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As Pandemic's First Responders, Healthcare MBA Students Get Lessons in Crisis Leadership

As Pandemic's First Responders, Healthcare MBA Students Get Lessons in Crisis Leadership

For students and faculty in the FIU Business Healthcare MBA program, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique set of challenges. Roughly 90 percent of students in the program are employed full-time, and most are in first-responder jobs, keeping up with the demands of the pandemic.

"Our students saw what was going on every day, people getting sick and dying, and nonetheless, they came ready for class, and they got their assignments done," said Miriam Weismann, academic director of the program. It was a unique opportunity to showcase the value of the program. "We try to prepare students for these kinds of health policy crises," she said. "Our students always took the program seriously, but in the pandemic, they saw the real value of what we're doing, and they worked even harder. The goals seem clearer."

As schedules were juggled and safety restrictions instituted, Weismann also noted a renewed commitment to students on the part of faculty and community. Among the greatest adjustments: the capstone project at West Kendall Baptist Hospital, an ongoing partnership. To prepare for the capstone, a policy consultation, students typically visit the hospital to research their projects and return to present it to administrators. Yet rather than cancel the project amidst the overwhelming demands of the pandemic, hospital staff made it happen. They created an online tour of the hospital and a Zoom session to prepare students for the assignment. Students were able to present their theses and policy recommendations to the administration, including the CEO, COO, physicians and other administrators, live via Zoom.

"They still took time to work with our students," Weismann said. "I think that's remarkable."

For Healthcare MBA student Erika Barrios, a pediatric cardiology ICU nurse, the pandemic has intensified her drive to train for a leadership position. As she participated in conversations about implementing policies and procedures on the job, "I found myself wanting to do more than just being at the patient's bedside. I'm very passionate about the nursing profession in general, how it's progressing, and I want to learn more about how to practice to the best of my ability."

This fall, the combined entering classes of the online and hybrid Healthcare MBA programs set a new record for enrollment.

"Word has gotten out," Weismann said. "Our program not only gives students an MBA, but it also gives them the kind of experiences and hands-on learning they need to advance their career in any healthcare organization, to move up and get better jobs."

Barrios sees the robust set of opportunities within the program, including fellowships and real-world experiences shared by professors, as critical in providing a path to a leadership role in the future. "The opportunities are given to us," she said. "It's up to me to put them together."