Hokeness, Trunzo
Kirsten Hokeness, Ph.D., and Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D., in Bryant's Unistructure Rotunda.
One year in, leaders of new School of Health and Behavioral Sciences look to the future
May 01, 2023, by Casey Nilsson

Launched last summer, Bryant University’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences was developed to meet modern healthcare challenges with both innovation and empathy. Well-established academic offerings, including the graduate-level Physician Assistant Studies program and the undergraduate Psychology and Biology majors, have been bolstered by new fields of study in Health Sciences, Healthcare AnalyticsExercise and Movement Science, and a master's program in Healthcare Informatics.

“The mission of our school is to provide a pipeline of talent for the healthcare industry, which is in desperate need of employees that are trained in health and behavioral sciences,” says Director Kirsten Hokeness, Ph.D., who served as chair of the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences until assuming the position of Director. “This integration, coupled with an emphasis on data analytics and business, prepares students to step off campus and into a technology-driven field that’s ripe with career opportunities.”

 As the school completes its inaugural academic year, Hokeness and Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D., Associate Director of the School of Health and Behavioral Sciences and chair of the Department of Psychology, share insights from their first semester and plans for growth in 2023 and beyond.

What differentiates Bryant’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences from other health sciences schools?

Kirsten Hokeness, Ph.D.: Many health sciences programs are still siloed, emphasizing content knowledge in a particular discipline. We are dedicated to ensuring that our students have a well-rounded and holistic understanding of health and healthcare by fusing the sciences, behavioral health and business with an opportunity to add health analytics. This way, students can explore many areas of healthcare to find where their passions lie.  

Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D.: The healthcare industry is one sixth of the U.S. economy, so understanding the financial models of healthcare is critical. We’re striving for a very integrated and interdisciplinary educational approach to solve the complex problems facing our healthcare system. No single discipline has all of the answers; we need to work together on the science, human behavior, analytics, and business aspects to create innovative solutions to complex problems. 

What’s one of your short-term strategic goals for the school?

Hokeness: We hope to increase our footprint in health and behavioral sciences. Given the dire need for clinicians in the state and nationwide, one of our goals is to increase the physician assistant (PA) graduate program in size. This year, we had 1,200 applications for 47 spots. We have all the plans to do so, but there’s a lot of demand and not much supply regarding clinical sites due to competition locally and burnout of clinicians. So we have to get creative in how we find the spaces for our students to train. We're also working to create partnerships with local healthcare systems and are looking to find ways to incentivize students to practice in Rhode Island after graduation.  

Anything in the works for the longer-term?

Trunzo: We’re thinking a lot about unmet behavioral health needs in Rhode Island, and across the country in general. Ideally, I would love to do more for underserved populations in Rhode Island so students can get good training and people who don't have access to behavioral health services can access professionally supervised care. At the same time we, as a school, can start developing highly qualified behavioral health professionals.

Hokeness: We're also looking at public health and clinical trials research, which would leverage the strength of our biology and health sciences majors. There are a lot of scientists who don't understand business or business folks who don't understand science. So we see a really nice fusion there, in terms of graduate program development or certificate programs.

 Can you speak to SHBS’s forthcoming certificate program?

Hokeness: We developed the Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner (PA/NP) Leadership in Healthcare certificate because, as the number of physicians plummets, the need for PAs and NPs is skyrocketing. They're going to end up in leadership roles managing or working on clinical teams, so that certificate program is designed to give PAs and NPs the skillset to lead effectively, and provide professional development opportunities for this particular group of clinicians. We're linking it to continuing medical education so they could complete it for credit, as well.

Which programs are current students most excited about?

Hokeness: In terms of new programs, there’s a lot of excitement for Exercise and Movement Science, which will serve in large part as a pre-physical therapy program. Our new state-of-the-art exercise science lab will be completed for fall, serving as a teaching and research hub. We are really excited about this new space and the opportunities it will provide for our students. On the graduate level, we expect the Healthcare Informatics program will be successful. It’ll be a large draw for international students because it's a STEM-designated program.

Trunzo: The Healthcare Analytics major at the undergrad level is very unique, as well; we developed that in conjunction with Brown Physicians, Inc. They really liked our data science students, but feedback we received was that our students didn’t have any healthcare domain knowledge. This major will help fill that gap.

It sounds like you collaborated with industry stakeholders to get a sense of the need, and that’s informing your curriculum in real time.

Hokeness: Part of our job is working directly with employers and figuring out the needs of the current healthcare workforce and how we can leverage our combination of science and business coupled with our flexibility and our applicability. And you can't ignore the statistics; the jobs are there, and they're increasing. There's this huge perfect storm and this need for innovation. We are ahead of the curve, in terms of creating programs that are set to prepare students for the future of healthcare. That's our big thing.

SHBS is also hosting a healthcare summit in the spring. Who can participate in this event, and what should they expect? 

Hokeness: Our inaugural Bryant University Healthcare Summit will be held on May 6. This unique day-long program will host professionals from all areas of healthcare. Our goal is to foster collaboration of key stakeholders to fuel innovation as we work to solve ongoing problems in healthcare.

To learn more about the School of Health and Behavioral Sciences, visit Bryant.edu/SHBS

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