December 1, 2016
Students in the Gillings School’s executive Master of Healthcare Administration degree program not only gain knowledge and experience from their studies – they also have an impact on policy. In “Healthcare Quality and Information Management,” a second-year course in the joint MPH/MHA program, student teams engage in performance improvement projects in which they analyze real-life problems faced by UNC Health Care and provide recommendations to the project sponsors.
“Well-written case studies provide opportunities for insight into real-life problems and are a great way to teach a group of students,” says Larry Mandelkehr, MBA, one of the class instructors. “With a case study, there is a solution guide and discussion points. These projects go one step beyond because there is no known right answer. There isn’t anything better for students than working with a real-life situation and realizing that the recommendation they make perhaps will have direct impact on the care we provide or the safety of the environment.”
Mandelkehr, adjunct instructor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and Professor of the Practice at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, is also director of performance improvement at UNC Hospitals.
In spring 2014, Mandelkehr’s students made a significant contribution to the safety of newborns at UNC Hospitals when they examined the hospital’s “code pink” plan. The plan outlines the steps to take if a newborn is removed from the nursery without authorization.
After presentation of the students’ projects and outcomes, the hospital’s board of trustees changed the “code pink” policy to reflect the student’s recommendations, resulting in a decrease in the alert time from 10 minutes to 100 seconds.
“This is such an absolutely dramatic result that you don’t need a statistical analysis to know that this team of students had an impact,” says Franklin Farmer, MBA, associate chair for administration in UNC’s Department of Emergency Medicine, who began co-teaching the class with Mandelkehr last year. “The ‘before’ and ‘after’ numbers speak for themselves.”
Alyssa Mansfield Damon, PhD, MHA, MPH, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School, was a student in the cohort that evaluated the code pink project.
“Class members had incredible diversity in our backgrounds and experiences, and we were able to pull together different strengths to accomplish work that I’m really proud of,” she says. “Our experience shows that you don’t need to have years of experience or be an executive to make impactful changes or improve policy.”
In spring 2016, the class examined UNC Hospitals’ “active shooter” plan. Eric Horowitz, MD, MHA, RD, a neonatologist at Boston’s North Shore Medical Center, was among the students who recommended improvements for communications and suggested a safer model for transferring patients from the emergency department to the operating rooms.
“Every small group within our class believed they had looked at things from every possible angle, yet every group saw something in the other presentations that they hadn’t thought about – things that would have made their own proposals and the overall presentation stronger,” says Horowitz. “We learned the value of different perspectives and experiences and benefited from being in an academic environment that was connected to reality.”
Farmer says that the hospital benefits as well. “Having fresh sets of eyes that don’t use the same paradigms as those of us who have worked in the field for a long time means that the students come up with solutions and approaches that we wouldn’t,” he says.
“What we like to do in the program is support Dean [Barbara K.] Rimer’s mission of having faculty members ensure that teaching and research lead to practice,” says Bill Gentry, MPA, director of health policy and management’s executive master’s programs and the Community Preparedness and Disaster Management Certificate Program. “Our executive program students already have work experience, so we want to leverage that experience by offering them academic projects that actually can benefit public health.”
— Michele Lynn
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.