Kent State Graduate Program Leads to Fulbright, International Experiences & Life-long Connections

From Touch Point Online Magazine, Fall 2021 - Vol. V, Issue 3

Two-time Kent State University alumnus John Mastrojohn III, MSN ‘96, MBA ‘01, RN, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at Hospice of the Western Reserve (HWR), credits Kent State for helping him to create a future he had not previously imagined. “My life and career changed dramatically as a result of my graduate experience, and I can’t imagine it any other way,” explained Mastrojohn, who completed the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs.

According to Mastrojohn, both his MSN and MBA programs included a variety of assessments designed to help students learn more about themselves and how they could make an impact as a leader. “The courses on workplace culture, change management and strategy development were helpful in learning how to better understand people and lead a team,” he explained. “Most of the coursework also provided me with the technical skills and language that was necessary to communicate effectively with others in a leadership role. These skills were especially helpful in my earlier leadership roles.”

Throughout his graduate program experiences Mastrojohn had the opportunity to study and discuss relevant health care challenges and apply those concepts to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities. While in his MBA program, Mastrojohn attended the International Business Experience (IBE) in Paris and Geneva which broadened his perspective about international business and the role of international organizations.

“One of the highlights of the experience was attending the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva. It wasn’t a planned part of the trip, but another classmate and I met someone at the hotel who was attending the meeting and they asked if we wanted to attend with them,” recalled Mastrojohn. “We asked our instructor as we had other scheduled plans for that day, and he allowed it. It was a great, unplanned experience that ended up being a highlight of my trip.”

One individual who had a lasting impact on Mastrojohn was his graduate advisor, Dr. Susan Taft, with whom he maintains regular communications. “She has been a mentor, motivator, and friend,” he stated warmly. Jokingly he added, “I am not sure she would have agreed to be my advisor had she known it came with a lifetime appointment!”

During one of his meetings with Dr. Taft, he shared an experience he had had with a group of health care professionals from Hungary who wanted to learn more about hospice care. She suggested he apply through the Fulbright program to further the work.

“I never thought I would be chosen as a Fulbright fellow and I was honored to have the opportunity to learn, teach, and live in a country that was in the early stages of hospice development. It was the most interesting and challenging year of my professional life. It tested my ability to function in an environment with much less familiarity and resources than I had been accustomed. It also helped me to become more comfortable without my usual supports and realize there are vastly more cultural similarities than cultural differences. It was a privilege to be involved with the Fulbright program and it furthered my interest in global health issues. Having the chance to experience healthcare in a different country and culture was profound. It helped me to see my work differently and to see the world differently. I cannot encourage others enough to seek out similar experiences.”

In addition to Dr. Taft, Kent State University provided Mastrojohn with other life-long connections. Cathy Leary, previous CEO at Hillcrest Hospital in Cleveland, served as one of his MSN capstone course preceptors. Fellow classmate Lisa Aurillio, MSN, MBA, Chief Operating Officer at Akron Children’s Hospital, regularly meets with Mastrojohn to discuss healthcare, nursing and lighter topics as well. “All three have been a source of support, guidance and friendship,” declared Mastrojohn. “I am forever grateful Kent State brought these three outstanding colleagues and friends into my life.”

A nurse for 34 years, Mastrojohn had never worked at, nor had he ever been a patient in, a hospital prior to college. During his first year of college, he worked in the Emergency Department and was fascinated by the energy and excitement. “I had no understanding of the critical role nurses played in the lives of patients and their families. I made the decision then to pursue a career in nursing,” he said. “It seemed then, and still does today, to be the perfect blend of compassion, healing, science and service.” 

Mastrojohn was introduced to hospice care in the mid-90’s while working on his graduate degree. “In my clinical rotation at Hospice of the Western Reserve, I was drawn to the respect and dignity shown to dying AIDS patients, in addition to the compassion, teamwork, life lessons and holistic philosophy of care. All the basic concepts of the philosophy of hospice care resonated with me and I felt then, as I do now, that it was an ideal fit.”

While serving in the role of Executive Director for the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa (now, Global Partners in Care,) Mastrojohn shared he had many memorable career moments. “During one visit to an outdoor clinic in rural Uganda I remember thinking, ‘how did a kid from Akron, Ohio, end up here?’ It was hard to imagine being so far away from my normal. But meeting patients there, hearing their stories and working with them was such a gift. I received more in return than I ever gave. Each patient I saw taught me something new.”

Throughout his career, Mastrojohn has observed how health care has become more complex and challenging. However, he explains, nothing has made it more challenging than COVID.  “I hope we can build on the things we are learning and continue to improve care for patients and families as a result. We have a deeper understanding of how to use technology through the forced innovation created by the pandemic. My hope is that we use that information going forward to continue to develop better care for patients and improved satisfaction for nurses and other health care providers.”

To the nurse contemplating returning to school for their graduate degree, Mastrojohn enthusiastically encourages them to do it, even if you don’t have a specific plan. “My plan completely changed. Just go for it! Nothing is carved in stone and your plan can adapt as you go. The opportunity to learn, grow and meet others is one that shouldn’t be missed.  I am so appreciative for my Kent State University graduate experience. The faculty, my peers, the clinical sites, all helped to guide and direct my career and I am most grateful.”

POSTED: Monday, September 20, 2021 - 2:32pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, October 27, 2021 - 11:24am
Mariah Gibbons