Professional Development Feature: Back to school

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As more LTC employees discover the benefits of more education, professional development programs are filling the need. A nursing home CEO, Erwin Cablayan might seem far removed from the days of tests, term papers and academic discussions. But he sounds like a green college freshman when he talks about his courses at Seton Hall University, where he is earning an online master's degree in healthcare administration.

"I wish I had gone through (the program) sooner," says Cablayan, who says he has already applied knowledge from his accounting and business classes to the management of his three nursing homes. Cablayan is CEO of Healthcare Management Systems Inc. of San Diego.
For enthusiastic and open-minded students of long-term care, there has never been a better time to take advantage of professional development.
Today, an executive in Idaho can earn a master's degree from an institution of higher learning out East without leaving his home. Internet programs are blooming throughout the spectrum of education, from continuing education to graduate-level programs.
Besides new technology in the educational realm, on-site training is also expanding as more corporations realize the benefits of "growing your own."
The rewards of professional development are boundless, experts say, ranging from enhanced skills to job promotions to career changes. 

Cyber classrooms
Twenty years ago, taking a course for long-term care meant sitting in a classroom at a desk with pen and paper.
Not so anymore. The Internet and other kinds of technology have replaced the need for "mortar and brick" classrooms.
The Internet has grown as a source for continuing credits in recent years, according to the National Association of Boards of Examiners of Long-Term Care Administrators, the body that approves continuing education classes for administrator licensure renewal  for 46 states.
From 2003 to 2004, the number of approved online classes increased to 178 from 151. Approved videoconference programs nearly doubled (to 60 from 36) in that time and teleconference programs rose to 74 from 62. Meanwhile, the number of seminars, the largest source for credits, fell to 1,290 in 2004 from 1,532 in 2003.
Still, many states will accept only a certain number of online CE hours. Alabama, for example, accepts only six online credit hours out of its minimum of 24 total annual CE hours.
"We didn't want somebody to sit down at a computer and get all their hours without having to mingle with other co-workers," said Katrina Magdon, executive secretary for the Alabama Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators.
Some critics might dismiss the legitimacy of online learning, but there is actually more accountability required with distance learning programs than live seminars, says Randy Lindner, executive director of NAB.
While live seminars have monitoring criteria, "there's no way to measure if their minds are in Hawaii," he said. However, NAB accepts for credit only those Internet programs with pre- and post-examinations.
Dr. Phil DiSalvio, director of SetonWorldWide, the online campus of Seton Hall and founding director of Seton Hall's 39-credit master of healthcare administration program, initially was skeptical of online learning.
But DiSalvio, who started the MHA program on campus in 1996 and online in 1998, soon found that a solid online program "can not only equal the rigor of graduate professional education but can also exceed it."
The 23-month online program includes readings, weekly assignments, group work and a "threaded discussion," where a faculty member posts a question at the beginning of the week and students discuss it throughout the week. It costs a total of $29,500 for each student.
Students are largely mid-career healthcare managers interested in moving up in their organization or gaining practical knowledge. They take courses in finance, economics, legal issues and strategic planning. They also are required to come to campus three times during the course of the program.

Interactive learning
The interactive element makes the program engaging and intellectually stimulating, DiSalvio said. Such programs also allow people from throughout the United States and from various healthcare backgrounds to collaborate.
"I think one of the signposts of a quality online course is there is a lot of interaction between students and faculty," he said.
Many students are attracte