Paying it forward at Penn Medicine [student case study]


Posted In: Case Studies, Students

Dec • 15 • 2015

After high school, Shannon Ruane didn’t see higher education in her future; but there came a point in her life when she realized that punching a clock every day provided no personal enrichment and she needed a better path. “Once my daughter started school, it kind of hit home for me. I didn’t want her to struggle in life like I felt I had, so I decided that I owed it to the both of us to do something more with my life,” she said.

Like many other working adults, Shannon started pursuing her degree at her local community college. While she was a great student and earned a 3.5 grade point average, life eventually got in the way of her education. She was a newly wed and her husband had been injured at work. Shannon needed to choose between school and her family, and like most people do, she chose her family. A semester off turned into three, and then a couple of years. She finally started back up and earned a certificate in nonclinical healthcare.

With her certificate, Shannon starting working as a medical assistant for University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine). “I found it wonderfully gratifying in the beginning. There was a huge sense of achievement and reward, and I enjoyed patient interaction. I still do,” she said. While she enjoys her job and found it to be rewarding, she did not feel as though she was making enough of a difference. She wanted to drive change and improve patient outcomes but did not feel as though she could do that by answering the phone.

While working at Penn Medicine, Shannon’s office manager told her about the hospital system’s internal professional development academy. While researching the academy’s education options, she came across College for America at Southern New Hampshire University—a nonprofit, fully accredited college built specifically to help working adults succeed. Shannon was interested in the program’s flexibility and low cost. “It’s something that would work with my schedule, so I could still work and not have to take out another student loan; because I’m still paying loans,” she said. At only $2,500 per year, Penn Medicine’s generous tuition assistance program more than covered the entire cost of the tuition.

Shannon started College for America’s Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management program in March of 2015. She quickly found that the college’s community of students, although they were online and not in a classroom, to be a motivating. “It’s really comforting to have the support of people that are going through the exact same thing you are,” she said of the online learning community.

For Shannon, every project in the BA has real-world relevance she can apply to her career and even personal life. In reference to the Provide Healthcare Legally and Ethically goal, Shannon explained, “Ethics is essential to understanding and relating, so being able to apply the concepts in this goal in my everyday interactions with patients and co-workers has made problem solving and empathizing much easier and more effective,” she said. After working on the Navigate the U.S. Healthcare System goal, she was more equipped to explain patient’s health insurance policies to them. “I find it curious that most patients are more knowledgeable about their car insurance than their health insurance,” she said.

Through the real-world projects, Shannon has also learned how to apply critical thinking skills to improve her work. She now takes the time sit back and think about her answers to questions before answering. She has used these skills to become a well-rounded person, both personally and professionally.

With her newly developed and deepened competencies, Shannon now feels as though she can deliver the change she has always wanted to: “College for America has given me the ability to believe in myself and know that I can do it. I can bring positive, forward change for myself. And when we can do that, when that’s something that we’re able to do, we can pay it forward to others,” she concluded.