Most recent college graduates enter the workforce and stumble through a series of baptism-by-fire experiences as they learn how to apply textbook knowledge to the real world. And why should it be otherwise? The classroom is totally different from the workplace. That would be true for many programs, but it’s not true for Health Services Management (HSM), a program that hires adjunct faculty who have one foot in the real world working full-time jobs in the healthcare industry and one foot in the academic circle. In their final year of the HSM program, students are ready to take on challenges such as those offered through HSM’s Leadership and Business Planning in Health Care Capstone course.
The Capstone course has a simple premise: match groups of students up with a Twin Cities healthcare company that has a problem to solve. The not-so-simple part falls on the students’ shoulders as they use what they’ve learned in previous HSM courses (and what they’re learning in the Capstone course itself) to research and develop business plans, complete with conclusions, recommendations, and actionable objectives.
Solving a Challenge for Ecumen
Daniel Reinke (‘17) successfully completed the Capstone course in December of 2016. He and two other classmates were paired with Ecumen, an organization specializing in senior housing and senior living services. Reinke and his group were presented with Ecumen’s challenge: staff turnover. An ongoing problem for Ecumen’s various sites and communities, retaining Resident Assistants (RAs) and Nursing Assistants (NAs) was a nebulous issue that needed fixing. It was up to Reinke and his classmates to come up with a business plan solution by the end of the fall semester.
“We reviewed quantitative data, conducted three focus groups at three different Ecumen sites, and met with nursing staff to conduct interviews,” Reinke says. “This data helped us focus our attention on RAs and NAs since that’s where the highest turnover was occurring. We also focused on certain demographics to narrow the scope of the recommendation.”
The RA and NA interviews yielded valuable insight into the minds of Ecumen staff, and this mass of qualitative and quantitative data served as the foundation for Reinke and his group’s assessment, recommendations, and business plan development.
“We got to experience every part of creating a strategic plan. That was very valuable. Working with an actual organization instead of analyzing a case study, you get to see real-world problems first-hand.”
“They were very cordial and professional,” says Shelley Kendrick, COO of Ecumen who guided Reinke and his group over the course of the semester. “Ecumen was excited to work with these students because staff retention is a true problem for us. Maybe the students could come up with answers we haven’t tried. Since the students were a third party coming into Ecumen sites, I think staff felt more comfortable being candid in the interviews, too.”
Reinke and his group ultimately came up with six strategies, each containing objectives for Ecumen to consider, all in response to the problem of staff turnover. The students organized this business plan into a 70-slide presentation covering data points, demographics, recommendations, and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis that they delivered to others in their Capstone course and separately to senior leaders at Ecumen.
“We got to experience every part of creating a strategic plan,” Reinke says. “That was very valuable. Working with an actual organization instead of analyzing a case study, you get to see real-world problems first-hand.”
Kendrick and her team were impressed by what the students presented at the end of the semester and they’ve already implemented one of the students’ recommendations.
“One of the recommendations was about creating internship opportunities to attract talent,” Kendrick says. “We offered internships before, but now it’s a formalized program with an actual syllabus behind it. If we can give interns a meaningful experience, they’ll want to continue to work for us. The students recommended this as a way to promote growth within Ecumen.”
Kendrick went on to emphasize the mutual value that the Capstone course provided for both Ecumen and students. “I just hope we get the opportunity to do more of these. It does help our organization to have someone from the outside come in, offering a neutral perspective and fresh eyes to tackle the problem. The students’ fresh ideas were huge for us.”
As for Reinke, he can attest that the HSM Leadership and Business Planning Capstone course “put together everything that [he’d] learned” throughout his HSM studies. Now, after having completed this challenge for Ecumen, his chances of having to endure baptism by fire at his first job out of the University are considerably lower.
Daniel Reinke is a recipient of the Osher Reentry Scholarship.