Travel Nurse Works to Increase Health Care Access, Address Medical Disparities With Online Master’s

Stephanie Abrenica, who is graduating from the Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) online program this spring, hopes to tackle the pervasive, ever-growing gaps in our health care system.

If there’s anything that the last few years have reminded us all, it’s the vital role health care professionals play in our community. Their tireless work helped shepherd us through a global pandemic, often putting themselves at risk to help others recover and stay safe.

That was certainly the case for Stephanie Abrenica, a registered travel nurse and student in the Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) online program who is graduating this spring.

Abrenica has worked at multiple health care facilities throughout her career, and she is currently a nursing supervisor and charge nurse at Bay Area Health Care in Oakland, as well as a travel nurse on the medical, surgical and telemetry floor at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center.

While Abrenica has certainly made strides in the medical field, she was looking to diversify her skill sets and expand in her management knowledge, leading her to discover the EMHA online program at USC Price School of Public Policy.

“I was really looking for a program that would help me be a better health care professional and really advance my education in any way possible,” explained Abrenica, who previously earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

Designed for clinical and administrative professionals, the EMHA trains students to effectively improve health services and address emerging challenges in the field. It also prepares graduates to successfully tackle financial and economic health care issues throughout their communities.

“When I looked into USC’s program, I saw how renowned it was, but the certain talking and learning points that we would be discussing in the program really caught my eye. I work in Oakland, an area where there are a lot of health care disparities,” she explained. “I wanted to learn more about how I can improve our health care system and solve the issues I encounter every day at work.”

Abrenica was pleased to discover that was exactly what she experienced in the program. Through her coursework, she was able to gain new perspectives on the pressing issues and inequities communities face when it comes to health care access and treatment, as well as possible tools and solutions to help address those problems.

“There are a lot of gaps in our health care system that we need to tackle as we’re shifting from pay-for-performance to a value-based health care system. I also am focused on how technology is creating an impact for that, too — like how telehealth has increased medical access for everyone, how it’s becoming a part of our everyday health care system and what that means going down the road,” she said.

In addition to the impactful lessons she’s learned during her time in the EMHA program, Abrenica said the people — her fellow cohort members, faculty and staff — were a particular highlight, keeping her engaged and motivated after a challenging workday or while addressing an unfamiliar subject in the curriculum.

“The professors made every topic so interesting, even if it was just the basics, or if it was the finance side, which was harder for me to comprehend — but they made it accessible,” she said.

Her classmates, too, had their own knowledge and wisdom to impart. Although everyone in the program was involved in the health care field, they came from various backgrounds and had a wide range of career paths and experiences.

Approaching the coursework from a hospital perspective, Abrenica found it eye-opening to dialogue with peers in different positions and work environments, offering her new perspectives on medicine. In this way, her classmates were also able to contribute to the learning done in the EMHA program.

While there’s a certain tinge of sadness as she wraps up her studies, Abrenica is looking forward to graduating and putting her transformative, newfound knowledge to work. Following commencement, Abrenica hopes to pursue an administrative role for a company or organization that’s focused on improving the quality of the U.S. health care system, combating medical disparities and increasing access to health care for vulnerable communities.

For her, it’s all about making a difference for the people who need it most.

“[The EMHA] really opens up your current view of how you see health care, [and] engaging with all of our people in our cohort really broadens that perspective,” she said.

Learn more about the Executive Master of Health Care Administration online program today.

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