MA Health Law and Policy Student Spotlight and Q&A

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We have our current student, an MA student, Venus Buckner who will be sharing her stories with us today.


Venus is the co-founder of VMB Risk & Safety Consulting LLC. She’s also a registered nurse and a certified professional in health care risk management. Venus brings with her over 25 years of experience in various settings including academic centers, urban and regional hospitals. In her roles, she has managed functional areas including patient safety, quality and regulation compliance. She is also a recipient of Patient Safety Award from the Missouri Patient Safety Organization for operationalizing the Just Culture. The project was also recognized as innovative by the American Society for Health Care Risk Management for incorporating Just Culture principles in peer reviews. So hello Venus!


Hello, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful webinar.


I do have – and thank you for taking the time – I do have a few of questions that we do often receive from perspective applicants which I really hope you can provide some insights on based off of your experience so far.


So first, just for our audience to get to know you a little bit better, maybe you can share with us why did you decide to pursue this degree – the online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy, especially given your work experience already?


Thank you. I think that’s one of the most important questions when pursuing a master’s program in any field. There are three main reasons that really came to mind when I thought about this, which are relevance, convenience, and team administrative support.


In a different location from years ago, I pursued graduate work in nursing, but the program content was like fitting a square peg in a round table. But it wasn’t until recently, really, that there were more options for health care professionals like myself – a nurse, where the choices were no longer just limited to being a nurse practitioner, or a chief nursing officer or an educator. Each of those, of course, are excellent choices, but just was not the direction where I wanted to go.


I am very passionate about patient safety and health care quality, and because health care is heavily regulated at the federal and state level, I really wanted to have a deeper understanding of the regulatory process and how laws that apply to health care came into being. Thus far the courses are very relevant and applicable to my line of work. It’s kind of exciting to connect the dots about my experience, what’s going on now and what my future goals, as far as my career is concerned.


The second reason that I mentioned on why I pursued this online program is convenience. As a professional, balancing the demands of a career and at the same time having a personal life as a wife and mother, and the academic demands of a graduate school can be very, very challenging. In the last fifteen years, every year,  I would say “this is the year that I will go back” but life happens. This is pretty common thing that I have even heard from my classmates.


So the online education program like Hofstra’s really makes it feasible for busy individuals like myself to  pursue graduate education that I find relevant for my long-term goal. But you know, many programs can say the same thing, but for me, what really made me choose Hofstra, was the support that I received from the point of when I was just checking out what program I should take.


From an adult learner’s perspective, there are so many competing interests like I have said, the support that I have received from Hofstra, from the enrollment process, the individual attention that I got,  helped me be successful, from the support student services and the faculty were really very important.


I did a lot of research before I enrolled at Hofstra, but through the help of Claudette, and Kim and my first Professor Ron, it has really confirmed even more to me that I have chosen the right program.


Thank you Venus. Great – I’m starting to see some questions coming in for you. Again I’ll hold all those questions until the very end after you’ve shared your story.

Thank you Venus for sharing that first part of the story. Now,  I also wanted to ask you, as you mentioned, you have a very busy schedule, so how was it like to start this program at that point. Were there any adjustments that you had to make to start this program?


Yes, so maybe some of the listeners here can do their math and can figure out that I’m not that young. The major adjustment is the way that teaching and education is a lot  different than it was when first I went to college a long time ago.  One of the major challenges, several of the major challenges that I had to do in balancing life,  is keeping up with all the readings and completing all the assigned work on time. It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary, high school, undergraduate or graduate school,  that’s always going to be a challenge. Folks like me who already have a career – that can be very challenging.


So when studying for the test, I really had to adjust. It’s an open book, but at the same time, you have a very limited time in which to answer the questions. What strategy should I take, will my studying habits apply to this particular way of online education, how do I complete the finals with the allotted time that I have.


Also, I think one of the challenging things is that it’s an online program, you don’t see the folks on the other end. So my question was how do you engage in the discussion online?  We have Facebook, but that’s really not enough.


The questions that I ask myself when we’re talking on issues, are “am I on the right track, or I’m really way off, or am I the only one who really did not understand the concept that they were talking about?” So having that open discussion with follow up could be very challenging.


What I find that was really for me very helpful, was that the Hofstra team was very sensitive to these challenges. The technologies that are now available out there that we ought to take advantage of when made available, such as weekly ZOOM sessions where you get to actually see and talk to your professors and see who your classmates are.


Professor Colombo actually even offered, in one of those sessions when I said “ I’m not really sure that I’m getting this, I want more discussion”


There’s an opportunity where you can actually organize your own study group, and Professor Colombo, despite his busy schedule had even offered to say “let me know when you decide to organize the study group and I’ll stop by” quote on quote, stop by online.  So I thought that was very good!


All of my professors that I have taken so far have also made themselves available either by phone or through the ZOOM sessions, or via email.


The other really exciting thing is that Kim, which we will hear more today, will give me calls unsolicited, and I used to say “you must be able to read my mind because I was just thinking about you!”  And we would talk about what were my challenges and she would make recommendations on how I can for example organize my materials in preparation for the final exam, and led me and directed me to all the available tools that are available that I may have glanced over but really not pay attention to.


With a combination of the team and the individual interest that the professor had extended to me, and I see with all my other classmates,  I think it makes the program really unique.


Thank you Venus, and yes, we will be hearing from Kim in a little bit in terms of her role as well, for sure. In terms of the next question, you kind of shared a little bit about that

in terms of engagement between yourself or the students in general with the faculty. Could you give me more stories or insight in terms of how your online learning experience thus far is like, any other examples of how you are keeping engaged with fellow students or faculty members?


I grew up with a mother as a teacher and my father was a minister. As a family, we’ve always been challenged to pay attention to the local, and national, and international news.


What is exciting with this program is that Claudette would share with me what the course and the program was about just like what Professor Colombo had did, but at the end of the day, the question is did it meet my expectations? I have to say, in strong terms, that it did.


The topics and the discussion questions are relevant not only to the work that I do, but also to our current events. With additional learning about the different roles of the branches of government and the balance of power and the process of rule-making, I have to say, the way that I listened and the way that I interpret ,  what I would say is I developed a different ear as far as what people are actually saying, and being able to critically think and connect the dots about the implications of what our constitution says.


We as an American society is supposed to be in tune with what is going on,  and what we have to do in response with all of that. So, I think the critical thinking skills is not just about your experience but also the continued learning process that you acquire. You become better able to really engage yourself to what is going on not just with the work that I do, but also with what is going on in our country today. I hope that answers your question.


Yes. There is also a question that I want to ask as well, since we’re on this topic. Do you have an example of the topic discussions that you have had in one of the courses that was relevant to the work and the current events?


Yeah, I think one of the examples that I can think of was we were talking about the rule-making process. Being able to understand how that really works really helped me in my job as far as being able to understand when you’re dealing with regulatory and expectations in the health care setting. It’s good to be able to understand how it came to be.


The other example that I can think of that really applied to my line of work is when I was –

Let me add a little bit more on the first example. When Congress was going through the whole “Repeal and Replace” discussion last fall, I actually was able to be able to engage myself a little bit more about what that all means and how it came about as far as where we were at and the implications on how that individual mandate or how ACA was actually declared as constitutional by the Supreme Court a few years ago, and how after all this discussion last week that through the tax reform, the individual mandate was actually able to be eliminated.


Another example was on my second course in Health Law. I wrote a Memorandum that was related to the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005. And this is of major interest to me as a risk manager because I deal everyday about serious safety events, how you protect confidentiality, and you’re trying to balance the rights of those who may have been a victim of deviations from the standard of care through the commitment that we have that we need to continue to improve the delivery of care in the United States. Patient Safety organizations as a result of the  Patient Safety and Quality and Improvement Act of 2005 kind of came into being, but what I found in my research in writing that memorandum was that there was really a lack of understanding from the hospital perspective of the level of federal protection that we have regarding the safety product that we do in hospital settings. For me, that was very enlightening and I changed my opinion two or three times after I did more research, but ultimately concluded that we still have a lot of work to do in order to balance the rights of the patients and their representatives and our continued desire to improve health care delivery in our country. Those are two very important topics that I thought was really meaningful for me this last semester.


Thank you so much for sharing. Now speaking on the fact that you have a busy schedule and the assignments that you were talking about as well, could you share with us tips on your time management and overall, what would you say is your typical work week in terms of hours per week?


My disclaimer is everybody is different with the way that we learn, in the way that we manage and the kind of lifestyle that we lead. I told myself that ideally, I need to put in at least two or three hours in order to keep up but sometimes because of the demands of work and family, I may not be able to meet that goal or I tend to exceed the goal. I think it depends on what’s going on with the subject matter and the volume of work that needs to be done. So flexibility is very, very important. An example of flexibility is that when I wake up in the morning, I check my mobile device to see what kind of feedback that I have been getting. So, every single opportunity that I may have downtime, because of the ability of access online, I can go online and actually continue to work and think about the work that I have to do.


It is also important setting aside a time, yet at the same time taking advantage of the downtime and access to the program. It’s important to get some support from your network, family and friends, because it is a commitment for the next two years to be able to do and meet the academic demands of this program. It’s very important to prioritize that my vacation plans may have to be pushed out a little bit, or I have to make arrangements at work as far as when I needed to be, to set aside a time to participate in the ZOOM program.


The other thing that I have learned, especially from Professor Colombo, sometimes when you have too much experience in health care, you have too many opinions unfortunately, and can go beyond what is actually being asked, which then burns the time that you have.  One thing that I have really learned, and still learning is, is for  Professor Colombo to continue to remind us to just answer the question. Just answer the question. We end up in all kinds of issues because you’re interested in them,  but if you focus on what is the question and answer those, that really helps in being able to meet your goal.


Amazingly enough, the seven weeks of coursework goes very fast, and so by organizing my notes and my handouts and following the advice of student affairs, student support team, and the professor, I have enjoyed the classes I’ve taken so far and I find that managing my courses, are really manageable.


Thank you Venus. Now on to the next question that we have. You kind of spoke to that earlier, but if you have any other specific example of when you used learning from a course in a work situation so far?


As an example of learning , I’m thinking ADA this time – we’re at the beginning of it, but it’s actually giving me a different perspective on how our perception is with our employees who are coming forward as being disabled as it affects their work, as well as patients who come to the health care setting claiming that they are disabled. By studying these statutes, the ADA and the amendment, it’s challenging our preconceived ideas on how we look at our employees and how we look at our patients who come in, who claim to be disabled. Even looking at the environment in which we work, whether or not it meets the intent of the lawmakers about ADA. So that’s just one more example that I actually can think of.


Thank you. That’s been a really hot topic in a way.  We’ve actually introduced a course in the program like you’ve mentioned, the ADA statutory interpretation so thank you for that.


It’s a lot bigger than I thought – chuckles-


Maybe we’ll talk about it in a little bit -Is there something that you learned in the course that surprised you I guess you could say, because you were saying that it’s bigger than you thought?


I’ve always been interested in government. I have to admit that I thought that I understood it enough, but I think the class that I’ve taken from Professor Colombo which was very foundational really gave me a deeper appreciation of our constitution and the way our government is set up.  I am middle-aged, but I think at the end of the day, having learned what I have learned in the last semester in what’s going on,  I’m finding myself probably wanting to be more engaged in concrete ways in how we can make things better in our country.


Thank you Venus, and yes, especially with your experience of over 25 years, I’m really glad that the program is able to provide you even more insight into this realm of health law for sure.


Last question in terms of the top of mind questions that we have right now set up – Do you have any tips or advice for students who are considering this program because a lot of the audience here are in that boat where they’re kind of considering this program in that moment?


This may be a combination of my personal experience or advice and what I have heard from my other classmates. If possible, start out with a vision. What is it that you want to achieve at the end? Start with an outcome. Usually that’s what we say in Quality –  Start with an outcome in mind so that when it gets discouraging because you ran out of time, which has happened to me, where I have thought to myself,  “gosh I could have written that paper better if I had more time” but having a vision of what you really wanted to achieve at the end of this can really help get you back up when it can be very discouraging because you’re not meeting your goals.


For me, having a vision of understanding of how our government works, and how it applies not just in my professional life but also as a individual, as a member in this society and as a mother who wants to influence my children, it’s very important to have that clear in mind because it really continues to motivate you even in the most difficult times.


The other thing is to keep an open mind. It is almost scary nowadays to be transparent about what political leanings you have because of the passionate discourse. “Passionate” is probably even a weaker word on where people are coming from.


But I think one thing I have learned is to keep an open mind. What I thought I knew was really a lacking, and so that was very enriching to discover that oh,  I really had preconceived ideas, and then I did not have an open mind, so I was stuck in my own way of thinking. I think the challenge of a graduate work, is to challenge our preconceived ideas and by challenging it based on the reading, based on the discussion.  Our ideas may stand the test, or it may not, and that’s a good thing. So keeping an open mind is very, very important.


The other one is to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the professors and the years of experience of the student support team to further enrich the learning experience. I make those conversations. I could be in the parking lot in front of FedEx, or Target and I would be calling Kim or talking to Kim. I could be in the restaurant having an online discussion with my classmates. Taking advantage of all of this is very important.


Even though I’m not young anymore, the fear of exposing yourself that you did not understand can really be a barrier but also it’s a disadvantage to the process of learning. I have to overcome the fear of what I’m not understanding. When I have to have a ZOOM session with Professor Colombo or my Health Law professor last semester, I was kind of afraid of exposing my ignorance, and yet at the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to learn if I don’t. So my tip that I did was to kind of write down what my question was. Was my question making sense, do I really know the answer, and just was afraid?


So those are the things that are really important and I

I still teach my kids today. Don’t be afraid to ask the question if you don’t understand because you’re either on the right track or, the experience of your professors can really lead you to where you need to go.


The other one is to take advantage of the resources available, and I’m not just talking about the experience and knowledge of the professors,  but also the student support team and Hofstra’s other resources such as the learning center, the library, the Westlaw. Learning to navigate through that can be very time consuming, and yet can be worth it.


Second to the last advice is to take advantage of what works for you as a learner. I have found that just with my discussion with my daughter who is in graduate school, we have a different way of learning.  She’s very visual and she’s very auditory, so she has to listen to lectures –  tape them, listen to them. Whereas I tend to want to read and then do do the auditory thing and take advantage of playing those sessions while I’m doing something else.  Yet at the same time because I’m busy, I can download the transcript of the sessions and read them a lot faster rather than spending an hour on listening to the video.  I think each of us, we just have to figure out what works best for us to use our time wisely.


And lastly, enjoy the process. Two years is going to go very fast. I can’t believe that I am now in the middle of the Spring semester.  Enjoy the process and network if possible.  I would go an look at the background of my classmates, and LinkedIn will tell you more about them. By knowing their background, kind of helps you listen to where they’re coming from and learn from them.


One of my classmates actually is a person who works in the risk management department back east, and because we checked each other out, we realized we were going to be at the same conference last October, so we had the opportunity to connect during the conference and kind of have a face with what you’re reading online,  but also share the experience that we’ve had in this program. So, for me, that was really awesome to be able to do that if possible.


So those are some of the tips I would give to the students is to have a vision, take advantage of your resources, be flexible and enjoy the process.


Thank you so much Venus. Thank you for sharing your insights and definitely sharing that side of you with us.