really good for me to learn in that context, because now it makes me rethink the way that I view the research process. Working on something from beginning to end over the course of two years is a sizeable amount of time. That really transfers over into how I approach my dissertation research.”

Broadly applicable skills

Since earning the certificate, Shea graduated with her MA in Geography and shifted directions. After working as an academic mentor in the Student Athlete Success Program (SASP) and taking courses in Postsecondary Disabilities Services, Shea rediscovered her interest in academic mentorship and disabilities. She is now pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Special Education. Her research focuses on postsecondary career transitions for STEM students with disabilities, and supporting learning for student-athletes with disabilities. Shea currently works as the Graduate Project Manager for the NSF TAPDINTO-STEM program at UConn. She also teaches as a Co-Instructor for the Postsecondary Disability Services Online Graduate Certificate at UConn. While she has not yet determined the specific direction of her future career path, Shea feels the skills she’s learned in the Healthcare Innovation program have enhanced her future opportunities. “My path is still a little unclear, I’m still figuring out if I want to go into a faculty position or go into industry. I think the Certificate in Healthcare Innovation, regardless of the field, will make me more competitive. If I stay in higher education and pursue a faculty position, I gained a lot of skills in innovation that I think are very applicable in the research process. Then on the flip side, if I go into industry, or if I still stay in higher ed and do industry on the side, a lot of the things that I learned in the program were specific to proposing projects, how to develop projects, how to see it through from the very beginning of creating an idea, going through research, and then launching the project. I think that’s something that’s really useful in either field. I’ve also been thinking about if I were to go into consulting. Whether that be educational, geography, or health-related consulting, I think the Healthcare Innovation Certificate provided me with a lot of great skills and information in that context as well.”

Beneficial beyond healthcare

To those considering the program but still unsure of future career pathways, Shea encourages, “Even if you don’t know if you’re necessarily going into a healthcare field, this certificate program is beneficial for anyone who is doing innovative problem-solving work. For anyone who is thinking of going into business or entrepreneurship-related endeavors, this program really helps support learning those skills as well, and it gives you the opportunities to explore what funding is out there: What does the process look like? How can you start a pitch deck to start up your idea and get it off the ground? So, I think it works for a lot of fields; I don’t necessarily think it’s just for healthcare-related fields.”

“I think one of the biggest benefits of this program is that you are actively working with other healthcare students who are at various points in their own career. In pharmacy school, you’re in the program with the same students for six years, and that’s a great experience built on supporting your peers. But then you may find yourself interacting with only a few students regularly, whereas your role in pharmacy practice is to facilitate discussions with other healthcare professionals. You get that multidisciplinary experience in this program, while also learning to think literally outside of the box.” – Sarah Erlingheuser, Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2022

Headshot of Sarah Erlingheuser, UConn graduate of the Online Healthcare Innovation Graduate Certificate

Expanding and Empowering Her Future Impact

As a future pharmacist, Sarah Erlingheuser cares deeply about contributing meaningfully to her field and healthcare in general. During a gap year in her pharmacy studies, Sarah was looking for ways to strengthen and expand her capacity in her future role. After completing the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate program at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Sarah now feels empowered with the knowledge, skills, and agency to innovate her role and workplace for the betterment of her colleagues, patients, and the field.

Gap year to clarify goals

In the midst of pursuing her Doctor in Pharmacy (PharmD) from UConn, Sarah had the opportunity to take a gap year to clarify her future career goals, while also focusing on taking some of the elective courses she’d not had time for earlier. As Sarah explains, “UConn’s Pharmacy program is accelerated. Even at six years total, that’s very accelerated for that kind of program. That’s what appealed to me, but it’s almost a double-edged sword because everything goes by so quickly. It can sometimes be difficult to give yourself a moment to think about, ‘Well, what do I want to do with my pharmacy knowledge in addition to being a pharmacist? What kind of work do I want to go into?’ So, I took a gap year to focus on completing pharmacy electives that I didn’t have the chance to do otherwise in addition to building on my foundational pharmacy skills. While incorporating those skills, I wanted to keep going to school full time, but I really didn’t have enough credits with the pharmacy classes. As I was looking around at what else could I do, my advisor, Dr. Nathaniel Rickles, said to me, ‘You know, UConn has what they call graduate certificates. They’re shorter programs of learning where you can learn a variety of skills.’”

Searching UConn’s website for possible graduate certificate programs, Sarah was excited to discover the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate: “In this transitional period for me, I thought, ‘I want to go beyond just a singular role in whatever pharmacy I practice. Instead of just filling a role, I want to expand upon it, grow it.’ Healthcare Innovation seemed like the best way to be able to do that, and to be able to change the healthcare field as well.”

Flexibility to align with her goals

While the courses for this program are designed to be taken in sequential order, Sarah requested permission from the Director, Dr. Tiffany Kelley, to double-up on the courses so she could complete the program during her gap year. (It should be noted that the structure for this program has changed: All four courses are now offered sequentially during the summer semester.) Reflecting the earlier structure that spanned across two years, Sarah explains, “There’s four classes total, for a total of 12 credits for this certificate, offered sequentially. The first and third classes are offered in the spring, while the second and fourth classes are offered in the fall. Because of my gap year and knowing what my classes were going to look like in the next coming years, I felt I wouldn’t be able to complete the program in that kind of sequential manner of two years versus one year. So, I reached out to Dr. Kelley, and she was very open to the idea of me taking courses 1 and 3 simultaneously in spring 2022, and then 2 and 4 simultaneously in fall 2022. I still took the ending capstone class last, and I took the first class first. There is an intended order, but for me, with Dr. Kelley’s permission, I didn’t experience any kind of difficulty with that order. To her credit, she’s very flexible in trying to make the program align with each student’s goals.”

UConn one of the greatest strengths of program

The fact that the program is at UConn is a huge strength according to Sarah: “UConn is extremely well-resourced. That is one of the reasons why I chose to go to pharmacy school there. I think it only speaks to its credit how many additional benefits that you get outside of the program because it is at UConn. Even just enrolling in the program, I was receiving newsletters and offers from other sources within UConn. I honestly don’t know if I would have taken the certificate program anywhere else; I think UConn is one of this program’s biggest strengths.”

Deliberation of ideas with peers

Sarah admits she’s not always a huge fan of discussion boards, but says she found the opportunities to engage with her peers via the HuskyCT/Blackboard discussion forum exceptionally valuable. “Discussion boards are a huge part of this curriculum. Some students don’t really care for discussion boards, and there are certain times when I’m one of them. But in this program, where deliberation of ideas is extremely important, I feel the discussion boards really helped me to get to know my peers, including the healthcare issues they care about and want to use innovation to solve. It helped that we were a smaller cohort, so we were able to develop a deeper connection with each other and also with Dr. Kelley.”

Diversity of student experiences

Sarah’s enthusiasm for collaborating with her peers was further enhanced by the diversity of students’ professional training and experiences. “One of the strengths is that the program is very multidisciplinary. It’s for nurses, it’s for med students, physician assistants, pharmacy, etc. We’re all coming from different places, but we all care about healthcare and changing it for the better.”

For Sarah, this multidisciplinary experience felt like essential preparation for her future role as a pharmacist: “I think one of the biggest benefits of this program is that you are actively working with other healthcare students who are at various points in their own career. In pharmacy school, you’re in the program with the same students for six years, and that’s a great experience built on supporting your peers. But then you may find yourself interacting with only a few students regularly, whereas your role in pharmacy practice is to facilitate discussions with other healthcare professionals. You get that multidisciplinary experience in this program, while also learning to think literally outside of the box.”

Ongoing connection with faculty

In addition to connecting with her peers, Sarah deeply values the connection she forged with Dr. Kelley. “She is lovely. Dr. Kelley is very dedicated to this program that she created. She just cares so much about her students and trying to push us forward, and she’s very supportive. She knows that we have jobs or are matriculated in other programs. She’s very flexible, and she’s ready to meet your needs as an individual and as a healthcare innovation student.”

As Sarah explains, this connection extended beyond the parameters of the program. “Dr. Kelley is so willing to go above and beyond for her students, even beyond the tenets of the healthcare innovation program. When I enrolled in the program, I started getting emails from other UConn innovation offshoots and little competitions and programs. Dr. Kelley said, ‘Oh hey, I see the innovation you’re working on for your final project, maybe you want to take it to this competition. You might be able to get some money for it.’ The competitions might not have worked out, but I met a lot of lovely people and tips on how to progress my innovation further. And I feel you can’t really put a price on that. I’m just happy to have been a part of those experiences, thanks to Dr. Kelley.”

Sarah notes, “I’m still in contact with Dr. Kelley. That’s also something I love about her: It’s not just ‘one and done’ with her after the program. She’s a very close contact of mine, and I love that we’re able to keep in touch about healthcare and just innovation in general.”

It's what you make of it

For her capstone project, Sarah designed an innovation to address a problem she had identified regarding student accessibility to university research opportunities: “My project was designed to be a service for universities, where professors could essentially post open research positions that students could then search for and apply to. What really sparked this idea for me was noticing the reason I was able to get my own research positions was because I knew somebody. I recognized that that’s not fair, especially considering students who commute or just don’t run in the same circles as other people. We all have our own social groups, and everyone has a right to that, but everyone also has a right to participate in research if they want to. So, my innovation was to streamline that process by centralizing the positions of research for professors, and centralizing the ability to search for those research opportunities on the student side.” While she did not win any of the competitions, Sarah was awarded a grant by the Healthcare Innovation program to seed her project.

Reflecting on her experience, Sarah adds, “There’s a lot of flexibility within the program; it really is what you make of it. If you have a particular interest in innovation, the end goal of the program is to kickstart your own healthcare innovation and present on it, and you work on that. It’s very flexible to the students’ interests and desires to learn.”

Agency to ask questions

Sarah expands further on the skills she now carries with her: “Other than knowing how to innovate and how to see opportunities to innovate, one of the things this program taught me is to have that agency to be able to speak up and ask questions. You know, ‘Why are we doing the process this way? Could we do this process another way? I feel that there’s a more efficient or safer way to do XYZ.’ Even if those in leadership say, ‘No we’re going to keep it in such and such a way,’ asking the question does put it in people’s minds that ‘Oh, maybe we should actually look into that.’”

Excited for her future endeavors, Sarah adds, “I’d say the certificate will help me in my career by expanding it. I’m just not filling in a spot on the team; I’m helping grow and change our team for the better, which will have an even more positive impact on patient health. I really like that about this program, how it really made me realize I can actually change my job and my workplace for the better, for both employees and patients. I couldn’t have done it without Dr. Kelley.”

“In my role, I am often working with the university’s innovators in health. While I am not directly innovating in the field of healthcare, I work with faculty and scientists who are researching disease or developing new treatments or technologies. It is important for me to understand how they navigate their work and specifically, how companies or foundations can help support their innovation efforts. I found these courses very valuable in my day-to-day.” – Sarah Pandoursky, Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2022

Sarah Pandoursky, a graduate of UConn's online healthcare innovation graduate certificateSupporting a Culture of Innovation

Sarah Pandoursky is not a healthcare practitioner, nor is that part of her career path. However, through her role as Senior Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations for Health Sciences at UConn Foundation, she is deeply enmeshed in supporting the innovative work of many healthcare researchers and practitioners. In her search for professional development, Sarah discovered the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Sarah values the insights, tools, and mindset she gained from the
program. Most exciting for Sarah was the opportunity to learn about innovation in ways that now strengthen her capacity to provide support to faculty, including connecting them with corporations and foundations to support their work: taking it all full circle!

Unique perspective

Sarah has long been a proponent of professional development. When she began her work with UConn Foundation four years ago, she was searching for opportunities to deepen her knowledge around healthcare. As Sarah explains, “I have always been committed to professional development. My career has primarily been in nonprofit and now, academic development. I’ve worked with organizations in health and food justice for many years, but I’m not a healthcare practitioner by trade. My education has been focused on nonprofit management and fundraising. I was looking for a way to dive a little bit deeper into health, also knowing the corporations we connect with are increasingly interested in innovation.”

Describing her work, Sarah explains, “At the UConn Foundation, our role is to raise philanthropic funds on behalf of the University and UConn Health. Specifically, I work with companies and foundations to garner support for the Health Sciences across UConn, often connecting them with specific schools, research, or initiatives that align with their organizational goals.”

Searching online to see what was available at UConn, Sarah discovered the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate. She was excited that the program was not limited to healthcare providers, but open to a diverse range of professionals: “It was appealing to me that it was across the healthcare industry, so there are practicing healthcare providers, but also folks who are more peripherally engaged in healthcare. That was exciting to me. During my coursework, I was the only certificate student who was not on a path to be a healthcare provider. I was looking at it from a little bit of a unique perspective.”

Structure: Theory to application

Sarah began the 4-course, 12-credit certificate program in spring 2021. Taking one course each semester, she completed the program in fall 2022. This was just the right pacing for Sarah: “As somebody who is working full time and was doing this as a professional development opportunity, completing one course a semester was very manageable, and I felt like I wasn’t overwhelmed to the point where I couldn’t be  successful.”

While all courses are online and asynchronous, Sarah appreciated the opportunities to connect with other students via the Husky/CT Blackboard platform. “There was a lot of discussion built-in to the courses. Being able to share ideas back and forth was great. We also shared presentations with each other for specific assignments. Even though it was all virtual, you still have that connection, which was really nice.”

While Sarah says in general, “overall the courses were great,” the feature that stands out for her is the way the courses were structured: “I liked the structure of going from theory to application. As somebody who has been in the workforce for many years, it was nice to have both: to be able to think about it in theory, but also how this applies to specific innovations from start to finish.”

Innovator mindset: Entrepreneur vs. intrapreneur

There was an important distinction woven throughout the program that shifted Sarah’s perspective on what it means to be an innovator. As she explains, “I really liked that many of the courses looked at the difference between an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur. Being able to see the importance of innovators within an organization was eye opening. We often think about innovators as people who invent something brand new, but we can use the innovation mindset in our day-to-day jobs on process improvement or new initiatives. Being able to better convey how we might improve or change something is definitely a tool that I took away from the courses.”

Reputation for rigor

In addition to working closely with UConn faculty and researchers, Sarah is a proud undergraduate alumnus of UConn, earning her BA in Anthropology and Journalism, before shifting her trajectory and earning her MA in Public Administration from University of New Haven. According to Sarah, UConn’s reputation for rigor makes this graduate certificate credential exceptionally valuable: “In having this certificate from an institution like UConn, there’s a rigor that folks know goes into the courses that is absolutely valuable. I’m certainly proud of that, and I think it’s a resume builder.”

Full circle: Working with the learning from faculty

Uniquely situated, Sarah really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from many of the faculty with whom she already had ongoing working relationships. “Throughout the program, there were a lot of online opportunities to hear directly from innovators, many of whom were connected to UConn, either they had been students that had started a company, or they were faculty members. That was embedded throughout. I work with a number of the faculty in my day-to-day job as well, so I already had a sense of their expertise and depth of knowledge. To step out of my day-to-day and learn from them was really exciting. I have nothing but positive things to say about the faculty that were involved.”

In particular, Sarah appreciated the opportunity to learn from Dr. Tiffany Kelley, Director of the program and Instructor for all four courses. “Dr. Kelley shed light on readings and assignments as a faculty member, innovator, and entrepreneur. To be able to learn more about her own journey as an entrepreneur was valuable. Dr. Kelley is now Co-Director of our Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center at UConn, and I am working with her to engage potential corporate partners of that center. It has been wonderful to continue a working relationship with her.”

Insights to supporting the work of UConn healthcare innovators

The insights gained in the program have proven valuable to Sarah in helping her more successfully support the innovators she works with every day. “In my role, I am often working with the university’s innovators in health. While I am not directly innovating in the field of healthcare, I work with faculty and scientists who are researching disease or developing new treatments or technologies. It is important for me to understand how they navigate their work and specifically, how companies or foundations can help support their innovation efforts. I found these courses very valuable in my day-to-day.”

Further reflecting on her new lens for understanding the inherent barriers to innovating, Sarah adds, “I have the amazing opportunity to work with some of the most innovative people. UConn has renowned researchers, faculty members, and physicians. The certificate program gave me a small glimpse into the perseverance and barriers they might face on their innovation journey. That was emphasized a lot in the program: Innovation is not a straight line. It’s very often a difficult path. There are often barriers and people who don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Having that insight into what some of our innovators go through to get their work into the mainstream has helped me tremendously.”

Not just for healthcare practitioners

To those considering the program, Sarah encourages, “Even if you aren’t looking to become a practitioner, I encourage you to consider the program. The program has a lot of value for anyone in the healthcare or biomedical sciences industry across a variety of roles. Being able to better articulate innovations, propose systems change, or process improvement in an organization is beneficial. And of course, better understanding healthcare innovations specifically has been critical to my current role at UConn Foundation.”

“In a short set of four courses, you learn so much. It’s very comprehensive, and it’s extremely well thought-out. There was a very clear progression amongst the four courses. The progression matches what you would do in practice in terms of going through the process of making a change… A big strength is that it naturally takes students through that process and then gives you an opportunity to try it with your own idea. And it feels very organized in that way.” — Dr. Maria Latta, Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2021

Maria Latta, a graduate of UConn's online healthcare innovation graduate certificate

Optimizing Pharmacy's Clinical Role in Healthcare

As a Health System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Resident, Dr. Maria Latta is passionate about strengthening and optimizing pharmacists’ clinical role in the larger healthcare system. Recognizing that pharmacy professionals are well-trained yet are often not fully utilized, Maria began questioning how to change the underlying processes and infrastructure to bridge that gap. After completing the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Maria feels empowered with the tools and strategies to be a leader and champion of that change.

Aligned with her unique goals

While earning her Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at UConn, Maria was aware of the large variety of graduate certificates offered, so she was always scoping out what was new. When she discovered the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate program, she recognized an alignment with her own unique goals and interests. As Maria explains, “There are a few graduate certificates around clinical practice, like pain management. That was something I was interested in, so I started to look at that, and then came up with the Healthcare Innovation Graduate Certificate. That felt more aligned with my goals. Although I was interested in learning more about clinical practice, that’s so much of my regular program already. I was also involved in a lot of the undergraduate research programs at UConn. These programs really center around student-led projects, with the idea that you’re not just researching, but you’re really learning how to be a researcher, which includes principles of change management and implementation science. That’s why I gravitated towards the Healthcare Innovation Certificate. Looking at their curriculum, I felt it would really augment more of this component, which is not a focus of my pharmacy program.” With that impetus, Maria began the 4-course, 12-credit certificate program in spring 2020, completing the final course in fall 2021.

Program is wherever I am

Juggling a demanding schedule of PharmD classes and off-campus rotations, Maria appreciated that the certificate program courses were all online and asynchronous, enabling her the flexibility to work at her own pace, across a variety of locations. “Truthfully if this was an in- person program, I wouldn’t have done it. Throughout my time in the certificate program, I was taking a lot of other classes as a pharmacy student, so to fit it into my schedule would have been very challenging. However, it’s self-paced classes. You don’t have scheduled time blocks, so I could still get all the learning at my own pace, which was super helpful and made that possible. The other component is, as a pharmacy student, I have to do rotations, which were all over Connecticut: a month in New Haven, a month in North Haven, a month in Greenwich. I have to be all over – but I could still do this program because it’s wherever I am.”

Discovering and crystalizing her niche along the way

Maria explains that it was during the onsite rotations for her PharmD program that she began to realize where her passions lie: “A lot of what I gained during those rotations, combined with my research experiences, was the insight that I do love clinical practice, but more than that, taking a step back, I have a major respect for my colleagues in pharmacy that have an even greater passion for clinical, and their impact on their patients, and their intellect and ability. My interest is more ‘How do we strengthen that process?’ Pharmacy is a newer profession, sometimes a little bit left behind. In many ways, we’re still growing to have a larger place in healthcare. We’re very well trained, but we’re not always well utilized. That is my biggest passion in pharmacy: seeing all my colleagues being so strong but not always being utilized – and knowing that only changes when someone changes the process, changes the infrastructure, and changes how the hospital values pharmacists. Someone needs to change that. So that was, even in my research projects, a large part of my core interests.”

This passion is what led Maria to pursue the certificate program, and along the way, her career aspirations were further crystallized: “I felt this Healthcare Innovation Certificate would give me a foundational understanding of ‘How do you have an idea and make a change? How do you identify what needs to be changed in the first place?’ My career interest at that time was still growing. I felt like ‘If I can learn more about this, I’ll learn if I’m interested in it.’ And out of that came, Yes, the components of this are what I want to be doing full time for the rest of my career.’”

Our gap is the bridge between us

The interactive discussions with her classmates via the HuskyCT/Blackboard online platform were extremely valuable to Maria. “Even though it’s an online certificate and we didn’t have those in-person classes, a big component of the classes was doing discussion boards and replying to each other. A lot of people have that in their other classes, but with the cohort that I experienced within the certificate program, there was constant back and forth. There was a lot of in-depth conversations that happened through that. I think, especially the way this program is set up, it fosters that collaboration.”

Learning interactively with her peers was greatly enhanced by the diversity of student backgrounds and experiences. “Another major strength of this program is the variety of students. In my cohort, there was an athletic trainer, an oncology nurse, myself, and then a couple of other various healthcare practitioners. A lot of our work was to do projects or presentations, and then give each other feedback. In those discussions, you start understanding so much about the other components of healthcare. No one really lives in a bubble.

Functionally, a lot of us do because you can’t help but do your own work. For example, a pharmacist is looking at all the medications that the oncology patient is getting, and the nurse is administering all those medications. So, we might not always be calling each other or thinking about each other, but we’re both there all the time. By realizing their thought processes, the challenges that their experiencing, what they see as things that could be changed or improved or innovated on in their areas, it’s helpful to understanding that larger landscape. And then it triggers so many ideas for you as well, like, ‘Wow, maybe we need a better process between both of us.’ Because when you’re talking about your gap, and I’m talking about my gap, the gap is actually in between. It’s not just within our own departments. And that gap is really the bridge between us. So those discussions then come out with so much of that broader experience that most of don’t get in our training programs.”

Natural progression of courses matches innovation process

The four courses for this program are taken in sequential order, beginning with Healthcare Innovation Theory and Application (NURS 5111) and culminating in the capstone course (NURS 5114). This intentional organization of the courses stood out for Maria as another core strength. “In a short set of four courses, you learn so much. It’s very comprehensive, and it’s extremely well thought-out. There was a very clear  progression amongst the four courses. The progression matches what you would do in practice in terms of going through the process of making a change. The first course is around ‘How do you identify unmet needs?’ This included looking at innovations that weren’t successful because they actually didn’t meet anybody’s needs. So, understanding the basis of what makes a useful innovation and how to start there with identifying what’s needed. Then, for the next course, ‘How do you innovate? What is innovative? How do you create something?’ And then it goes on to: ‘How do you implement a change? Because now you’ve made the thing, and everybody needs it: How do they get it?’ And then finally, for the last course, it ends with a capstone project of you trying to do it yourself. A big strength is that it naturally takes students through that process and then gives you an opportunity to try it with your own idea. And it feels very organized in that way.”

All the tools you are looking for

Describing the unique comprehensiveness of the program, Maria says that regardless of leadership aspirations, the program provides the tools you didn’t know you were looking for: “It’s very hard to find this in other places so well-packaged. Maybe you’ll learn about a little change management if you do your MBA, or a little bit about creative thinking in some of your practice classes. But you’re getting pieces here and there if you choose to pursue all these various courses – versus going to one place where you get this start-to-finish full experience. And it elevates you so much, especially for people in clinical practice. Even if you plan to continue to be in clinical practice with no interest in leadership, no problem. You are in this position now, having all this background, where you are now equipped to come up and present ideas that will actually fix your pain points. So, it’s not just, ‘Oh, I want to be a leader’ It’s even for me, every single day, ‘This doesn’t make sense. How do I fix that?’ And that improves your life, as well as patients’ lives and all the people that you work with. It also helps you really be engaged with the work you’re doing. But if you are interested in any kind of leadership or mobility in your position, that’s what most people look for: people who have ideas and solutions. However, if you don’t know how to make that happen from start to finish, even if you have that interest, it’s so hard. So, this program is giving you all the tools that you need to be that person. I think a lot of people are looking for this – even if they don’t know they’re looking for this.”

Crux: Encouraging student ideas to thrive

For Maria, another highlight of the program was learning and interacting with Dr. Tiffany Kelley, who she explains has a special talent for nurturing student ideas. "Dr. Kelley is wonderful. She is extremely helpful. She has so much experience, especially as an instructor. Not every faculty has the ability to really encourage student ideas to thrive. That’s really the crux of this whole program. Even if your idea is not that good, or maybe it isn’t feasible, the point is to generate ideas and to throw them out to workshop them: encouraging the process of having ideas. She’s especially good at that, and really good at having those kinds of nurturing conversations. I think that’s a specialty.”

More than I ever thought I could learn

Maria’s relationship with Dr. Kelley also extended beyond the program in ways that further enhanced her learning at UConn. During the second year of the certificate program, Maria was one of 17 students chosen to participate in UConn’s 2021 University Scholar Program. Each student in the program is mentored by three faculty advisors. As Maria explains, “My research was around coming up with an innovation for opioids and how patients take them. I had one mentor from pharmacy who understands all about the pharmacy side. Because I’m at UConn and I made this connection to the graduate certificate, Dr. Kelley became my mentor and gave me a lot of insights from the innovation side. And then I ended up connecting with someone from the School of Management, who understood more of the business side. This is all something I couldn’t have done if I wasn’t at UConn specifically, because you’re already connected with everyone just by being there. Not only are you getting connected to everyone, but the people you’re getting connected to have so much experience and background that as a student, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m learning more than I ever thought I could learn.’”

Tools and strategies to lead change

Maria is currently completing a 2-year Pharmacy Residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. The specialty area of her second-year residency focuses on Health System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership, and includes a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from the University of New Haven. The tools Maria gained from the certificate program are proving invaluable as she dives into her new career as a leader: “In my current position, as an Administration and Leadership Resident, I am essentially a first-time leader, so most the projects I’m given, I don’t have this feeling of, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done that before.’ Much of it is brand new to me. I feel like I have a leg up compared to others in my spot. So much of what we do is creating new policies for the hospital, revising our processes as new technology comes out, implementing new technology. And a current project I’m working on is looking at a newer service that we’ve implemented fairly recently, but understanding that ‘go live’ doesn’t mean that it’s flourishing. Instead, it’s ‘How do you take something that we started and now make it into something really successful and thriving?’ One hundred percent I can tell you, that’s not something you learn in pharmacy school or in your typical clinical practice. A lot of that then comes down to change management. So many of these principles around innovative thinking and implementation science, which is, from my perspective, the core of this graduate certificate, then come into play when you’re trying to look at these larger projects, or even small projects, like smaller policy changes when you’re working on a team of 15 pharmacy technicians and ten pharmacists.”

Tasked with leading change efforts, Maria draws on the strategies she learned in the certificate program to shift her colleagues’ resistance to change into shared interest in finding solutions. “Nobody likes to change what they’re doing. That is inherently a difficult thing. You need to learn as the person leading that, which I’m put into that position all the time as a resident, to understand from others’ perspectives: understanding what the purpose of this change is, what need is it addressing, why are we doing this, what is the benefit of this, why do it? How do I convince you that you need it? Because I know that you need it, and I know you have pain points that need to be addressed. Then, all of a sudden, this process of change is less about making a change and more about facing a problem. Everyone’s way more interested in this. That becomes such a big component of my day-to-day work. I come into everything with that innovation thought process because this certificate program gave me so many of those tools, and I feel like that’s brought me to a much more successful place in handling these requests. Knowing where to start and knowing how to go about it has given me a really big boost.”

“The certificate program has been extremely impactful on my career. It was, by far, the most engaging and meaningful program I have been a part of. It was something I valued even more than many of my PhD classes because of what I gained from it. And that was part of why I did it. It was helpful and practical in many ways, not that my other educational experiences weren’t, but the value on this program was so much higher – and tangible.” – Dr. Kelsey Rynkiewicz, Healthcare Innovations Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2021

Kelsey Rynkiewicz, a graduate of UConn's online healthcare innovation graduate certificateBecoming Part of the Solution

As an athletic trainer, Dr. Kelsey Rynkiewicz is passionate about sports medicine as an integral part of the healthcare system. While pursuing her PhD in Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Kelsey also earned three graduate certificates at UConn, including the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate. For Kelsey, the program was a natural fit – for both her academic interests and her natural inclination to innovate to better serve her patients. Today, engaged in the career of her dreams, Kelsey attributes the new skillset and solution-focused mindset she gained from the certificate program to contributing to her success.

Kelsey is a powerhouse when it comes to learning, earning four degrees and three certificates. After earning a BS in Athletic Training (2016) from King’s College, she earned an MS in Kinesiology (2018), followed by a PhD in Kinesiology (2023) from UConn. During the last semester of her MS and first semester of her PhD programs, Kelsey also simultaneously earned a second MS in Health Administration (2018) from King’s College. And while engaged in her PhD work, she earned three additional certificates at UConn: College Instruction, Public Health, and Healthcare Innovation. All of this while also working for six years as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer at Eastern Connecticut University, which included working with the 2022 Division III National Champion baseball team. Wow, what a ride! As Kelsey shares, “It was a lot. After the fact when I was done, I was like ‘Wow, what did I just do?’ I liked it a lot though, because I enjoyed working clinically as an athletic trainer, I liked the administrative side, and I also liked teaching. It was the trifecta of those three areas that I was able to combine and that was important for me moving forward.”

Natural fit

As Kelsey was pursuing her PhD in Kinesiology at UConn, she was looking for additional classes to maintain full-time status. Rather than fill her schedule with random, disconnected classes, she was in search of coursework that could benefit her future healthcare practice. When Kelsey learned about the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate program, it felt like a perfect fit. “I am passionate about healthcare in general. As an athletic trainer, it’s important to understand how athletic trainers fit into the greater healthcare system, but also how the healthcare system works. With my Healthcare Administration MS, I really liked the administrative side, so when I found out about the Healthcare Innovation program, I was like, ‘Oh, this is still in the healthcare realm but gives me a different aspect of the field. This sounds awesome!’”

Kelsey further explains, “It was something I wanted to do that would not just help me, but help my patients as well. As athletic trainers, we’re always innovating, evaluating, and trying new things, whether it’s with a patient’s rehabilitation, determining an exact diagnosis, or designing something to protect the patient when they return to play. I feel I have that innate nature of always wanting to be creative and innovative to do things differently and find better solutions. We have such a high patient load, especially in the collegiate setting where you’re providing care to many different teams and student-athletes. On a football team, you may have 130 student-athletes, so how can you be more efficient while still providing high quality patient care? I already have this mindset, so for me, the program was a natural fit for figuring out: How can I learn these principles to help me innovate better and more intentionally?” Beginning the 12-credit, 4-course certificate program in spring 2020, Kelsey completed the last course in fall 2021. The flexibility to complete her coursework at her own pace was key for Kelsey. “Everything was asynchronous, which was great, because you’re able to do it at your own pace. If there was a day you wanted to get the whole week’s worth of work completed, you could. You were able to make it work best for your schedule and plan in a way that worked best for you. That flexibility was nice, especially while working in a demanding and busy role as a healthcare provider.”

Best faculty and best courses ever

With an extensive academic career as point of comparison, Kelsey exclaims, “The certificate program has been extremely impactful on my career. It was, by far, the most engaging and meaningful program I have been a part of. It was something I valued even more than many of my PhD classes because of what I gained from it. And that was part of why I did it. It was helpful and practical in many ways, not that my other educational experiences weren’t, but the value on this program was so much higher – and tangible.”

For Kelsey, a highlight of the program was interacting with Dr. Tiffany Kelley, Director and Instructor of the program. “Dr. Kelley is phenomenal. She was, by far, one of the best people I interacted with when I was at UConn. She was so kind and always so helpful and available, willing to chat, and there to support you as a student to help you learn. In my mind, that is what a professor should be. That’s what you hope for and look for. And that’s what I hope to be as a professor with my students. Because I think that’s why all of us get into teaching, to support students. Sometimes, unfortunately, things get lost in that: There’s research you have to do; you need to do service; you need to do all these other things, but at the core, we’re all there for the students. And I felt like she really embodied that.”

Reflecting on her coursework, Kelsey continues, “They were some of the best courses I have ever had, and I’ve told a lot of people that over the years. I really appreciated how well organized the program was, and how much effort Dr. Kelley put into planning out each component of the courses. Each subsequent course built upon the courses we had prior. I never felt like I was doing busy work or random assignments; everything had a very specific purpose. I reflect back on our various assignments, and at the end, the product I finished with was because of the scaffolding of courses and attention to detail in the coursework. That was something very unique about the program.”

Exposure to innovators in the field

Another element of the program Kelsey appreciated was the breadth of exposure to the real- world experiences of innovators in the field. “We had a lot of guest speakers who shared their own stories of innovation. Even though Dr. Kelley taught all four courses, we were exposed to numerous other people and connections she had as well. Dr. Kelley interviewed the guest speakers about various topics and essentially had conversations with them about their innovation journeys. It gave us a glimpse of that person’s experience and an opportunity to reach out, connect, and network with those individuals. We had a chance to learn about their areas of innovation, their different opinions, the different things they were doing, how they were innovating, and how they were becoming entrepreneurs. It was an opportunity to gain exposure to all that’s out there.”

Learning through diversity of perspectives

Because the courses for this program follow a specific sequence, students form a cohort that moves together through the program. Enrolled in the very first iteration of the program, Kelsey and her classmates comprised a cohort of three. The opportunity to interact with her classmates via the HuskyCT/Blackboard online discussion forum enabled Kelsey to learn from a diversity of perspectives: “Even with the program being online, there was a connection to others in the program, especially through the discussion posts – and from being with those same students for four semesters in a row. I felt like by the end, I really got to know the two other people that were in my cohort. I knew what they did and their areas of specialty, which were areas very different from mine. One of my classmates was in nursing; another was in pharmacy. I got to learn so much about their areas that I never would have otherwise. You’re relating healthcare innovation to your own individual field, so everyone had a different application of it, but then that allowed you to learn about other students’ professions. You were able to understand how they were applying concepts to specific tasks they do on a daily basis in the workplace that you might not otherwise have realized they’re doing as another healthcare provider.”

Emphasizing the relevance of this broadened perspective, Kelsey adds, “The interdisciplinary aspect of the program allowed me to gain a much better understanding of other healthcare fields. Because of this, I was able to further recognize the role and importance of various members of the healthcare team. We are in diverse professions, but we’re all still working together, and we all still have a common goal. Rather than having different silos, how do we all work together? We’re all trying to be better for our patients and deliver better healthcare services, so how do we do that?”

Takeaway: Tangible product

As Kelsey shares, “The courses all flowed easily and seamlessly, continually building off each other.” Still, the capstone course (NURS 5114 – Healthcare Innovation Development), with its culminating project, is particularly memorable for Kelsey. “I think the last class, where we worked on our own innovation, was the most important because it culminated everything we had learned throughout those prior three courses. We were using all the different concepts we learned to work on putting together a plan for our innovation and how we would execute that plan.”

For her capstone project, Kelsey designed an app focused on rehabilitation for athletic trainers and their patients. “By the end, I had this tangible product that I was able to look at and say, ‘Hey, this is something that I might want to go and do in the future.’ That’s something I did not get to do throughout my education as purposefully, whether it was undergrad, Master’s, or PhD: working on something where it’s so tangible that you keep building on it and progressing as you’re learning, and then you produce something in the end that you can utilize in the future.”

Additional skillset makes all the difference

Today, Kelsey is passionately engaged in the career of her dreams, serving as both an Assistant Professor of Athletic Training and Athletic Trainer at Springfield College. As Kelsey explains, “I have a split role where I work clinically as an Athletic Trainer for about 75% of my job, and then the other 25% is teaching in our Athletic Training and Exercise Science Programs. It’s fun, exciting, and every day is different which I enjoy a lot. I have the best of both worlds where I get to provide athletic healthcare to my patients and educate my students who are planning future careers in the field. This is what I wanted to do since I was an undergraduate student and I am very lucky and fortunate to be in this position, because it’s a role and model that not many schools have any more.”

Obviously highly qualified, with many degrees and years of experience, Kelsey credits this certificate program for giving her the extra skillset that set her apart from other candidates. “I think this program has already helped me in my career. It was something I talked about on job interviews, and it was something I felt impressed and intrigued others when I spoke about my experiences. The program has shaped my perspective a lot, and it ties into quality improvement, which is something that’s emphasized in healthcare all the time. I really think the program helped me get my current position, because at Springfield we place a high value and focus on quality improvement. I was able to talk about my coursework as part of the graduate certificate during my interview at Springfield, how I had come up with the idea for an app, and how it was something I want to move forward with in the future. My skillset gained from this program was a great talking point and something I was able to use to sell myself and my abilities.”

Becoming part of the solution

Embracing her inner innovator, Kelsey actively applies her learning from the program in her day-to-day work. “My goal for being in this program was to be more intentional about innovation. Now, I am constantly looking for what I would call ‘inefficiencies’ in the workplace. I am always recognizing and identifying when something is not working great or taking too much time and asking, ‘How can we change this? How can we make it easier?’”

As a specific example, Kelsey explains how she draws on her learning to help navigate her approach to quality improvement goals. “Last year, I did a presentation and workshop related to quality improvement in athletic training with a couple of my colleagues from Springfield College. As we were planning out our presentation and what information we wanted to share, I referenced some of the concepts and data I learned in the grad certificate program because it connected to quality improvement. Using innovation, how do we engage in quality improvement to develop solutions to the challenges we encounter and improve the provision of healthcare? This is an important question to ask ourselves and a question that guides my everyday thinking.”

To those considering enrolling in the program, Kelsey encourages, “There are so many different issues and challenges in healthcare that we all talk about and face on a regular basis. But how do you become part of the solution? I think this program is for people who want to be part of the solution. If you’re looking to challenge yourself to think differently, to think outside the box, and to shift to a solution-focused mindset, rather than saying, ‘Oh, this doesn’t work, and I’m sick of this,’ you should complete this program.”