Learning from Cases
I just returned from the Cleveland Clinic Case Competition and was reminded again of the strength of our students. The analytical power, poise, and professionalism of the contestants should give us all hope. The case is an outstanding learning tool. You can watch the processes the students use to critically break down a problem and then apply the tools they are acquiring to develop a solution. Add to that a smattering of creativity and youthful optimism, the presentations are inspiring. All of you who encourage your students to participate in case competitions are doing a great service for them. The case facilitates learning and competition adds an important edge. It is really too bad that there are not more structured case competition opportunities. It is a major commitment of time and resources for the students, faculty and programs. If we had more competitions, more of our future healthcare leaders could afford to participate.
While I am reasonably familiar with many of the health administration case competitions, a series of discussions in Cleveland helped me understand their value and better see why our discipline has become a leader of this aspect of education. It seems to me that the multidisciplinary nature of our faculty and the emphasis on salient competencies both contribute to our successes. Contemplating the value of case learning in our field suggests structure and operation of the cases matter. Most of the case competitions have two primary elements in common. First, they utilize input from colleagues or former students who are confronting a complicated situation or decision in their professional life. The colleague and his/her organization has struggled with the issue at hand, making it real and current. It has ambiguity, unknowns, lack of complete data, and conflicting sets of plausible solutions. These cases are simply less clean. This also produces a case devoid of the stylistic elements of a classroom case that many of us use to illustrate a point. Second, the case organizers strive to find judges for the competition who also come from practice. This too provides an element of realism because each of these individuals bring his/her training, experiences and perspectives to their evaluation. They don’t all see the problem or the challenge in the same way. Much like a senior management team or Board, they differ and on occasion may diverge on major points.
Like much of health administration education, however, the case competitions that I am familiar with have at least two major differences in operation. First of all, students are given highly divergent timeframes to complete the case. From a full four weeks, to a long weekend, to a single day, the cases provide students with the necessity to respond in a different scope. Like reality, you might have to make an evaluation and present recommendations rapidly. On other occasions, you have more time to collect more information and cogitate on the solution. Again, work will present these alternative demands on responses. Second, the judge teams are a mix with regard to knowledge of the context of the case. In some, the judges are directly engaged with the organization and know well the political reality of the environment. Other cases, however, have judges who have about as much specific information as the contestants. Again, this variability corresponds to what students will need to address in the work environment.
The cases that come to mind fall into this scheme broadly (National Association for Health Services Executives, Ohio State, Baylor, Clarion, and UAB come to mind but there are more that fit into a broad definition of healthcare management). The Cleveland Clinic Case, however, differs in another way as well. It is open to programs that have no affiliation with AUPHA and are not CAHME accredited. This provides an opportunity to see how we do against other types of programs. This year, at least, the top three finishers were all AUPHA Full Member programs. It must be said, however, that all of the presentations I observed this year were very strong and highly professional. The differences between the top three teams and the those not reaching the finals was very small. I have to believe that the way we configure our programs goes a long way to prepare students for success in healthcare management leadership. We typically have faculty from many different disciplines giving the students the exposure to the type of variability they will see in work settings. As I have argued in prior blogs, that variability in faculty by discipline distinguishes us from many other types of training programs. I also think that we demonstrate that we care for students. The teams in Cleveland from AUPHA programs tended to have a faculty advisor for support. Many of the other groups of students from other programs were on their own for the competition. This support is expensive but demonstrates to the students that we have their backs. We care about their professional development both in and outside of the classroom.
All AUPHA member programs are distinct and produce a high value “product.” It takes your time, energy and commitment to quality education for this to continue. We do much to holistically prepare our students for career success and it matters. Keep up the good work at case competitions and, more importantly, all of the other things we do for our students.