Healthcare administration student’s path to leadership runs through RUC

RADFORD — Sara O’Dell, a student in the Radford University Carilion (RUC) Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration program, admits she sometimes makes impulsive decisions. A few years ago, during her ninth year as a nurse, she decided it was time to return to school.

“I like to think of myself as a professional student,” O’Dell said. “I have always enjoyed learning, especially when it comes to healthcare, so I felt like it was time to build on my education and my career. I decided on the spot to do it.”

In addition to being a full-time nurse, though, O’Dell of Dublin, Virginia, was also a mother with young children. That meant the program she enrolled in would have to be flexible and allow her to continue working and caring for her kids as she learned. Enter the healthcare administration program at RUC.

“What attracted me to RUC’s program was that it is almost 100% online,” O’Dell recalled. “It was very convenient and made the process of returning to school so much easier. I even compared the program to others in the area, and those programs just couldn’t compete with what RUC had to offer.”

O’Dell reached out to program director Rebecca McIntyre and discovered the benefits the program could have for her career. Her goal had been to move into a position where she could manage a team of healthcare professionals – particularly nurses.

“The more I learned about the program, the more I thought it could help me become a better leader and strengthen my ability to manage a successful organization,” O’Dell said.

The four-year healthcare administration program prepares students to work in the unique “business” of healthcare, building a broad base of knowledge and skills analytics, communication and management. In the program, students can choose from one of four specialty areas to focus their studies: long-term care, medical practice management, healthcare management (human resources or finance) and capstone (research).

The program provides one-of-a-kind opportunities for students, including the chance to learn within Carilion Clinic, a healthcare organization that employs nearly 13,000 healthcare professionals and has facilities spanning over 200 miles in Virginia. Students get to interact with and learn beside a broad range of healthcare providers, so they’re prepared to collaborate across specialties from the start of their careers.

Speaking of careers, the program’s employment placement rate is 100% on or near graduation.

O’Dell currently works as a licensed practical nurse in inpatient psychiatry at Carilion Clinic St. Albans. Since earning her first degree from New River Community College in 2012, O’Dell has been a nurse in a variety of specialties, including pediatrics, family medicine and psychiatry. She feels that experience, combined with the knowledge she is gaining in the healthcare administration program, will help her be a successful leader once she graduates this May.

“The program is very thorough, and I feel much more confident in my leadership skills than I ever have before,” O’Dell said. “During my time at RUC, I have had the best advisor in Dr. Carey Peerman. She gave me a lot of confidence and taught me how to become a strong leader while managing an organization. I could not have asked for better guidance throughout this program, and I could really say the same for all of my professors.”

Once O’Dell does receive her diploma, she doesn’t plan on ending her academic career just yet.

“I plan on returning to school for my Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” O’Dell said.

In the meantime, O’Dell said that having her healthcare administration degree will allow her to begin exploring many options as a leader in healthcare. While she hasn’t decided which area of healthcare she will ultimately land in as a leader and manager, she says her education at RUC has been the key to opening many doors in what she sees as a very exciting future.


Mark Lambert