In the vast field of health care, students have many options when determining their chosen profession. From an emergency medical technician to a doctor or nurse to dentistry, the opportunities are endless. However, for students who seek less patient interaction and more administrative leadership, Dr. Susan Anderson is equipped to prepare them for a career in health services administration.
As a health care professional, Anderson has more than 30 years of experience working in dental hygiene and health care management. Her ability to determine the needs of an organization and/or program, as well as develop appropriate strategies to meet learning outcomes is part of her day-to-day responsibilities as program chair for health services administration in Hodges University’s School of Health Sciences.
Joining the university as an adjunct faculty member in 2010, she taught classes in human resources and health care management before advancing to the position of associate professor in 2011 and eventually program chair in 2015.
Overseeing students in Hodges’ associate degree program in healthcare office administration, as well as the bachelor’s and master’s programs in health services administration, Anderson incorporates her expertise and professional experience into her lessons as a way to teach students about real-world scenarios.
As a dental hygienist for nearly 30 years, Anderson worked closely with patients, teaching them how to care for their teeth and the importance of maintaining good oral health.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said, “but I was discouraged from taking that route because the market was flooded with teachers.” Growing up with parents who wanted her focus to be marriage and children, Anderson knew she wanted more.
Attending Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey, she graduated with her associate degree in applied science with a focus on dental hygiene, and until 2006, she practiced in New Jersey and Fort Myers.
“My parents and in-laws wanted to retire to Florida, so in 1990, we decided to make the move to Southwest Florida,” she said.
Working as a dental hygienist for more than 15 years, Anderson was looking for additional work opportunities, saying, “I was always a bit restless as a hygienist. I began thinking there were other things I’d like to do,” and in 1994, she purchased The Travel Company on Sanibel and served as its president and owner until 1997.
With two locations, Sanibel and Fort Myers, she supervised 12 agents and helped to expand sales volume by 50 percent. Additionally, she developed marketing strategies and participated in speaking engagements. However, Anderson admits that by being in business, “you have to know when to get out,” and with the evolution of the internet and the travel industry, she sold the business in 1997. It was also at this time that she was “pushed” to return to school.
“I was in a car accident; someone rear-ended me, and while it wouldn’t have hurt maybe a normal person, I found out when I got to the ER, I wasn’t normal. Apparently, I had a lot of degenerative changes because of being a hygienist,” she said. “It had taken a severe toll on my musculoskeletal system, so this [accident] knocked out the vertebrae in my neck.” Recommended by the neurosurgeon to go back to school, she enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in 1997 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health services administration (HSA).
“After a 20 years lapse in education, I went back to school. Here I was an adult learner, and I was facing all those things my students are now facing,” she said. Viewing technology as her biggest hurdle, she had worked on previous computer systems; however, each system was dedicated to one particular task. “My 10-year-old son was the one who taught me how to use PowerPoint,” she laughed.
As part of the curriculum, students had to complete 40 hours of volunteerism in order to graduate. While working full-time as a hygienist, Anderson spent her Fridays volunteering as a healthcare administration intern with Hope of Southwest Florida, Inc. (Hope Hospice). While there, she spent her time writing training programs, writing presentations for the CEO and authoring a grant proposal funded for telehomecare, saying, “It was an opportunity before its time.”
Taking a course at FGCU in grant proposal writing, she asked Dr. Samira Beckwith, president and CEO of Hope Hospice, what was on her wish list. Discovering Beckwith wanted a telehomecare program, Anderson faced a few hurdles from administrators within the organization; however, she completed the proposal, finished the class and Hope Hospice sent the proposal to the state of Florida, which was funded for $150,000. “I learned a lot through the experience, but what I learned most of all was the concept of buy-in. If everyone is not on board, the greatest idea will fail, and I carry that lesson into my classes,” she said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1999, she wasted no time and enrolled in FGCU’s HSA master’s program because of her desire to know more about the field. Graduating in 2001, she continued working as a dental hygienist; however, with her educational background in health services administration and the physical difficulties in continuing as a dental hygienist, she decided to continue her education at Nova Southeastern University by pursuing a Doctor of Education in organizational leadership and human resource development, which she earned in 2009.
During this time, she accepted a position as manager of customer service and training with Eye Centers of Florida in 2006. As a corporate trainer, she was “hired to keep people from leaving,” and worked to help employees feel appreciated. In addition, she worked with senior leadership to identify the needs of the organization and develop outcome-based programs to achieve strategic goals.
Spending five years in the corporate world, she began to reflect on her initial desire to become a teacher, and after learning about an available position at Hodges, she switched paths and built a successful career in academia.
“Seeing these students develop, especially those who have progressed through the associate, bachelor’s and master’s programs, is incredibly rewarding,” she said. Equipped with a direct approach, Anderson considers herself a servant leader, saying, “It is my job to smooth the way. If they need it, I’ll get it; however, I stress to my students that they need to do certain things in certain ways because it is what will be expected of them when entering into a job.”
Helping students to understand the competitive nature of the industry, specifically in clinical positions, Anderson reminds her students “if I’m not telling you where you went wrong and how you can improve, then I haven’t done my job. When you graduate from here, I need to be sure that diploma is going to work for you.”