Degrees at Work: Briggs Orchestrates Success for Herself and Others

Debi Briggs of Hanover, Pennsylvania, never imagined the music principles she learned as a voice major in community college more than 30 years ago would apply to her future career in health care administration. But the similarities are there: Just as a conductor brings out the best in each musician to create a harmonious blend, Briggs orchestrates her leadership and project management skills to help others succeed.

But her personal success wasn’t guaranteed. Initially, music served as a welcomed outlet for Briggs, who describes her formative years as being marked by adversity. Among her childhood challenges was growing up in the foster care system. She soon realized that despite her abundant talent, a music career was not something she wanted to pursue full-time. She admits it took time to accomplish her educational goals and to get her priorities in order. “No one in my family even graduated from high school,” the two-time Excelsior College grad explains. “I’m the first one who’s ever got a master’s degree. I’m truly blessed.”

When a music career didn’t play out for Briggs, she fell back on the licensed practical nursing certification that she earned in high school. She credits nursing as being the mainstay in her life as she explored other opportunities. A self-described “entrepreneurial soul,” she built her business acumen with several endeavors as owner and founder of a gift shop, a restaurant, and an aerial photography business.

Briggs credits a job at New Beginnings, a faith-based social work organization, with laying the groundwork to define her future goals. “I got a lot of experience in leadership and in dealing with people there,” she explains.

During her decades-long nursing career, she initiated several attempts to earn a degree in Excelsior’s nursing program. But she had already gained high-level experience in health care administration, working as a director of nursing. This led her to eventually shift gears and enroll in a Bachelor of Health Sciences program, which better matched her business background and innovative spirit. While she admits working as a nurse in a Level I Trauma Center was exciting, she has found greater fulfillment in a leadership role. Briggs explains, “I get a lot of excitement by building people up and helping others achieve. And I think that’s what leaders do. And that’s kind of my heart. It’s not just strengthening the health care system but also helping people to become leaders. It’s very important to me.”

While Briggs’ primary objective is to help others, there came a time when she had to focus on helping herself. Soon after she began her undergraduate studies, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. But, she explains, “I worked through that. Thank goodness the cancer was removed.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in 2017, Briggs explored graduate programs at other institutions. But when she discovered the curriculum in Excelsior’s Master in Science in Health Care Administration, she said, “I ran back.” She found the coursework to be the perfect match for her career aspirations and welcomed the user-friendly online learning environment she had come to love during her undergraduate studies. But once again, Briggs was challenged with a personal crisis. During her graduate work, she suffered an un-ruptured cerebral aneurism and underwent brain surgery to have it repaired. But Briggs, who had triumphed over obstacles big and small, was not deterred. It may be an understatement when she says, “I’m kind of driven. Even if I was busy or not feeling well, I would find a way to push through. It was very important to me to finish my goal. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.” The day after her brain surgery, she was in the ICU using her laptop to write a paper. She continued on to successfully complete her master’s degree in February 2020.

Briggs finds her Excelsior degrees closely match the skills needed in her contract and consulting work. In her most recent position as a risk manager at Hebrew Homes of Greater Washington, she tackled issues related to quality intervention and process improvement. She specifically cites the project and quality management courses as being integral to her profession and described her leadership class as a “knockout.” Briggs explains, “I can’t think of a class that didn’t impact me, even with all the work experience I had. It [the curriculum] offered a lot of really good reinforcement in addition to a lot of new things. Excelsior gave me the tools.”

Professional Advice from Debi Briggs

On Attitude

Go for it! Don’t be afraid. There are a lot of people to support you. I like the old cliché, ‘There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.’ Step out in the water; don’t be afraid you’re going to sink. Anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.

Tips for Succeeding

When you’re an adult learner and working full-time, I think the important thing is time management. You really have to prioritize your schedule. There were mornings when I would get up at 5 a.m. so I could do a little bit of schoolwork. Don’t try to overdo the classes. It’s very manageable. Think about it: I had brain surgery and I worked through it.

Diligence helped me the most. I just made up my mind no matter what came in my life, I wasn’t going to quit—I would just persevere. I think you have to take a look at your values and decide what you want the outcome to be. The rewards of diligence, setting goals, and utilizing time management are so worth it because you can move forward in your career.

Networking Advice

I’ve made a lot of positive contacts through LinkedIn. Keep connecting with your local network and expand out. Whatever your interest is in business, join organizations—you meet people through those organizations and it gives you access to tools to help you grow.

Excelsior Experience

The structure of the classes was brilliant; it helped you with time management. For example, it helped that assignments are due on Sunday nights. It was very user-friendly. I never felt pressured that I wouldn’t get things done on time.

Leadership: Accentuate the Positive

A good leader sees people and their potential and builds on it. It’s important to help people feel that they can own something and to make them feel valued. Focus on the positives and usher in an atmosphere where weakness becomes less and less the center of attention.