Executive Master’s Alumni Profiles

Executive Master’s Alumni Profiles
Alumni profiles are listed alphabetically by last name.


Deborah Aiton

Executive MPH Class of 1992
Recently retired

Career Highlights

  • Executive Director, CarePartners Hospice & Palliative Care (1998-2009)
  • Clinical Director, CarePartners Hospice (1995-1998)
  • Perinatal Outreach Educator, Mission Hospital (1992-1994)
What has attending school at the Gillings School of Global Public Health helped you achieve?
The Health Policy and Administration program I completed provided me with the basic management skills I needed to become a leader of a health care organization. I was able to build on these basic skills and to become an effective & successful leader.

Why did you chose UNC?

It offered the program I wanted in an accessible format while I continued my career. In addition, having classmates that were working professionals made the program even more interesting and meaningful.

Describe how you balanced school, work, and family commitments during the program.
Always a challenge, but I was fortunate to have an employer who provided flexibility in my work assignment and a family who was supportive of my return to school. Finally, it is imperative to realize that "something’s gotta give" and that it is important to prioritize activities, both professional and personal.

Could you have gotten where you are today without your UNC degree? If no, please explain.

No. The MPH degree opened doors into health management that would not have been open without a graduate degree. The MPH focus was more appealing to me than a MBA and provided the skills I needed to succeed.

Discuss what you would consider to be your greatest achievement in your professional career and why.

During my 14 years as an employee of a hospice, 11 of which were in the top leadership position, we were able to grow the program over 300% by expanding access criteria and developing a palliative care program to meet the needs of people with life-threatening illness who were not yet "ready for hospice" treatment. At the same time, we enhanced staff development in order to provide high quality services and achieved (voluntary) outside accreditation.
What are your words of wisdom to current students in Health Policy & Management programs?
Take advantage of the learning opportunities presented by faculty as well as your peers. Always have an open mind about new ways to solve old problems. Recognize the importance of learning as opposed to making a grade and most of all, have fun while studying hard!

George Bussey
Executive MHA Class of 2005
CMO of HealthONE and the Continental Division

Career Highlights

  • CMO, HealthONE and the Continental Division, HCA, Inc.
  • CMO, FirstHealth of the Carolinas

Describe your current position.

CMO of HealthONE and the Continental Division involves working with the medical staffs of our seven hospitals in the Denver market, plus our facilities in Oklahoma City, OK (Oklahoma University Medical Center) and Wichita, KS, (Wesley Medical Center) as we strive to improve clinical outcomes and reduce unnecessary clinical variation.
I work in close coordination with our divisional vice-president of quality and all the facility CEOs, as well as the medical staff leadership in all of our hospitals. In addition, I assist in the management of our various contracted physician groups such as hospitalists, emergency medicine physicians and anesthesiologists.

How has the UNC network affected your career and what it has helped you achieve?
The breadth of the MHA coursework has provided me with exposure to a broad range of skills and knowledge areas, and this has contributed to enhancing credibility across a number of disciplines within our healthcare system. Not only did it provide me with the "business credentials" I needed, it did so with a well known and respected "brand" in NC and the nation.
Describe your overall experience at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, with specific examples.
I had a great time at Gillings. As an executive student, it was a nice mix of remote learning and on-site activities. I especially appreciated the time working with other active health care professionals that were joining me in the MHA program.

What are your words of wisdom to current students in Health Policy & Management programs?
For the residential students – work hard to get an excellent residency or fellowship year in before looking for your first "real job." Once you are in an operational position, your world will become much more focused on the day to day needs of your area of responsibility. Also, get time with clinical leaders (e.g., nurses), as your future is likely to be composed of dyadic leadership positions with clinicians. For the executive students – if you really want to get into health care administration, look for opportunities in your current organization that are outside of your current area of expertise. This will broaden your future potential opportunities and keep you from being stuck inside the silo of your clinical area of expertise. And the corollary to the advice above – pair up with non-clinical leaders and learn how to work effectively with them, as they will likely be your partners going forward.


Sharon Nicholson Harrell
Executive MPH Class of 1990
Dental Director, FirstHealth Dental Care Centers
Career Highlights
  • Dental Director, Cumberland County Health Department
  • Adjunct Professor, University of North Carolina School of Dentistry
  • Adjunct Instructor, Montgomery Community College Dental Assisting Program
  • Alumni Leadership Award, Health Policy and Management, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, April 2010
  • Dentist Member, Moore County Board of Health, 2007 – 2010
  • Tarheel Footprint in Health Care Recognition, North Carolina Medical Journal
  • American Dental Association Outstanding Leadership in Mentoring Award Recipient, Golden Apple Awards Program
  • Publication of article in the Journal of the American Dental Association entitled "Tips for the General Dentist in Managing Slightly Uncooperative Pediatric Patients."

Why did you choose UNC?

I chose UNC because of its ranking among top dental schools. It offered the flexibility to take electives in the School of Public Health while being enrolled at the School of Dentistry.

What has UNC meant to your career?

Being recognized as a "UNC" graduate is much more prestigious than I realized. People all over the nation are aware of the excellent reputation of UNC.

Could you have gotten where you are today without your UNC degree? If no, please explain.

NO. The Masters in Public Health gives you a depth and breadth of knowledge that the typical dental school graduate does not have. It helps you to focus on the whole patient–demographic, cultural, social, etc. aspects of your patient population.
Discuss what you would consider to be your greatest achievement in your professional career and why.
Being chosen as the 2007 Commencement Speaker for the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry due to my life’s work in securing access to dental care for underserved children.
What are your words of wisdom to current students in Health Policy & Management programs?
The sky is the limit on what you can achieve in the area of Health Policy and Management. Due to the complex world we live in, there is a need for the skill set developed at the graduate school in being able to identify, assess, implement, and evaluate a myriad of public health issues confronting the nation.

Julio Huerta
Executive MPH, Class of 1994 District Manager, ARAMARK Healthcare

Career Highlights:

  • Director of Medical Engineering at UNC Health Care

Describe your current position.
I have two jobs folded into one (and the stress that goes with it to prove it). 1. As district manager for ARAMARK Healthcare, I have P&L responsibilities for a group of accounts (UNC Health Care is one of them) 2. As director of medical engineering for UNC Health Care, I am responsible for the department that maintains the medical equipment inventory.
What has attending school at the Gillings School of Global Public Health helped you achieve?
Attending the School has helped me shape our technical department into a partner that works side by side with our clinical colleagues to deliver the best patient care possible.
How has UNC impacted your leadership skills?
Working on my MPH helped me to see "the big picture" in healthcare and improved my communications with healthcare providers at all levels.
How has the UNC network affected your career?
Before I went to UNC I was just another engineer working in healthcare. After graduating, I found that my clinical colleagues were familiar with the quality of the UNC program and felt much more comfortable discussing their technical challenges with me.
Why did you choose UNC?
I was working at UNC Hospitals and the executive program gave me the opportunity of going to school and working full-time at the same time. Today, that is not unusual with on-line programs but it wasn’t common in 1990 when I started.
What has UNC meant to your career?
Having invested the personal time and effort to get my MPH from UNC tells the world that I am genuinely interested in improving healthcare for everyone.
Describe how you balanced school, work, and family commitments during the program.
Balancing school, work and family was tough. I was working full-time, going to school, and had two of my three children during that time. Giving up wasn’t one of my choices so I learned to balance (precariously) conflicting priorities.
Discuss the culture at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The culture of the School is very supportive. I don’t know if people felt sorry for me or helping other people came naturally to them; but I always found kind people willing to go the extra mile supporting me.
Could you have gotten where you are today without your UNC degree? If no, please explain.
No. Today I am an engineer who can communicate effectively with healthcare providers (and to their amazement I can do it in writing). I owe that to the unrelenting pace of reading and writing required by the MPH degree.

Janice Olson
EMHA, Class of 1997
Medical Director, Legacy Health

Career Highlights

  • Medical Director, Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program (2001-present)
  • Principal Investigator at Legacy Emanuel, Children’s Oncology Group (2001-present)
  • Assistant Medical Director, Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program (1999-2001)

Describe your current position.

As medical director, I am responsible for setting the vision and exemplifying leadership qualities for a team of four MDs, two NPs, multiple nurses, social workers, administrative assistants, research associates and pharmacists who care for nearly half the children in Oregon diagnosed with cancer or other life-threatening blood disorders. I am also leading the physician adoption of the oncology module of a system-wide EMR.


How has the UNC network affected your career?


The UNC network has given me a level of credibility when meeting administrators which then allowed me to establish longer, sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships with key executive members of this organization.

Why did you choose UNC?

I choose UNC because of its proximity to my work and the national reputation of the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

What has UNC meant to your career?

UNC has opened up a new world of understanding of what goes into the sustenance of medical careers.

Describe how you balanced school, work, and family commitments during the program.

It was tough – I worked as a full-time clinician – early morning rounds, after class return to the hospital – in weeks when I could not use vacation time. I got up at 5 AM every morning to work on written assignments and read in the evenings. Fortunately, my daughter was in a great school with after school care and I could afford the tuition since both my husband and I brought in salaries. And I prayed to not deliver my second child before finals that last semester. I missed graduation though…


Lina Patel
BSPH Class of 1996 and Executive MHA Class of 2003
Administrative Director, Hematology, Oncology, Transplant, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago
Career Highlights
  • Cancer Quality Info and Research Analyst, American College of Surgeons, Commission on Cancer
  • IL Division Director, Cancer Information, American Cancer Society
  • Field Representative, American Cancer Society
How has the UNC network affected your career?

Anytime anyone sees UNC on my resume, they are impressed. The degree has opened doors up for idle communication and for professional opportunities as well.

Describe your overall experience at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Provide examples.

The colleagues I have met are still my friends today, and I can call them out of the blue for career and professional advice. They understand my world and "get it" – that means so much when you are at a crossroads and need someone to lend an ear.


Could you have gotten where you are today without your UNC degree? If no, please explain.

No – UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has opened up a world of opportunities for me. My degrees and experience are so valuable to me and much of the reason for professional and personal fulfillment.

Discuss your relationship with the faculty and/or staff during the program or after.
I knew the faculty and staff was knowledgeable and had such a wealth of experience. One of my favorite instructors, Robert Crawford, is still a dear friend and resource to me. As such, he will always be a mentor, yet, I know he truly respects me for what I was able to bring to the table and considers me his peer. The quality of the faculty is paramount and they truly want their students to succeed.
What are your words of wisdom to current students in Health Policy & Management programs?
Know what kind of learner you are. In those classes that you struggle with the most, stick with a learning style that works for you and don’t procrastinate. Stick with it, it pays off! Use your peers, have fun and get as much out of every class as you can because even the courses that are more challenging for you will surface in your career and you will be glad you had the experience.




David Rust
Executive MPH Class of 1997
Health Director of Burke County Health Department
Career Highlights:
  • Director of Burke County Health Department
  • Supervisor of Environmental Health, Burke County Health Department

Describe your current position.

I am the COE of the Burke County Health Department, which has 65 employees, and an annual budget of $1,418,000. My duties include researching alternatives and developing recommendations in the form of regulations, ordinances and policies for the Board of Health and County Commissioners for the protection/enhancement of public health. Planning, developing, implementing and evaluating health department programs. I insure that the department is in compliance with or is properly implementing local, state and federal laws, rules, regulations and ordinances. The programs I administer include family planning services, prenatal/maternity services, child health services, WIC/nutrition services, public health laboratory, communicable disease control, health promotion, health education /wellness, environmental health services, vital statistics, immunizations, school health nursing services, dental health services and homeland security.

What has attending school at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health helped you achieve?

Attending graduate school at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health helped me develop the skills necessary to function in a very demanding and important position. In my 11 years as director of the Burke County Health Department, I have overseen the development of 2 dental clinics, 1 full-time primary care clinic and a new homeland security program. I was able to utilize knowledge and skills learned at UNC in making these programs successful in our community.

Why did you choose UNC?

First, being a resident of North Carolina, and having one of the top Public Health Schools in the nation in my home state made the decision easy. Then, having the Executive Master’s Program actually meet in my part of the state was a real benefit.

What has UNC meant to your career?

I have truly enjoyed my work as director of the Burke County Health Department. I would not have been able to get this position without the MPH degree from UNC. I would not have been successful without the training and knowledge I received at UNC. The continuing relationships with the faculty and the other MPH students have also provided an ongoing support network.

Discuss what you would consider to be your greatest achievement in your professional career and why.

The development of additional primary care services and dental services for the uninsured people in Burke County is my greatest professional achievement. I was awarded the City of Morganton Man of the Year award in 2006 for doing this, and I received the Dr. Hamilton Stevens Award from the North Carolina Local Health Director’s Association in 2009 in recognition of these efforts.



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Last updated March 27, 2013