“The man never complained a day in his life,” said Rita Croom of her stepfather, whose agonizing headaches sent him seeking help from various doctors. Physicians and nurses brushed aside his concerns, chalking up the pain to everything from poor diet to his imagination.
“People do not simply go to the doctor without a reason,” said Croom. “Patients have an important voice in their healthcare. It’s imperative physicians and nurses listen carefully.”
Four months after a medical team listened and began running tests on Croom’s stepdad, he passed away from a brain tumor. He was 40 years old.
Fulfilling the Vision
That experience is one reason Rita Croom has been hospital patients’ staunchest ally throughout her career, and why she is passionate about developing the next generation of healthcare leaders at University of Mobile.
With 20 years of experience, armed with three degrees and a slew of advanced certifications, Croom arrived in Mobile in August 2018 to lead the expansion of UM’s healthcare programs. She was named dean of the College of Health Professions and assistant vice president for academic partnerships. Croom’s oldest son, Caleb, enrolled at UM as an accounting major. Rita has been
married to Wilson Croom for 32 years, and, in addition to Caleb, they are the parents of Cody, an accountant/auditor married to Chelsea; and law school student Chandler, married to Aleshia, who are parents of the first grandchild in the family, Owen Chandler.
The move to UM gives Croom leadership and management of programs taught in the $4.6 million healthcare and science education center housed in William K. Weaver Hall, which was completed and dedicated late last year. The College of Health Professions is comprised of the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice, School of Nursing, School of Health and Sports Science,
and School of Allied Health. Croom’s passion for emphasizing quality patient care goes hand-in-glove with the university’s vision for
student graduates in healthcare to fulfill their calling of delivering Christ-centered care with excellence and compassion.
“We are preparing students to be the hands and feet of Christ,” said Croom. “Patient communication, empathy, patient/family experience — these are important skills and attitudes for students to develop.”
First-class patient experience was a priority during her tenure in the School of Nursing at Union University and at large healthcare systems HCA/TRISTAR, Capella Healthcare and RCCH, where she served as corporate vice president and chief experience officer.
“Patient engagement, physician engagement and employee engagement have a profound impact on healthcare outcomes,” said Croom. “These all begin with healthcare leaders focused on alignment, accountability and patient outcomes. Our goal at University of Mobile is to produce healthcare leaders with these values.”
As a senior-level leader and consultant, Croom acted as a force for change in hospital systems throughout the country and abroad by transforming organizational structure, culture and leadership through listening, developing programming and continual process improvement.
Training up highly skilled, compassionate, patient-centered medical personnel is the focus of the UM Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice with its state-of-the-art labs and advanced equipment. Engaged in “Prac-ademics,” students at UM are being prepared both academically and practically through living laboratories.
“Living laboratories in the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice offer students hands-on learning utilizing high-fidelity human patient simulators in a hospital setting that ranks among the top simulation centers in the country,” said Croom.
The lab features an operating room and seven bays, which include pediatrics, two birthing suites, a two-patient trauma room (emergency department), a centralized control room and private student debriefing rooms. Patient assessment and care on life-like human simulators give students freedom to make mistakes and learn from them while being observed by professors in the control room on highly advanced audio/visual equipment and specialized software.
Science labs in the College of Arts & Sciences give healthcare and pre-med students practical applications for their classroom learning as well. The new anatomy lab allows undergraduate students to work with human cadavers – an opportunity most students must wait until medical school to experience.
Teaching to the job
Healthcare personnel are in high demand, and new programs are being introduced in the College of Health Professions to meet workforce needs, said Croom.
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, including tracks in DNP Nurse Practitioner or Executive Leadership, is one of the newest degree offerings at University of Mobile. This advanced degree program prepares students for managing the primary care of individuals, teaching or clinic administration.
Having an extensive background in developing organizational leadership in large hospital systems, Croom knows that a major challenge for hospitals and healthcare centers is recruiting, orientation and turnover of personnel. “Turnover is about 30 percent for new graduates in nursing,” said Croom. “Our aim is not only to teach to the certification licensure exams, but to the actual job. Orientation for nurses is important, as are internships, to better prepare students for the realities of the healthcare role.”
Partnerships for the future
Croom is working toward developing partnerships with regional healthcare systems, local health organizations or governmental entities by offering them professional, well-prepared UM students and graduates, and by presenting continuing education opportunities for regional healthcare systems employees and other medical personnel, including first responders. Short-term certification programs, conferences and seminars in medical occupations and leadership are being considered in the future at UM.
Developing healthcare students and professionals is at the heart of Croom’s mission to promote outstanding patient-centered care and operational excellence.
“We are striving to build strong relationships by understanding and meeting the needs of regional partners,” said Croom. “We anticipate some very exciting things happening in 2019 — and I am thrilled to be part of the College of Health Professions’ future growth!”
To learn more about degrees and programs in the College of Health Professions, visit umobile.edu/healthcare or call Enrollment Services at 251.442.2222.
Dean, College of Health Professions
Assistant Vice President for Academic Partnerships
Bachelor of Science, Organizational Leadership, Union University
Master of Business Administration, Union University
Doctor of Science in health services administration, University of Alabama-Birmingham
CPXP, Certified Patient Experience Professional, Patient Experience Institute
SHRM-CP, Society for Human Resource Management
Executive Leadership Excellence, Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University
Human Resource Management, Christian Brothers University
LEAN Healthcare, Belmont University
Health Management, Union University
WORDS TO LIVE BY
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
– Romans 12:12