Master of Healthcare Student Profiles

Elizabeth BarfieldFor Elizabeth Barfield, her role as a health equity educator at New Hanover Regional Medical Center brings her joy because she is able to educate, empower and equip her fellow healthcare workers in a way that also has a positive impact on the Wilmington community.

“I have been exposed to the human condition in a whole new way,” she said. “Helping people process through their own lives and biases holds me accountable to addressing and mitigating my own. I get the opportunity to hear thousands of stories, and it is always so humbling to have people share their perspective with me.”

The primary goals of the Health Equity Department are to reduce health disparities between various demographics of patients, increase minority retention and recruitment, and increase the cultural awareness of the team members. As a bonus, the team participates in unique events like speaking with college students, collaborating with local leaders, and moments of cultural significance.

A native of Wilmington, N.C., Barfield received her degree in African American studies and a minor in medical anthropology from UNC Chapel Hill. She had wanted to pursue an MHA degree since she graduated from college in 2013, but the timing was never right. When she heard that UNCW was offering an online accelerated MHA program, she leapt at the opportunity due to its flexibility and affordability.

“It was truly the best option for me,” she said.

Barfield is passionate about people and believes every person has a story and a perspective to share if we take the time to listen. She lives by the belief that a person must know their own specific ‘why’ in life to make the most significant impact in their lives and the lives of those around them.

“Being able to advocate for those in need is such fulfilling work,” Barfield said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s tedious and slow moving at times, but creating a space where everyone feels welcome to receive care is worth it.”

An initiative she is working on this year is related to collecting demographic data related to racial, ethnic, and linguistic (REaL) information, sexual orientation, and gender identity (SOGI). These types of data are vitally important to provide accurate, appropriate, and equitable care to patients. Data can be used for many purposes but is especially important for identifying and eliminating disparities. By ensuring the data is correct, the team is positioned to better serve various patient populations.

Elizabeth Barfield is the recipient of the Fall 2021 MHA Outstanding Student Award.

Mike BiddleAfter graduating from Penn State University with a degree in Broadcast/Cable, Mike Biddle moved home to Washington, DC and started a career in television, where he worked primarily as a camera operator for 15 years. In 2013, he moved to Wilmington with his family and challenged himself with a new career as a firefighter/EMT. Five years later, he enrolled at UNCW to be in the inaugural MHA cohort.

Originally, Biddle wanted to go to physician assistant school. He spent a year and a half taking all the prerequisites to apply and then heard about UNCW’s MHA program. "I figured getting an MHA degree would improve my chances of getting into PA school so I enrolled. But once I started taking classes in the program I realized healthcare administration was a better fit for me. Now, I am solely focused on a career in healthcare administration because I feel like I have the potential to help more people than I would as a firefighter/EMT or physician assistant," he says.

Biddle says of his experiences in the program, "When I read the pamphlet about the program it sounded like a place where I could be successful. Dr. Richardson’s reputation was impressive so I was confident that the program would be well run. The fact that it was a new program, completely online, and relatively inexpensive were all positives for me."

Mike Biddle is the recipient of the Spring 2021 MHA Outstanding Student Award.

Kelli CarterKelly Carter graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor's degree in Health Promotion with a concentration in clinical science. She planned to pursue the clinical side of healthcare until she found a passion for discovering what goes on behind the scenes of healthcare. After college, Carter held an office manager position at a physical therapy clinic where she learned much of what goes on behind the scenes in healthcare and grew to love it so much that she wanted to know more. When searching for master’s programs, UNCW was at the top of her list. Carter was impressed with the curriculum and didn't think twice about applying. 

Carter's interests in healthcare stemmed from having not one but two spinal fusions due to scoliosis. "The first fusion was unsuccessful causing me to have a second one," she says. "Most people would have been mad or upset at these circumstances. I was inspired to know and learn more." Carter says the UNCW community is special to her because the staff is full of accomplished leaders. "I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from professors that have incredible resumes." 

Carter was recently selected to complete an Administrative Internship with UNC Health, where she will provide support to the interdisciplinary feeding team comprised of speech pathology, GI nurse practitioners and registered dieticians, serving a pediatric patient population with complex medical conditions. 

Heather DarnoldOriginally from Ohio, Heather Darnold moved to North Carolina in 1994. She received her massage therapy certification in 1998 from Forsyth Technical Community College and has owned and operated a private massage therapy practice in Greensboro for 24 years. She earned her ADN from Guilford Technical Community College in 2011 and went to work for High Point Regional Health System as an oncology nurse. Darnold returned to school and obtained her BSN from UNCW in 2018. She returned to UNCW to pursue an MHA degree in 2021. She is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and an inductee to the MHA Upsilon Phi Delta Honor Society.  

After starting work at an assisted living community, Darnold realized she wanted a challenging career in the long-term care setting so that she could have a positive impact in promoting the health and wellness of seniors in her community. She aims to obtain her assisted living administrator's license. Her massage therapy practice was closed for several months in early 2020 due to Covid-19. She returned to the nursing workforce and accepted a position working for an assisted living community. "I was deeply troubled by what I observed - resident’s receiving substandard care and extremely poor management," she says. "That was the catalyst for me to return to school and obtain my master’s in healthcare administration. I knew a position of leadership was needed to promote and facilitate constructive change within the long-term care industry."  

As an alumnus of UNCW’s nursing program, Darnold was excited to learn the university was offering an MHA program which was affordable, completely online and had the ability to be completed in less than 18 months. She was also impressed by UNCW’s pursual of CAHME accreditation for the program.

Heather Darnold is the recipient of the Spring 2022 MHA Outstanding Student Award.

Iqra Hanif Iqra Hanif's dream job is to be a chief financial officer of a hospital.

Through years of volunteering in various hospitals, clinics, and dental offices, her eyes were opened to the administrative side of healthcare. After working alongside the manager of the dental practice for one year, she realized she wanted to run a clinical facility herself, which led her to pursue a career in healthcare administration.

Originally from Trinity, N.C., Hanif pursued her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and her master’s degree a year later. Currently, she lives in Raleigh, N.C.

“The most exciting part of my job as a clinical organizer is being able to interact and help patients,” Hanif says. “Some other aspects exciting about my job are being able to create easy access to quality care for patients and taking part in patients plan of care to reduce any barriers.”

She was attracted to UNCW’s Master of Healthcare Administration program because it was affordable, and she could earn her degree in a short period of time. After starting classes, she recognized that the quality of education was top-notch. She describes her UNCW experience as positive, diverse, and inclusive.

Her goal for this year is to find a job as a clinical manager.

Iqra Hanif is the recipient of the Summer 2021 MHA Outstanding Student Award.

Margaret Ann HouseMargaret Ann House completed her ADN at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville N.C. in 1988. "I completed the program at the age of 20, because I wasn't sure that I would like or feel comfortable taking care of people," she says. "But I very quickly fell in love with caring for people."

House went on to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing from UNC Wilmington in 1992 and a master's degree in nursing from East Carolina University in 1995. She then completed a Post-Master's Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate from Texas Tech in 1999 and her Doctorate of Nursing Practice with a concentration in Quality from The George Washington University in 2014, where she received the Student Researcher Award. In December 2021, House will complete the MHA program at UNC Wilmington. 

House's honors include a designation of one of the Great 100 Nurses for NC (Oct. 2021) and the Excellence in Caring Award from the UNC REX Medical Staff (Nov. 2021). She is also a member of the nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau. She says, "My patients inspire me, on a daily basis, by allowing me to learn about new and creative ways to improve the health of patients, improve access to care, and improve teamwork and care coordination."  

As an alumna of UNC Wilmington's nursing program, House was attracted to the MHA program due to the university's outstanding reputation, culture, and faculty. She finds her experiences to be student-centric, collaborative, and supportive.  

House says of the future, "I will continue continue to work with our Advanced Practice providers to advance our profession and practice within the organization and healthcare system. I look forward to advancing my career this year as well."

Edwin McCrayMany people who work with Edwin McCray would be surprised to learn that he started off his academic career on the wrong foot — including failing out of college. After getting back on track, McCray graduated from UNC Wilmington with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. He is now in medical school at Campbell University (due to graduate spring 2022) and enrolled in UNCW's healthcare administration program. 

McCray is aware of the disconnect between administration and practitioners, which often causes extra stress on both parties. "I hope to help bridge the gap between both in order to assist in improving patient outcomes, lowering the cost of healthcare, and building a positive and constructive relationship," he says. "I am excited to near the end of the medical school road and heading into practice as an orthopedic surgery resident. Residency will give me the opportunity to apply both my medical knowledge along with my administrative knowledge to aid in patient care." 

McCray was attracted to UNCW's MHA program because it can be completed in about one year. "This fit well with my medical school timing," he says. "Additionally, I am a proud alumnus and felt very comfortable with receiving another degree from UNCW. And, the increasing reputation and success of the school further led me to pursue additional education in the form of an advanced degree from UNCW."

McCray hopes to spend more time giving back to his home community of Greensboro, N.C., with a focus on underserved and underrepresented individuals. "As my career progresses and I develop more and more of a platform, I would like to continually evaluate ways to advocate for those whose voices aren’t heard," he says.

McCray's academic honors include receiving the Student Doctor of the Year award at Campbell University and a national cancer research award, 2021 Conquer Cancer - Medical Student Rotation for Underrepresented Populations Award.

In addition to completing his last year of medical school and obtaining his master's degree in healthcare administration, McCray is also the president and co-founder of a Growth Hacker Media, a digital marketing agency that provides full scale marketing solutions for businesses within the dental and chiropractic industries. 

Michael MaloneWhen Michael Malone was a kid, he had a fascination with fire trucks. His curiosity led his parents to take him to visit local fire stations, where he learned that firefighters responded to all types of emergencies and not just fires. This made the profession all the more interesting to him.

“I have always enjoyed being able to help other people, especially in their times of greatest need,” Malone said. “Since every single emergency response is different, the variety of training, preparation, and actual work is always changing as well.”

Originally from Coral Gables, Florida, Malone joined the military after high school and served as a Aircraft Rescue Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician in the Marine Corps. Twenty years later, he is now a full-time Lieutenant-Paramedic/Firefighter for the Department of Defense and a continues to serve as a Flight Medic for the Air Force Reserves.

“I get excited about being a part of a team that is called upon during chaotic emergency situations to mitigate the situation and ensure the people involved are taken care of appropriately,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you know you have made a difference in the lives of the people.

Malone earned associate degrees in fire protection technology, emergency medical sciences, and allied health. He holds a Bachelors in Business Administration with a concentration in management and is now working towards obtaining a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA).   

He was attracted to UNCW’s MHA because it fit within his budget, is pursuing CAHME accreditation, and classes are online.

“This program, while entirely online, still affords the opportunity to network with student peers from all around the globe who are already working in various aspects of their professional development, as well,” Malone said.

This year, one of his primary goals is to pursue a gradual transition from working as a front-line first responder to more of a managerial role in the Department of Defense. 

“I feel this will better allow me to continue to make a difference in perhaps a more meaningful way on a larger scale,” he said.

Gregory RobinsonGregory Robinson comes from a military family that believes serving our country is a right of passage. He joined the military after two years of college and served as a Power Generation Technician before commissioning as a Signal Officer. Interestingly, when Robinson's father served in the military, he served under the 41st President George H. W. Bush, whom Robinson met in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Ten years later when Robinson himself joined the military, he served under Bush's son, the 43rd President George W. Bush, who Robinson has also met.

After serving more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, Robinson is retiring and furthering the second half of his career in the medical field. "I enjoy serving in the military and that comes together to be able to allow our commanders and our war fighters to communicate on the battlefield," he says. "It gives me great joy to train and lead our nation's sons and daughters and to see them be able to take the reins after my 20 years of service and continue to execute and complete our nation's mission."

Robinson earned an associate's degree from Central Texas College and a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management with a concentration in Marketing and Military History. He is now obtaining a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration at UNC Wilmington. Robinson was attracted to UNCW’s MHA program because it best suited his military lifestyle. "With the rapid deployments and unexpected missions, the seven-week online classes were ideal," he sats. "The MHA degree and the CAHME accreditation is allowing me to start a new chapter after my military retirement. I am interested in having the opportunity to explore the different aspects of healthcare." One of Robinson's goals is to successfully transition from the military perspective to a civilian perspective. He admits this will be a major adjustment because for over 20 years people move on his command with no questions asked.

Robinson is from Whiteville, North Carolina. He and his high school sweetheart married and share four children. They enjoy traveling because it allows them to strengthen their family bond and one of their favorite places to visit is Canada. "In the military you cherish those moments because you do not know when or where your next mission or deployment," he says.

Robinson says multitasking and time management in the MHA program have been challenging. "This program really tests your time management skills. In order to keep up with your daily life and course work, time management is key." 

Nina ZiembaNina Ziemba grew up in Connecticut and gradually moved her way down south by way of Washington, D.C. for graduate school. She graduated from Gallaudet University with a master's degree in speech-language pathology and a specialization in Deaf Studies. She was introduced to neurogenic communication, cognitive, and swallowing disorders throughout her clinical internships and fellowship, which led her to pursue employment across the clinical continuum of care including intensive, acute, ambulatory, and long-term care settings.

Ziemba understood that speech-language pathology services cannot be successful in a vacuum, and became interested in the factors impacting outcomes such as care silos, reimbursement policies, health literacy, and overall determinants of health. "Despite my clinical and utilization management experience, I felt drawn to learn more about the business of healthcare," she says. "I specifically chose to pursue an MHA because I am interested in all aspects of healthcare and passionate about improving access to care and reducing administrative burden for our providers." 

Ziemba transitioned from a prior authorization reviewer role within a large health insurance organization to a manager position focused on clinical value strategy and affordability. "I am fortunate to have gained knowledge specific to Medicaid and Medicare, and am excited by the opportunity to work cross-functionally to meet the needs of our members and providers," she says. "I am grateful that my leaders empower me to explore new learning opportunities and move beyond the status quo to improve access to affordable, quality care."
When considering the MHA program at UNC Wilmington, Ziemba was drawn to the reputation of the UNC name, as well as the close connection between UNCW and the local community. "I sought out programs with diverse curriculums beyond traditional finance courses to include policy, informatics, and marketing," she says. "I also determined it was important for me to be able to continue my current role within my organization and avoid college loans. I was drawn to the asynchronous, online format of the UNCW MHA, as well as the affordable in-state tuition."
Ziemba is researching topics for her final capstone project and hopes to integrate her healthcare policy interests with clinical informatics to add value to her organization and community, working toward simplifying and modernizing the utilization management process. She also serves on an advisory council for the creation of a Deaf mentorship program in N.C. and am looks forward to improving communication access, as well as advancing advocacy for Deaf cultural and linguistic diversity.