Smithfield Herald

With hospital’s help, employees return to school

Tracey Woodruff could never have imagined traveling to Austria, much less touring a hospital to learn about a government-controlled health-care system.

The week-long trip last month was part of her coursework toward a master’s degree in health-care administration.

She goes to class Tuesday and Thursday evenings in Raleigh and studies on weekends.

“It’s required me to be extremely organized,” said Woodruff, who juggles being a parent with her job as an administrative director of inpatient care for Johnston Health.

Woodruff is among several Johnston Health employees who are working toward college or graduate degrees. Under a program offered through the human-resources department, employees pursuing a two-year or four-year degree can be reimbursed as much as $2,000 for tuition and books. For employees pursuing a graduate degree, the reimbursement can climb to $2,500.

Woodruff has a bachelor’s in nursing, but she wanted to expand beyond her clinical knowledge. With her master’s degree, she’s learning about the business of health care and the changes wrought in particular by the Affordable Care Act.

Tim Hays, vice president of human resources, encourages employees to take advantage of the reimbursement program. “Going back to school is a great way to prepare for advancement in the organization,” he said.

David Willoughby, a pharmacist at Johnston Medical Center in Clayton, has a doctorate in pharmacy. But he’s now pursuing a combined master’s degree in business and health-care administration.

With all the financial challenges facing hospitals, Willoughby thinks it’s important to understand areas of finance and leadership and to learn business skills.

For flexibility, Willoughby takes his classes online. Outside work, he and his wife have two boys, ages 4 and 5.

“After being out of school for so long, it’s been challenging to get back into the test-taking, paper-writing mindset,” he said.

Alyssa Rich is a patient-care assistant in the emergency department at Clayton.

After taking prerequisite courses for an associate’s degree, she applied to Barton College in Wilson and got accepted this fall to nursing school.

Rich goes to classes four days a week and works on the other three. In between classes, she studies so that she can spend time with family when she gets home.

“It’s tough, but I know in the end it will all be worth it,” she said.

To those pondering a return to school, Willoughby offers encouragement. “Whether it’s listening to podcasts, reading books or enrolling in massive open online courses, education is the most accessible it’s ever been,” he says.

Woodruff thinks getting an advanced degree is being proactive. “And you can never have too much education,” she said.