Health Inspiration from Students

Nov. 8, 2016
doctor holding medical instruments

A couple of years ago our Center for Leadership Ethics hosted the 11th annual Collegiate Ethics Case Competition. Students and faculty from 32 universities across North America came to Tucson to present their ethical analysis of a contemporary leadership challenge. Each year our Center founder, Dr. Paul Melendez, writes a case specifically for this competition. The cases are always timely and address issues that are in the forefront of national attention. The focus of this year’s case was healthcare.

At a time when millions of Americans are struggling to access the online insurance marketplace, and employers are unsure of the impact of employer mandates, the case asked students to assume the role of a health care consultant and design an employer-sponsored wellness program for a hypothetical Arizona manufacturing firm. Some programs are voluntary; others are mandatory. Some use carrots to induce participation; others use sticks to punish lack of involvement. And the evidence is not clear what works best, or even what ‘best’ means. A program that encourages regular physician check-ups can result in healthier employees, but also higher doctor and prescription costs for the employer. The students had to consider financial, legal, ethical, and stakeholder implications of their programs.

The ideas the students came up with were good… some very creative. The interaction between students and the executive judges was even better. As I got to be an observer of this event, I wondered why we can have more of these discussions. We had 64 business students and 30+ judges engaged in meaningful discussions of innovative and creative solutions to our healthcare crisis. Business has an important role in this healthcare debate. Yet on the national stage, politicians are dominating the dialog with their back-and-forth fighting.

I think as business leaders we need to own healthcare reform. Politics and policies are only going to provide partial solutions at best. So much of our healthcare crisis is tied to misaligned incentives (for patients, providers, and payers) and individual behavior. As business leaders, these are the types of issues we can address. Through our programs, policies, and cultural messaging, we can shape the health culture of employees and even their families.

If 64 bright young undergraduates can come up with creative and innovative ideas with only two weeks to study the situations, why can’t we as business leaders who are living these challenges every day apply our innovation and creativity in the same way? Why can’t we have dialogs like the students had with the judges, volleying ideas back and forth? If we do, if we really engage in this issue, I think we will start to see true healthcare reform.

With every competition there is a winner. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that my Mom’s graduate alma mater, Simon Fraser University from Burnaby, British Columbia took first place (and the $1000 per student prize). Queens University from Ontario, Canada took second place. Is it ironic or telling that two Canadian schools took the top two positions in a competition about U.S. healthcare challenges? Maybe there is more we can learn from our neighbors. Let’s all start to engage in creative dialog the way these students did in trying to find real solutions to our healthcare crisis.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay