Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Samuel Schaffzin

MPA-Health - 2003

Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps

Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?

I am a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, which is made up of more than 6,500 public health professionals of many disciplines who are dedicated to public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science. As one of America’s seven uniformed services, the Commissioned Corps fills essential public health leadership roles within Federal Government agencies and programs. USPHS Commissioned Corps officers have opportunities for mobility among multiple government agencies throughout their career and we are encouraged to expand our knowledge base and expertise.

My current job assignment is in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), where I serve as a Senior Health Insurance Specialist and Medicaid Health IT Coordinator/Eligibility & Enrollment Analyst within the Consortium for Medicaid and Children’s Health Operations (CMCHO). I recently moved to CMCHO after being assigned to the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) in the CMS Central Office in Baltimore, MD. In my current role, I help develop, implement and evaluate the Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program, which supports U.S. Department Health & Human Service’s (HHS) goal of adoption of EHR for most Americans. Now, based in the CMS Region 2 Office in New York City, I serve as a program liaison to the New England and Mid-Atlantic States. I am also a project officer for two related contracts: one that evaluates how states are implementing Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and another that focuses on providing technical assistance to states who are implementing the program. In addition to my work on the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, I serve on a team that is assisting states with streamlining and upgrading Medicaid eligibility and enrollment systems as part of the Affordable Care Act and work directly with New England States on this initiative.

Externally, I serve on the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Inc. Board of Directors. HOSA is a national student organization that promotes career opportunities in the health care industry and provides a unique program of leadership development and recognition for secondary, postsecondary, and collegiate students enrolled in Health Science Education programs.

Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?

After completing my Bachelor degree in Sociology, with a minor in Public Health, I worked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City as a Clinical Session Assistant, which was an entry level position in the field of health administration. For 2 years, I served as liaison between the patient, family, and clinical team during ambulatory visits, while rotating through outpatient surgery, medical oncology, and chemotherapy clinics, and learning the day-to-day fundamentals of hospital operations. Knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in health administration, I decided to return to school to pursue a Master’s of Public Administration, with an emphasis on health policy and management.

Upon completion of my Master’s degree in 2003, I worked at the American Red Cross in Philadelphia as a Disaster Health & Mental Health Services Coordinator. In this role, I had the opportunity to manage a team of 300 health professional volunteers who provided specialized services to those impacted by fires, floods, ice storms, and other disasters.

The experience at the Red Cross piqued my interest in the field of disaster preparedness and response. After attending a State public health association conference, I learned about a developing public health preparedness program called the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). Soon after, I left the Red Cross to accept a position as a consultant to the Federal Government to serve as a Regional Coordinator to the MRC Program. Based in Philadelphia, I provided management and outreach support to the Regional Health Administrator in recruiting, establishing, supporting, and sustaining local MRC volunteer units within U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Region III (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia).

After six months in this position, I was promoted to serve as the National Technical Assistance (TA) Coordinator for the MRC Program. In this role, I worked directly in the Office of the Surgeon General in Rockville, MD and provided technical assistance and guidance to national level program partners, State and local level officials, and others on public health, preparedness, and volunteer management issues. I also managed 10 Regional Coordinators who were positioned in regional HHS offices. After serving as the National TA Coordinator for four years, I had the opportunity to switch roles within the MRC Program and move into a Federal position as a program officer responsible for national level outreach. In the April, 2009 I took a commission, became a USPHS Commissioned Corps Officer and joined the Office of the Surgeon General as a Federal staff member. This was my first assignment in the USPHS Commissioned Corps. After 2 years in this role, I joined the CMS Central Office in Baltimore, MD for 2 years and most recently moved to the CMS Regional Office in New York City.

What led you to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?

I chose this degree because I felt it would provide me with the fundamentals that I needed to launch a career in the broad field of public health and healthcare, and across the government, non-profit, and private sectors. I enrolled in Wagner while working in a hospital setting in New York City and saw potential to do so many things and have varying professional experiences. Ultimately, I decided on Wagner because of the flexibility and curriculum it offered. The part-time option appealed to me and the practical team oriented curriculum, coupled with a strong adjunct faculty of people who were successful in the field was also a draw.

In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?

I tend to reflect back on some of the management, organizational development, and team building coursework and experiences when dealing with day-to-day and ongoing agency assignments. The team building and project management skills that I gained from my time at Wagner have been helpful. I often use these skills to negotiate many professional experiences and situations, most of which require tough decisions that affect the public’s health and national health care landscape.

Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and / or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?

The coursework I found most interesting and relevant to my career included such topics as Effective Team Building, Organizational & Managerial Development, Health Policy, and Healthcare Management. Professors Anthony Kovner, John Billings, Katherine O’Regan, Mary McBride, and Charlotte Wagenberg taught various levels of courses on these topics and are among some of the best teachers I have had. I have remained in contact with Professor Kovner and have updated him on my career moves, but have also looked to him for continued guidance and mentorship since graduating from Wagner.

In the Effective Team Building course, we were broken into teams of four and tasked with developing a comprehensive all-hazards disaster plan. This was especially meaningful, as I took the course shortly after the tragic events of 9/11. The project was very challenging and our team, which consisted of students from different countries, backgrounds, and perspectives, truly came together in a cohesive way to tackle such a pressing issue. As a result, I was inspired to combine my background in public health with my interest in disaster preparedness and join the emerging field of public health preparedness upon graduation.

Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?

As a member of the student chapter of the American College Healthcare Executives conference, I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference on healthcare leadership. This was a great way to network with and learn from leaders in the field.

The new student orientation was the very first Wagner sponsored event I attended. I distinctly recall meeting a few of my classmates and learning about their diverse experience, what brought them to Wagner, and their vastly differing, yet unique visions for the future and how they intended to impact public service in so many different ways. I also enjoyed hearing about the professional path of the dean at the time (Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford) and remember the impression it made on me.

Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?

I wish I would have spent more time participating in hands-on shadowing experiences with professionals in the field of public health, health policy, healthcare administration, etc. Looking back, I also would have liked to pursue an administrative residency/fellowship in a hospital setting. Finally, given the type of work I’m doing now, it may have benefitted me to work on a project in one of the many Wagner research and policy centers (like the Center for Health and Public Service Research (CHPSR). I have no real regrets, but I always think there are opportunities to grow.

How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumnus (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?

I have been a member of the Washington D.C. area alumni association since moving to the national capital region in 2005. I have maintained connections with a handful of Wagner alumni that also work in the Federal government. Also, a number of my work assignments over the past seven years periodically bring me to New York City to participate in meetings, so I typically try to meet with professors, students interested in Federal service, or attend Wagner sponsored events if the timing works out.

Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, would you please tell us how you made it work?

I began graduate school on a part-time basis for the first year of the program and worked full-time in order for my coursework to be subsidized by my place of employment. I then decided to finish the program on a full-time basis. So I took out some loans, beefed up my course load (and took courses in the summer) and worked part-time at a non-profit organization for the rest of the program, ultimately with the goal of finishing my coursework in 2 years. In the end I was able to finish on time.

Looking back, I would have tried to secure more scholarship funding or find employment/professional public service programs in advance of finishing Wagner that would assist with loan repayment. I would also recommend for students to look into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program."