New Health Science Doctorate to Help Working Professionals Advance

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on May 9, 2019, No Comments

In response to the needs of regional employers and the aspirations of area health professionals, East Stroudsburg University has created an innovative Doctorate of Health Science program that will enroll its first class this fall.

The Doctorate of Health Science (D.H.Sc.) in Health Sciences is designed for those who seek to advance their careers and assume leadership roles in areas including clinical research, health care administration and higher education.

ESU will offer an Information Open House on Tuesday, May 14 and Tuesday, June 4 at 5 p.m. at the university’s Lehigh Valley Center at 60 West Broad Street in Bethlehem.

The 60-credit doctoral program will include three years of course work, with a cohort of 20 students meeting with faculty for intensive in-person classes and experiential learning on four or five weekends per semester, including summers. Doctoral candidates will work closely with their advisor to choose the topic of their dissertation. The culmination of the program will be defending that dissertation before their faculty committee and their peers.

“The program is tailored towards working professionals, so it minimizes the time they have to be away from their professional placement,” according to Shala Davis, Ph.D., chair of ESU’s department of exercise science and co-coordinator of the new doctoral program with Gavin Moir, Ph.D., professor of exercise science.

Doctoral candidates will take core courses in advanced research methods, leadership theory, ethics and communication before choosing one of two concentrations:

  • Health Management and Administration, focusing on health policy, management and financing
  • Advanced Research Administration, focusing on grantsmanship, professional writing and contemporary technology

“The two concentrations can be adapted to the needs of the students based on their career paths,” Moir said.

The program has attracted interest from physician assistants, nurses, administrators from health networks and community health departments, exercise physiologists, faculty from universities and community colleges, and professionals from pharmaceutical companies.

Together with a faculty advisory committee, Davis and Moir created the program of study to be – in part – experiential. So, for example, for one of the weekend sessions, the doctoral candidates will spend two days at Gettysburg National Military Park for training in leadership. That’s an experience that Lori Palfreyman, an assistant professor in Rutgers University physician assistant program and a member of ESU’s College of Health Sciences Advisory Board, believes will be especially valuable.

“They’re using the war’s history as a backdrop to learn about group decision-making and leadership styles that result in success or failure,” Palfreyman said. “I think that’s a really innovative way to do hands-on learning for adult learners.”

Another trip is planned to Harrisburg, where doctoral students will meet with political insiders to get a bird’s-eye view on health care policies and the legislative process.

“We thought that would be beneficial to the individuals who are embedded in the health care environment,” Davis said. “At the doctoral level, it’s important to have an appreciation for everything that’s going on in health sciences.”

Palfreyman was asked to serve on the College of Health Sciences Advisory Board because of her experience as a physician assistant, a Rutgers assistant professor and assistant director of admissions and program assessment for Rutgers’ physician assistant program, as well as her own doctoral studies in health science.

She pointed out that many other doctoral programs in health science are either online and lack in-person dialogue and support, or they have weekly classes that are tough on working professionals.

ESU’s program allows students to “form in-person connections and learn from each other and all of their diverse backgrounds,” Palfreyman said. “But because the class meets once a month on the weekends, balancing the program with other personal and professional responsibilities is manageable.”

An employment analysis completed for ESU found great demand in the region for professionals with the knowledge and skills doctoral candidates will gain from the new program.

“We made sure those skills were embedded throughout the curriculum,” Davis said. “Skills such as leadership, independent research skills, critical evaluation of the literature, data analysis and management skills are all featured.”

Denise Seigart, Ph.D., dean of ESU’s College of Health Sciences, said the new degree is only the second Health Sciences doctorate offered by a university among the 14 that make up Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. It’s a natural fit for ESU because the university has historically strong programs in exercise science, public health, athletic training, communication science and disorders, physical and health education, and nursing.

“Health care is one of the fastest growing areas for occupations and we’re expecting that to continue,” Seigart said. “It’s important for our region for ESU to continue to lead in this area.”

For more information about ESU’s D.H.Sc. program and to register for the Information Open House visits