Big data has become a big part of the healthcare industry. Up until now, it hasn’t been a big part of traditional master’s degree programs in Healthcare Administration. Winona State University is changing that.  

WSU recently created the Health/Healthcare Leadership (HHL) Master of Science degree program which is set to start in August. The online class will give students the skillset to dig through large amounts of collected data, whether it’s medical data, patient data, treatment data, or research data, in a way that will impact patient care, day to day operations, and community health and wellness.   

“The use of big data and analytics in healthcare is transforming the industry because of its profound impact on quality care outcomes,” said Dr. Julie Anderson, Dean of the Winona State College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Through consultation with regional healthcare providers during the development phase, it was clear that data analytics had to be prominent throughout the curriculum to adequately address the needs of our local providers and the industry as a whole.”  

Professor Shellie Nelson explained that many times a student will gain a two-year technical degree and head into the healthcare industry. After being in the industry, they might rise to the level of a leadership position, but then lack credentials to qualify. 

WSU is responding to the industry need by providing stackable credentials with WSU’s online accessible Healthcare Leadership and Administration Bachelor’s undergraduate completion degree paired with HHL Master’s degree.  With both being online, the degrees were created to be accessible not only by current undergraduate students, but also working professionals who would benefit from the stackable credits. 

In an age of constant data collection, the data analyzing skill being taught in the program will help turn the tables – not only for the student but for the industry. 

Teaching students how to analyze big data that the industry is already collecting, allows them to break down what data is important to decision-making, what data is valid and reliable, and to verify how data was collected.  

“We’re trying to move from reactive healthcare to predictive healthcare,” Nelson said. “We want to look at all the data out there and make better decisions.”  

For example, take a person who has a rare blood cancer. Having the skillset to use collected data to quickly filter down and compare to other cases means better solutions and care for the patient.  

Another example is in the use of day-to-day operations. As a team or department leader, having the ability to use collected big data to find solutions to challenges or to see a situation from different perspectives allows their team to be more efficient with better quality.

“This is one of those defining moments in time to figure out how to use the data we have to be better practitioners. There are not a lot of Healthcare Leadership master’s degrees that have adopted that focus.” 

Shellie Nelson

WSU Professor

Lastly, having the ability to sort through data allows healthcare leaders to better assess community health and wellness and pinpoint trends and barriers to getting care.  

“It’s being solution focused rather than problem focused, in this master’s level program, enabling leaders to be better stewards of resources,” Nelson said. “The big data analytics focus will set students apart when seeking a leadership roles or administration positions within healthcare.” 

WSU’s program is among the first in the Minnesota State System to offer this unique focus.  

“The focus that really makes it distinctive is the applied analytics of big data,” Nelson said. “Student capstone projects will be data driven as well.”  

Nelson said the program has a strong group of faculty who are enthusiastic about teaching the program and she’s excited to see the impact of the first year of the program which begins this Fall Semester.  

“This is one of those defining moments in time to figure out how to use the data we have to be better practitioners,” Nelson said. “There are not a lot of Healthcare Leadership master’s degrees that have adopted this focus.” 

Applications for Fall 2021 admission to the Health/Healthcare Leadership Master of Science degree program are being accepted now. To learn more, visit or call 507.457.2315. 

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is the oldest member of the Minnesota State system and offers more than 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctoral programs across five colleges. With a presence in Winona and Rochester, Minnesota, as well as a growing online program portfolio, the University is proud to promote itself as “a community of learners improving our world”. For more information, visit