We are women, hear us roar

By Sally Crocker

HSC MHA Case Student Winners

In a traditionally male dominated field, a team of diverse women from HSC’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, developing future healthcare leaders, has won this year’s student case competition of the American College of Healthcare Executives North Texas Chapter (ACHENTX).

The problem was important and complex. Solutions were needed quickly, much like the real challenges that healthcare executives face daily.

The assignment was to develop new solutions for Kaiser Permanente’s obesity management program, to help enrollees reach their weight loss goals, achieve a healthier lifestyle and improve their long-term health outcomes.

The clock was ticking as the HSC student team and competitors from other North Texas-area MHA and MBA programs approached the two-week deadline for developing recommendations that could be presented to judges in an executive summary format. From there, selected finalists would have an additional two weeks to prepare their closing presentation for the round that would determine the winners.

The ACHENTX annual competition is based on authentic case studies, enabling students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom and through their community practice experiences toward a real-world, problem-solving approach. These are the types of tests they will face in their future careers.

“It was exciting to see our students meet the challenge and come away as North Texas winners, showcasing their strengths and ingenuity,” said Dr. Stephan Davis, MHA Program Director. “All of us at HSC are very proud of their achievement.”

HSC’s team included Kartika Ayyappan, Dr. Dhvani Derasari, Lauren Horton, Lydia “Brett” Ironside and Aminata Ka.

Second-year MHA students Ayyappan, Ka and Ironside had all worked together before in their cohort courses and were familiar with each other’s strengths and background. As a first-year MHA student, Horton brought a psychology and behavioral health perspective to the team, based on her undergraduate work. MHA Online student Derasari, who holds a PharmD degree from HSC, added a different aspect to the team. Ironside and Ka were just coming from a previous case competition on a national level, through the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), with ideas and success strategies to share. In all, their different experiences came together perfectly for the winning mix.

Making recommendations for an industry giant like Kaiser was no easy feat for the team, since the organization already had a solid obesity management program in place. After much study and a lot of late-night strategizing, HSC’s team proposed ways to extend the brand through new ventures and partnerships. A mental health component was also recommended. Importantly, they proposed an overarching public health focus to support participants at each step along the way.

“Obesity management is very much a population health issue,” Ayyappan said. “So many aspects of expanding a program like this are important from a health administration perspective – operational strategies, logistics, the bottom line – but to address a chronic disease like obesity, you also need firm roots in public health.”

The public health aspect went far in capturing the judges’ attention.

It was also unique that rather than responding to the competition questions like one might approach an assignment, the group reinvented itself as a “consulting company,” offering a formal business pitch to a potential client.

Their imagined business name, Panacea Consulting, derives from the mythical Greek goddess of health and the resulting, modern-day word for a “best solution” or remedy. They designed their company’s logo, graphics, colors, letterhead and presentation materials around the image of Panacea herself.

The result was a striking way to showcase the business acumen and creativity of rising female leaders in a traditionally male-dominated field.

“As an all-female team, we were very focused on the perspectives that women bring to healthcare leadership, especially those of diverse backgrounds,” Ayyappan said. “In this industry, like many others, women have to work a lot harder to be recognized as an equal.”

For women of color especially, Ka noted, moving up the career ladder to increasingly higher-level positions can be very challenging.

Networking is important, and in winning the competition, HSC’s team will receive free admission to all 2021 ACHENTX meetings and the upcoming national Congress on Healthcare Leadership conference, gaining valuable connections with leaders in the field.

One such leader was their case competition mentor and is 2021 ACHENTX President-Elect, Dustin Anthamatten, MBA, MA, CPA, FACHE, Vice President of Operations for Methodist Charlton Medical Center, Dallas.

“The opportunity to work with HSC’s team was a wonderful experience,” he said. “They were knowledgeable, prepared and motivated to deliver a robust case study analysis in a short timeline, and I had no doubt they would win the competition. I am confident that with their skill set and what they are learning in HSC’s MHA program, they will have successful careers and touch the lives of the patients their organizations care for.”

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