A group of undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University won the prestigious CLARION case contestdesigned to improve interdisciplinary communications within healthcare.
Joséphine Gresko, first-year student at the School of Pharmacy; Lance Mendoza, graduate student in health administration at the Health Professions College; Gruhi Patel, a biomedical engineering major at the College of Engineering; and Kush Savsani, a sophomore in biology at the College of Humanities, won $7,500 and is the first VCU team to win the competition, beating 16 other teams from across the country. The team also won this year’s $1,000 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion award for their presentation.
“First place; go team,” Mendoza said with a laugh.
For CLARION, students face a hypothetical problem in healthcare. They are asked to research, define and develop solutions to the problem. The University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview, the university health system, are organizing and hosting the competition. This year’s competition focused on COVID-19 and the burnout created within the industry. Specifically, the topic focused on how to create a culture of well-being and resilience to combat rising levels of stress in organizations and address inequities within their healthcare workforce.
VCU students came up with an innovative definition of radical belonging, which the judges noted as exceptional, and created an educational program to improve inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Recommended action steps included a volunteer program and a social platform.
The competition was an amazing experience, the students said. They worked in several disciplines and discovered other areas of health care.
“I walked away from that after developing so many different skills that are useful,” Gresko said. “Communication. Teamwork. Public speaking skills. Research skills. Being able to relate everything to a central theme.
“I am extremely proud of the VCU team for winning this national competition. Their success speaks volumes about the commitment of VCU and our healthcare system to safe, high-quality care, interdisciplinary practice, and health equity,” said Art Kellermann, MD, senior vice president. of Health Sciences at VCU and CEO of VCU Health System. I also love that half of the team members come from our MCV campus and the other half from our Monroe Park campus. And on top of that, they also won the team diversity award. Congratulations to our new national champions! »
Develop a team
Normally, VCU has four or five teams that compete in a local CLARION competition at VCU. The winner goes to the national competition in Minnesota. This year, only four students registered.
“I met them after the competition and told them it was fate that they came together,” said Melissa Burton, financial and academic coordinator at the VCU Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Carewho helps to organize the competition.
Last fall, Burton held an information session, where she met and decided to form a team around Gresko, Mendoza, Patel and Savsani. Patel and Savsani were the only ones who knew each other before the competition.
Burton encourages team diversity and believes that played a big part in the result. Four different VCU schools, both graduate and undergraduate, were represented.
“I tell them to have the most diverse team because anything can happen,” Burton said.
Mendoza agreed. As a specialist in health administration, he sees health care from a particular perspective, but being around his teammates for competition exposed the “blind spots” he had. He understood the subject from different angles when listening to other team members.
“We’re taught to think a certain way,” Mendoza said. “Hearing everyone’s point of view and how it relates to certain ideas made me realize that maybe my way of thinking isn’t always the right one.”
An important aspect of the project was to define the term “radical belonging”. The students said it was difficult because the instructions were vague. Ultimately, they defined radical belonging as “a sense that your authentic self is recognized, valued, and leveraged for the common good.”
“The CLARION judges said it was one of the best definitions they’ve seen throughout the competition,” Patel said.
Student team members said that VCU staff and faculty did a great job preparing them for the competition. Normally the students would have competed against other VCU teams, but that was not the case this year. So, Burton held a mock pitch with VCU professors as judges. Students said the mock presentation and feedback played a central role. The judges helped them refine their message and focus on the key themes of the project.
“The reviews were harsh, but I think it was really important to us.” Patel said. “They showed us all the gaps we were missing in our presentation and the things we need to change.”
“VCU does a great job of promoting inclusion, belonging and equity within its own system.”
Savsani agreed. He said the presentation simulation forced them to drastically change key elements of the presentation. They had to modify their message and focus on the heart of the problem. He added that VCU’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion was valuable, as students saw the process in action.
“Being connected to VCU and VCU Health has allowed us to see how a healthcare system works, especially in a case involving diversity, equity and inclusion,” Savsani said. “VCU does a great job of promoting inclusion, belonging and equity within its own system.”
Tips for other students
Burton said the university’s goal in entering the competition is not to create a winner, but to help students understand the value of working together. Health care is notorious for being siloed, and the competition gives students a chance to talk to others in the health care field. They want students to have meaningful experience and incorporate real-world experiences into their resume.
“I was so excited when I heard they won,” Burton said. “It’s such a big thing.”
VCU is one of the few universities in the nation to have an interpersonal career training office that entered the competition, according to Burton.
The team members said they formed lasting relationships through the competition and plan to remain friends. They encouraged other students to get involved in experiential opportunities at VCU.
Gresko noted that the competition was a break from academic work. She enjoyed working with other students and collaborating. They often dined together while working on the project.
“I was always super excited to work on that,” Gresko said. “It wasn’t like studying.”
Savsani found it a unique and insightful experience to work on such demanding real-world applications. He wants to enter the medical field and working with students and faculty on the medical campus was a crucial opportunity in pursuit of that goal.
“As a young undergraduate, it’s been great for my personal development and education,” Savsani said. “The experience, the teamwork and the ability to solve real health issues is the best part of it.”
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