Purdue MHA graduate plans to make a difference in veteran health care

Written By: Rachel Barton

A man and a woman stand in graduation gowns, smiling.

Suesan Coleman (right) with Cody Mullen, director of Purdue’s Master of Health Administration program(Photo provided)

From the moment online Purdue Master of Health Administration graduate Suesan Coleman was born, military life was baked into her DNA. Her dad served in the U.S. Army for 24 years. When Coleman was a child, her family moved around constantly in support of her dad’s career. During her military childhood, Coleman developed a deep appreciation for the sacrifices service members make for their country, and the sacrifices their families make for them.

“In the military, it’s not just the service member who’s making sacrifices,” Coleman said. “The service member’s family also has to make sacrifices — like being separated from their extended families and having to put their careers on hold.”

As a veteran herself, Coleman understands the challenges of military life from multiple perspectives. Coleman started her military career by joining the University of Washington’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). After graduating in 2001 with a degree in communication, she was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force as a logistics officer.

Coleman left the Air Force in 2007 after six years of service to focus on raising her children, but her husband — also an Air Force member — stayed in the service. Her family moved around a lot, and Coleman worked jobs as a medical transcriptionist, a licensed health and life insurance office professional, and then as a teacher for a Christian school. However, the military life made it hard for Coleman to focus fully on her career.

“For military families, it can be difficult for the spouse who’s staying home with the kids to be able to plant their feet and establish themselves at an organization while their partner is deployed,” Coleman said.

A couple of years ago, Coleman started thinking seriously about going back to school and talked with her husband, who was set to retire in August 2023, about long-term career goals. She was particularly interested in going into a field where she could make an impact on veterans’ lives, and health care immediately came to mind.

“I care deeply for the veteran community,” Coleman said. “And health care is one of those areas where there’s a lot of room for growth and change.”

Intent on starting a Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, Coleman began searching for online MHA options that would fit with her busy schedule as a mom and teacher. She searched online for “best online MHA program” and Purdue’s top-ranked program was the first to pop up. Upon reading more about the program, Coleman decided Purdue’s MHA was the perfect place to start her new career in health care.

“At Purdue, I was able to focus on what I was interested in, which was veterans’ health care,” Coleman said. “Veterans are a particularly vulnerable population, so there’s lots of interesting challenges when it comes to figuring out health care solutions for them. We have to be innovative, forward-thinkers if we want to make an impact.”

While pursuing her master’s degree, Coleman also developed close relationships with the other members of her cohort. They started a group chat called “Boilermaker Queens” where they texted about their lives and studies. Though they were all studying online, they interacted a lot inside and outside of class, which Suesan says helped her feel connected to the program on a personal level.

“Everyone in the cohort studied something different — I was interested in veterans, my friend Lisa Sheeley was interested in aging, my friend Karrah Teruya was interested in patient experience,” Coleman said. “We were able to share our interests with each other, and honestly, I learned so much from the other girls.”

Even now, several months after graduation, everyone in Coleman’s cohort keeps in touch. Coleman said these relationships are an important source of support during a transitory moment in her life, as she decides on next steps. In the future, she hopes to find a job in the Veteran Health Administration near her home in the Black Hills of South Dakota so she can apply what she’s learned.

“I’m anxious to get involved in making a difference in the lives of the veterans here in the Black Hills and across the country,” Coleman said.

For more information about Purdue’s online MHA, including how to apply, please visit the program’s webpage.

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