Dr. Robert Behling

Dr. Robert Behling

  • Theater aficionado
  • National health care leader
  • Perpetual student

Mentoring thousands

Thousands of people throughout the country have become better health care professionals and prepared for leadership roles in the health services administration field by learning from Dr. Robert Behling, professor at the University of St. Francis.

Behling pioneered the university’s master of science in Health Administration in 1980 as one of the first distance learning programs in the country and as one of the first programs dedicated to bringing knowledge to professionals that they can use immediately at work.

USF has been a “real leader” in the health care field, first establishing the Health Arts degree completion program in the early 1970s and then the Health Administration program.

“Nobody else was doing it,” said Behling. USF’s health care programming has been innovative, progressive. We’ve been leaders in providing graduate educational opportunities for working health care professionals both at class sites throughout the country and online. We’ve been years ahead of other institutions.” USF’s Health Services Administration program is one of the largest health care education programs in the country, he noted.

‘I’ve had the opportunity to work with students across the country, which adds multiple dimensions to my teaching because of the regional variations in health care. It gave me that larger perspective to share with students. Every class was and is a learning experience,” said Behling, who earned his Ph.D. from The Union Institute.

“I’ve been fortunate to develop lifetime friendships with students. I still maintain contact with a student who was in the very first class I taught in 1980,” Behling said. “It’s a privilege to know students, to make this sharing connection of education with such exceptional people. Our students have become leaders in the health care profession and influences for the industry,”

Professor as student

“A faculty member’s primary responsibility is to continue to be a student and to learn so that he or she can share meaningful knowledge with his/her students,” Behling maintains. “I see myself as a facilitator, a co-learner. I’m always excited about what I’m doing. It’s been a rare course that I teach that I don’t learn myself. I’m just amazed that someone is willing to pay me to be a student.”

“The commonality among students that we see today in the health care profession,” according to Behling, “is that they are tremendously overworked professionals. The stress level is very high. So much of health care is now being evaluated by, in my opinion, some questionable methods, such as national rankings. Professionals throughout the field are being held to standards that are not necessarily realistic: if a 95 percent patient satisfaction rate drops to 92 percent, it becomes a major crisis until it is fixed.”

“The classroom can be somewhat cathartic for students who can share their experiences and through this sharing can better understand the happenings in the health care system. It’s professionally very helpful,” said Behling “…education with a little therapy mixed in!”

Creative leader

Behling helps students enhance their professional thinking skills, providing them with the foundation to become a creative leader. He uses his own creativity to forge many other leadership roles.

His varied career has included work with animal-assisted therapy, training his own pets and other animals—birds, cats, dogs—to provide therapy to patients, both children and adults. He chaired a national task force for to create standards for animal-assisted programs in health care facilities.

He has coached youth hockey and was director of education for a junior hockey team (“like a farm team or minor league”). Having earned USA Swimming Certification, he officiated NCAA National Championship meets, including Division 1 women’s national championships that produced U.S. Olympic team members.

Today, his passion is theater. His love of theater has meant a five-year stint as a board member for the Quest Theater Ensemble of Chicago. “The heart of theater is in the small storefront theaters in Chicago .”

“ Chicago is one of the best places in the world for theater. There’s a constant influx on young actors, designers, playwrights. There’s an edge to them; they are so creative in what they do that it makes for very exciting theater,” said Behling who sees three to four productions a month.

Behling’s now college-aged son is a theater student who has acted professionally since he was 10. The professor sees one of his most important teaching roles as that of father and mentor to guide his son. “I’m most proud of my son—not just how he’s excelled academically or professionally, but because he’s a good person. I like to think I’ve played a little bit of a role in that.”

“I’m very proud of my whole family—of what we’re doing and accomplishing. My wife is a behavioral therapist and pursing her passion,” said Behling. “There are not so many people in the world that can say they are happy and excited about what they are doing. To have everybody in the family doing something they care about is a real blessing.”

Passion is the key, Behling reminds. And his passions are students and learning. At every level, “students are clearly the best part of teaching,” says Behling. Students, not matter what age, are an exciting group of people. It’s so much fun to see people learn and grow and know you played a part in it.”

Dr. Robert Behling can be reached at rbehling@stfrancis.edu .