Setting Healthcare Strategy in a Post-COVID Environment

December 4, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic taught Melissa Hahn MBA’22 how to lead in crisis. Equipped with an MBA in Healthcare Administration, she is learning to lead in a season of expansion.

Melissa Hahn had always planned to pursue an MBA in Healthcare Administration, but she never envisioned doing it during a global pandemic. She began her degree in the eye of a storm and finished it during the aftermath, when the healthcare industry was scrambling to adjust to a landscape that was strewn with fresh challenges and opportunities.  

Melissa Hahn headshot
Melissa Hahn

Discovering a Path

A native of Wisconsin, Melissa has felt drawn to work in a healthcare setting for as long as she can remember.

“I have always wanted to work in healthcare because I felt it is a field where I can know that I am making a difference,” she said. “The impact is tangible.”

She entered the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with an undecided major after shadowing physicians in high school made her realize that clinical work was not the right fit. When she learned about the opportunity to help patients behind the scenes through healthcare administration, she found a new calling.

After interning for the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin, she landed a role as a project specialist after graduation and was soon after promoted to supervisor of operations. With four to six direct reports at any one time, she gained management experience quickly as she learned to apprehend clinical needs and manage vendor relations.

“Supply chain was an ideal place to start my career, because it impacted every department and every function at the hospital,” she said.

In March 2020, everything from N-95 masks and hand sanitizer became “almost impossible” to source, she said. Melissa and her team spent long hours calling in favors with vendors and identifying substitute products to ensure that patients in pain could still undergo the surgeries they needed.

Eager to progress in healthcare operations, she had already applied and been accepted to Baylor’s MBA in Healthcare Administration program when the pandemic hit. She initially leaned toward pursuing a Master of Healthcare Administration, but she pivoted when she discovered that she could earn a more versatile degree with similar coursework.

She shifted into a communications specialist role at the Orthopedic Hospital, which she could work remotely, and moved 1000 miles south to Waco to initiate the next phase of her career.

Building Expertise

Learning about healthcare during a global healthcare crisis came with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

“It was tough to arrive in a new state at a time when we had to social distance and meet people while wearing masks,” Melissa said. And with pandemic policies in place, it became more difficult for Baylor students to visit local healthcare facilities for class meetings and projects.

Fortunately, the experiential emphasis of Baylor MBA’s program compensated for lost opportunities. As the pandemic surged, Melissa found value in a speaker series that brought healthcare executives to campus to describe the challenges they were facing, from staff burnout to supply shortages.

Real-world application extended to remote consulting projects and frequent presentations, which Melissa credits for helping her strengthen one of her weakest skills: public speaking. In her communications classes, she and her cohort would often practice presentations in a “Wild Card” format, where they would draw a card that required them to make changes, like presenting without one of the presenters or cutting the presentation time in half.

“This kind of exercise effectively prepared us for the real world, where someone is frequently out sick or a client is late to a meeting,” she said. “I was not a strong public speaker going into the program, but with enough time and repetition, I have reached the point where I feel confident speaking in front of a crowd.”

Baylor’s emphasis on real-world learning culminated in an executive residency that matches students with a health care organization for nine months of hands-on learning. Before Melissa joined Abrazo Health, one of Arizona’s largest health care organizations, she envisioned building upon her past experience in an operations role.

It did not take long for her to change course.

Looking to the Future

Melissa began her residency during the peak of the pandemic, and learning the ins and outs of operations at five hospitals, two emergency departments, and two micro hospitals felt like drinking through a fire hose.

As she shadowed the CEO of her company, she quickly got up to speed. As her operational savvy improved, she was also exposed to high-level conversations about the health care system’s long-term vision, its efforts to recruit and retain talent and its expansion opportunities. It did not take long for her to begin to envision a future in health strategy, and when she finished her MBA, she moved into a new role as a market strategy manager.

“Working in operations during the pandemic, I spent a lot of my day putting out fires and making sure we had adequate staff and supplies for the day ahead,” she said. “Now that we are getting out of COVID, health care professionals are shifting back to more long-term thinking. We are looking ahead and thinking about what facilities we want to expand and which service lines to invest in, while simultaneously finding ways to lower supply expenses and reduce our reliance on contract labor. That is where strategic thinking comes in.”

As she looks ahead to an action-packed 2024, which will see the development of a new Buckeye medical campus, neuroscience service line expansion and the addition of smaller labs and facilities throughout the Phoenix valley, Melissa looks back at the ways her MBA experience has prepared her to lead in a season of expansion. At the same time her communications classes were preparing her to argue a course of action to senior leadership, her finance and accounting courses were teaching her to create a P&L sheet and read a financial statement.

“Ultimately, the old saying ‘no margin, no mission’ holds true,” she said. “Having a strong finance background has been critical to succeeding behind the scenes. Thanks to my MBA experience, I know what I am doing and I am confident in my place at the table. It is going to be an exciting year ahead.”

Are you passionate about leading in a post-COVID healthcare environment? Learn more about Baylor’s MBA in Healthcare Administration program by clicking here. To speak directly with an admissions advisor, fill out the Request for Information form.