Real-World Experience Propels MHA Students to Win Case Competition

Case competitions provide opportunities for health administration students to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, and having real-world experience can give competitors an edge. That's one of the lessons from the success of four Executive Master of Health Services Administration (MHA@GW) students who won first prize at the 2020 UCLA Center for Healthcare Management Case Competition.

Team captain Kim Guido, an MHA@GW student and intensive care nurse at a DC hospital, saw the announcement about the case competition and immediately contacted three of her fellow students to form a team. The four of them had teamed up on group projects, and knew they worked well together. Like Guido, and like many of their fellow online students, the other three team members had experience in the health care industry: Cathy Dahl is a physician in Kansas City, Rameez Siddiqui is a health IT consultant in Chicago, and Tameka Thomas runs an audiology clinic in New York.

In the first stage of the competition, teams had three days to develop a solution for UCLA Health, a health system seeking to develop their Direct to Employer Program for healthcare delivery. Thirty-five teams submitted one-page executive summaries and slide presentations, and UCLA Health judges selected eight to fly to Los Angeles and present.

With only a weekend to develop their solution, Guido's team spent hours in a Zoom conference room throwing out ideas. Knowing that LA traffic was a barrier to receiving healthcare and that UCLA Health’s main hospital was already strained, they arrived at the idea of creating an on-site clinic that an employer could offer as an employee benefit. “This is a modern technique that a lot of companies are moving toward—health care is a huge benefit,” Guido noted. Then they searched local employers in the neighborhoods UCLA Health was interested in, and used Glassdoor reviews to identify one that seemed to value employees and their health: Venice, CA-based Dollar Shave Club, which had a 600-person, relatively young employee base.

The team’s “Aim 4 Wellness” proposal centers around an on-site clinic offering primary and preventive care, urgent care, depression and anxiety management, yoga and meditation classes, and pharmacy and lab services. The team proposed staffing the clinic with an advance practice registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, and receptionist and calculated the annual per-member cost that would allow the program to break even in its first and second years. A partnership between UCLA Health and Dollar Shave Club, they stressed, could improve employees’ health and productivity while creating more referrals for UCLA Health when the employees need specialty care. “The solution was so elegant and absolutely met the mark,” said Professor Leonard Friedman, who directs the MHA@GW program. 

Knowledge gained from MHA classes came in handy, Guido said. “The Community Health class we were in at the time was really helpful, because we talked about population health a lot in our presentation. And from our Healthcare Financial Management course, we knew how to run the financials to see if this would be sustainable.”

A strong executive summary and slide show won the team a chance to fly to Los Angeles to compete against seven others, and then their presentation skills became crucial. With all the team members arriving from different parts of the country, they didn’t have a chance to practice in person until 6:30am the day of the presentation. They gathered in the hotel lobby to prepare. “This group just came together—there was a chemistry unlike anything I’ve seen before,” Friedman marveled.

Although competition rules barred Friedman from advising the team about their presentation content, his input on presentation delivery was key, Guido said. “He gave us tips and pointers about how to stand, pass the microphone, avoid too many hand gestures, talk at the right speed,” said Guido. “He coached us to perfect the presentation.” The team was also grateful for his help navigating around the city and the UCLA campus, so they could focus on presenting their solution effectively.

Guido credits her team's health care backgrounds with giving them an edge. “The case competition lead said it came down to the case that would be the most feasible and realistic,” she explained. “We understand how it works in a hospital or doctor's office, and we had that realistic view of what is feasible and what might not be.” 

At the end of a whirlwind day, the UCLA Health judges awarded first place, and a $12,000 prize, to the MHA@GW team. In addition to the prize and recognition, Guido said, they appreciated having “an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a real-world scenario that would challenge the skills we learned in the program.”

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