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University of Sioux Falls Grad was Ready for Something More

Feb 21, 2016 04:21PM ● By MED Magazine

Luke Merkel had only been out of pharmacy school for three years when he began to realize that life had more in store for him.


“I knew that if I was going to leave my mark and pursue something I was passionate about, it was going to be in the healthcare administration arena rather than in the more traditional clinical side of things,” says Merkel.


But when he looked around his organization, one thing was clear: Leaders had more letters by their names.


“I have never been one who believes that you should need an extra degree to prove you’re 

 qualified for something,” says Merkel who was then the Pharmacy Operation Coordinator at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. “But it shined through pretty clearly at Avera that to go places and to be considered for promotion, you had to come to the table prepared with more than just ‘I’m a good learner’.”


When he decided to pursue his MBA (with encouragement from his superiors), Merkel says he considered online programs, but settled on the University of Sioux Falls Healthcare MBA for a more personal experience that he could still do without leaving town. He started in September of 2013.


“The fact that I was regularly interacting with both the professors and the other members of my cohort, who had a wide variety of backgrounds, was one of the most valuable parts of the program,” says Merkel. “We were all learning from each other all the time. It really helped me grow my network and open up opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.”


Because his cohort was relatively small, Merkel was careful to come to every class well-prepared, ready to share his own experience and knowledge with his fellow students. Like other area healthcare professionals, he says the ‘give and take’ of the USF program gave him not only an understanding of crucial business fundamentals, but also a better understanding of himself, his goals, and his potential.


“The program really helped me to be more open to new opportunities and experiences,” says Merkel. One of those opportunities came his way in the last couple of months, when he was hired as Pharmacy Clinical Specialist for Avera Health Plans.


“At Avera Health Plans, I’ll be able to use what I learned in the MBA program, as well as my clinical pharmacy skills,” says Merkel. “From the business side of things, understanding how a health plan really works is going to serve me well.”


Finally, beyond the business knowledge he’s gained, Merkel says completing the Healthcare MBA program while maintaining his job and other responsibilities gave him a big boost in confidence.


“It really gives you a bigger voice. I am so much more well-versed and well-rounded now.”