Students who register for HLST 4900, Health Studies Project Management: Field Experience, sometimes are disappointed to discover that they will be undertaking a consulting project, not an internship.
“The students come in with skepticism because they really wanted to have internships. They end up really pleased with what they’ve experienced and learned,” says Lorne Zon, a former not-for-profit chief executive officer who developed the course and, as an instructor, teaches it regularly. “The projects they do are the kinds of things they could be doing on the job when they graduate.
“Not only do they explore an outside agency’s policy, professional practice or administrative problem; they develop skills in program intervention, design, planning and evaluation.”
HLST 4900 is essentially a capstone course that draws upon all their previous knowledge and training to help them solve a problem for an outside organization while also teaching them the rudiments of project management. It is geared toward fourth-year health studies students and there is a list of prerequisites they must satisfy before registering for the course.
Michael Klejman, a veteran manager in health and long-term care services, shares the teaching load with Zon.
“From an academic perspective, we introduce the students to what project management is all about and ask them to apply this learning to a real agency’s problem,” Klejman says.
During the 12-week term, the students work in consulting teams, creating a project charter that is approved by their client. They also develop project milestones, present their solution to the client, create a journal detailing what they’ve learned, and are asked to evaluate themselves and their teammates.
“The students learn about handling team dynamics, but also learn about themselves,” Zon says.
The instructors choose the organizations and negotiate the scope of the work prior to assigning a team to any project. The students in the course are divided into teams to solve problems put forward by the organizations.
“We want to make sure the project is within the students’ skill level and is doable within the fixed time limit of the course,” Zon says. “We also set parameters; for instance, as the client, the organization is required to respond to student questions within 24 hours to keep the project moving.”
Zon and Klejman are also available to provide guidance to the students.
“We tell them to consider us as the senior consultants-in-charge,” Zon says. “We can coach them and intervene with the client when necessary.”
The projects undertaken are interesting and varied. Recently, a course team assisted a local long-term care facility in preparing to connect its computer system to the province’s new electronic health records system, run by e-Health Ontario. Another team explored various methods that a seniors’ agency could use to support their younger caregivers better and prevent them from reaching burnout.
“The students really get into it, and we’ve been really happy,” says Zon. “We’ve had clients come back two or three times, wanting to work with us again. That’s the biggest compliment.”
By Elaine Smith, special contributor to Innovatus