Health Systems Management program develops future leaders through service

By Mark Donahue
February 27, 2017

When it comes to health care-focused community service in higher education, opportunities for future doctors and nurses are clear and abundant. But what about students looking to become tomorrow’s health care administrators?

“One of the things about being trained essentially to be administrators is we don’t get a lot of patient contact,” says Mary Kate Wainwright, a student in the Master of Science in Health Systems Management in the College of Health Sciences. “So to volunteer in a completely student-run clinic working with an underserved population is great. It gives us an opportunity to get face to face with patients.”

For future administrators who will focus on business operations, logistics and the essential functions that make the health care system go, this kind of real-world exposure is critical. And it’s something the HSM program at Rush University strives to facilitate. 

Wainwright is working on a service project at Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph, a homeless shelter on Chicago’s Near West Side, collaborating with Rush Medical College students who operate a Tuesday night clinic under the supervision of an attending physician.

Wainwright began working with Cory Kosche, one of the medical students, to determine if homeless people coming into the clinic have health insurance and if so, whether they see a primary care physician. Data gathered discovered that 63 percent of people seen at Franciscan House had insurance. Most of those who did, however, had no identified primary care physician. In fact, many expressed significant confusion in navigating the health care system as a barrier to even accessing their benefits.

Wainwright worked with Kosche to focus on getting Franciscan residents resources to obtain insurance and/or primary care through the Transitional Care Program, or TCP. Residents were referred to the TCP’s team of navigators, who identified whether the patient had insurance and scheduled primary care appointments in the appropriate clinic. The navigators also referred uninsured residents to Community Health, a free clinic on the South and West sides of Chicago, to establish care. Wainwright recently instituted an incentive plan to bolster signups.

“Our hope is that they’ll obtain insurance, see and keep their doctor, and they won’t be coming through the clinic as much for those types of [chronic] issues,” she says

This kind of service work is woven into the Health Systems Management program and builds on Rush’s larger mission to serve as an anchor for its surrounding communities on the West Side.

The program recently won a prestigious national award for Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Development from the Commission on Accreditation for Healthcare Management Education — the prime award series for programs like HSM in the U.S.

The program was recognized not only for its level of integration of leadership development, but also its focus on the concept of servant leadership, says Andy Garman, PsyD, an HSM professor. 

In addition to work-based learning projects like Wainwright’s, all HSM students are required to complete an additional 16 hours of community service before graduation, with options through the Rush Community Service Initiative Program.

Full-time HSM students also complete an internship at an office on Rush’s campus. Wainwright is a part-time student who works full time as a project manager for Professional Nursing Practice at Rush.

She would like to work on community benefit initiatives like this after graduation and says her service project and meeting others doing the same at Rush has been a big inspiration.

“There is no other program that’s structured the way Rush has the University structured in relation to the medical center,” Garman says. “It makes some things possible here that are just not possible in other places.”