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University Health System’s Administrative Professionals Academy: A Case Study in Excellence

Administrative Professionals are “Moving on Up”
Now is a terrific time to be an administrative professional. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Administrative assistants and secretaries rank among the largest occupations in the U.S. economy, about 4.3 million strong.
  • The occupation ranks among those with the most job openings.
  • Opportunities for the group are growing: the profession is evolving “up” as many administrative professionals assume responsibilities once reserved for managerial and professional staff.

Forward-thinking organizations recognize the tremendous contribution and potential of their administrative professional team members. They are making the commitment to provide the ongoing professional development training this dedicated group needs to perform at the highest level.

Introducing University Health System’s Administrative Professionals Academy
University Health System in South Texas is one organization that is leading the way in recognition and development of its administrative staff. It recently launched its Administrative Professionals Academy (APA), a program custom-designed by their Learning Resources Department in conjunction with American Management Association. The program’s goal is “to provide high-potential administrative professional staff the enhanced knowledge and skills to carry out their duties, as well as preparation for new roles and responsibilities.”

To get the program started, directors and vice presidents were asked to identify and recommend 20 administrative assistants of all levels to participate in the 2009–2010 inaugural class. The nominations were based on rigorous criteria, including performance evaluations, proven team participation abilities, leadership ability/potential, and a demonstrated devotion to the mission, vision, and values of University Health System. In addition to a recommendation, candidates were asked to write a personal essay, to commit to attending class one day a month, and to cooperate with their supervisors to arrange job coverage in their absence.

Jacqueline Burandt, University Health System’s Administrative Director, Staff Development, HR Communications and Volunteerism, explained the philosophy behind the Academy: “We see the APA as an investment. We always keep in mind that this is tax payer money and we have to invest it very wisely. The inspiration that drives the Academy is R+R+R=R, which translates to Rigor plus Reward plus Reinforcement equals Results.”

The curriculum was designed to meet University Health System’s specific professional development needs. Says Burandt: “This is not a canned program. AMA really worked with us to tailor it to our specific needs.”

She continues: “To be honest, at first I really didn’t know if it was going to work. I didn’t know if we had enough high-quality applicants; but we actually had twice as many as we needed. We also held a focus group with executives to determine if they would allow the admins to take time away from the job for one day a month. Fortunately, we are part of a teaching facility, so learning is a part of our culture. The answer was definitely, “yes!”

A View from the APA Classroom
Sally F. Goddard, an administrative assistant in University Health System’s Outpatient Renal Dialysis department for the past 13 years, is a proud member of the APA’s first graduating class (May, 2010). Why did she apply to the Academy? Goddard responded, “When I read the Academy’s class listing, I felt like it was written just for me! Every topic was an area that I always work on enhancing. So when I was given the opportunity, I took a chance. I believe there is always room for learning and improving.”

One APA session that Goddard found particularly meaningful was “Mastering Change with Management Skills.” She said, “As the go-to person and administrative professional in my department, I feel like I am the manager at times. In order to achieve growth, you have to be able to handle resistance, delegate projects, and plan and demonstrate good team interactions. The course provided helpful information on how to achieve these things and on how to be tactful while always remaining polished and professional. The courses are so detail-oriented that we can refer back to the materials on a daily basis using our AMA binders.” 

Goddard, who served as the chair of University Health System’s Administrative Professionals’ Council last year, was named Employee of the Year for the Health System in the clerical category. “The Academy maximized my confidence to stay involved in committees and helped me continue to fine tune my professional skills,” said Goddard. “I also feel that it has brought more attention to my position and the importance of it. I am so appreciative to have had the chance to attend the Academy and for its role in inspiring us to motivate others.”

The APA met 10 times, from October 2009 through May 2010—nine seminars plus a graduation and celebration. Classes took place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with breakfast and lunch provided. Some of the topics offered were:
—Management Skills for Administrative Professionals 
—Communicating with Diplomacy, Discretion and Influence 
—Partnering with Your Boss 
—Customer Service Excellence: How to Win

Results
Individual graduates of the APA accomplished the following: 
—One Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) credential 
—One Employee of the Year 
—Two promotions 
—One Silver Level Above and Beyond Recognition for excellent customer care

The commitment of University Health System’s stellar administrative professionals doesn’t end in the classroom. Together, the 21 APA graduates have played significant roles in leading the organization’s larger group, the Administrative Professionals’ Council (APC). Here are just a few of their accomplishments: 
—Raised $800 for Project Bear Hug, to purchase teddy bears for pediatric patients. 
—Hosted a silent auction and raised $2,585 for the new NICU Family Consultation Room. 
—Collected 1,174 pounds of canned goods for the San Antonio Food Bank, along with monetary donations. 
—Hosted an auction and raised $829 for the United Way.

“The seed for the Academy was planted when our admins came to me in 2008 and asked me to sponsor the Administrative Professionals’ Council,” says Jacque Burandt. “I urged them to think big! Now they are the most engaged group in the University Health System. The Administrative Professionals Academy has been successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

Moving Forward
If you want to build a successful and gratifying career, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) advises: “Administrative professionals who want to stay ahead in a changing workplace should actively pursue continuing education.”

If your organization values the commitment and dedication of its administrative professionals, they may be open to creating a program similar to the Administrative Professionals Academy. Get involved. Network with other administrative professionals in your organization and see what you can accomplish.

Meanwhile, Jacque Burandt just received the first application for University Health System’s second APA class. Onward and upward!

For information about how your organization can create a professional development plan for administrative professionals, visit www.amanet.org

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.