We spoke with Cindy Mathena, PhD, OTR/L, Dean of Post-Professional Studies for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) for insight into what the future holds for health science educators.
Fact: There are a lack of qualified health science educators across the country. That means the job opportunities for those qualified to teach are endless. Nevertheless, if you’re considering becoming an educator and desire to train the next generation of health science professionals, it can be confusing to know where to start.
That’s why we went to the professionals for answers.
Dr. Cindy Mathena is an open book regarding the job market for health science educators, what sets USAHS apart, and what drives her passion for education.
How did you get involved in health sciences education?
“I’m an occupational therapist. I worked as a clinician for many years, but I always knew I wanted to teach. In fact, as early as I possibly could, I got myself into the classroom and started teaching guest lectures and conducting short classes. My PhD is in educational technology, focused on health science practitioners. From there, I just took on other responsibilities at the university and here I sit today.”
Now you’re the Dean of Post-Professional Studies. What, exactly, are post-professional studies?
“They are programs designed for someone already established in their profession, who is working in the health sciences, and who wants to continue their education through advanced credentials like a doctoral degree. In the case of the EdD program, it’s an opportunity to learn specifically about teaching in higher education as it applies to health sciences.”
I’ve read that there is a shortage of quality health science educators. Why do you think that is?
“There are several reasons. One is the aging of the population — more people are retiring from education, there is a definite need to train their replacements. But with the aging of the population in general, there is a need for more health care providers, so we need more faculty to train them. We’re here to be a major solution to that problem. “
What does that mean for the job market?
“Go to any number of web sites that advertise faculty positions to know how many jobs are available! Institutions all over the United States want educators, and leaders of educators—program directors, administrators, deans, or any number of administrative positions.”
Who would be an ideal candidate for acquiring an EdD?
“Well, I like to ask the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up.” Of course, metaphorically speaking. We get two types of students, one that wants to make the transitions [from clinician to educator] but hasn’t yet, or one who has already made the transition into academia and wants to become a better educator.
Anyone who wants to teach in a setting of health sciences, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, athletic training, nursing, physician assistant, speech therapy – and who wants to make a transition is a good candidate. “
How does clinical experience play into the EdD degree?
“None of us could – or should — be in our positions if we didn’t have experience in the clinic. It is an incremental part of the program and will be valuable when applying for your future career.”
What sets the EdD program at USAHS apart from other programs?
“We’re a very responsive program. From the time the student first shows interest in the program and makes their inquiry, all the way through to the end of the program, there is someone there for you. The second is that the faculty is passionate and energetic. Students truly appreciate the faculty that put a lot of effort into their interaction. The third one is the interprofessional aspect of our program. We’re bringing folks together from a variety of disciplines and having them solve problems together in the classroom just as they would in their real-life scenarios. They’re ready for complexities of working with teams, and learning the language of other professionals.”
The EdD is completed online with immersion components. What does that offer students?
“Convenience and flexibility. Because the folks in our program typically have been in their careers for some time, and they have families, and jobs – they like the flexibility of it. The program is completed entirely online, except for two required immersions that are delivered over a long weekend. There are also optional immersions that can be taken throughout the program. That allows the student to shorten the length of their online course by taking another weekend residence as an option, interacting with their peers and completing their course a little early.”
What gets you excited about the program?
“I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a few educators and I listened to how elated they were about the new technologies and different ways to educate their students. To hear the passion and energy in their voices when discussing these different practices– it really excited me for the future. It never gets old!
Overall, it is important for our future generations to be properly trained and mentored for these educator positions. Health sciences is a unique field with many arms which allows students to gain a variety of different skills that can be applied to a career in education. Cindy Mathena’s case is a perfect example of a path you can consider while pursuing your education here at USAHS! We are excited for the future, not just for our school but for our students and everyone involved.