THA's Agenda 21 Opens Doors, Launches Careers
For more than two decades, the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) has operated a unique internship program with a mission of matching minority healthcare students with hospital executives across the state. The goal of the Agenda 21 Internship Program is simple - to diversify healthcare administration so care facilities more closely mirror the communities they serve.
"We started it about 22 years ago, right after I started here," said THA President and CEO Craig Becker. He recalled walking into a board meeting and seeing 25 middle-aged, white men around the table. "No women, nobody of color ... diversity didn't even include 'investor-owned' hospitals at that time," he said with a laugh. "We've come a long way now," he added of the current board, which includes four members of color and four women. "In terms of diversity, I would daresay our board is one of the most diverse hospital associations around."
Becker was quick to note the problem wasn't specific to Tennessee. He had run into the same issue when he worked in Maine and New Jersey. "In both those states, it was exactly the same thing. It really bothered me that we were not reflective of our community."
The question was: How to begin attracting more diverse healthcare executives and helping them rise into the ranks of senior hospital leadership? "We thought a good way to do it was to start an intern program," said Becker.
Agenda 21 is a 12-week, supervised internship for qualified students pursuing graduate degrees in healthcare administration or a related field. Working closely with a hospital administrative leader/mentor and staff, the intern gains valuable hands-on experience with the hospital's management team. Yolanda James, director of public relations and strategy for THA, who has shepherded the program for summer 2018 and 2019, said the experiences vary. For some students, the 12 weeks are spent on one big project. For others, they get a 360-degree view of operations by being embedded in different areas for a week or two at a time. Still others, she said, complete three or four projects during the summer. "At the end, they present a case study of what they did," noted James.
Based on the success of Agenda 21, the decision to begin fostering diversity through interns was a good call. James said the program has about 200 alums now who are working in various capacities, including at the CEO level, in hospitals across the country. "Last year's class of 2018 had nine students," said James. "Of those nine, two have accepted hospital fellowships at Arkansas Children's and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center."
Becker added, "We weren't doing this for people to only stay in Tennessee. We knew people would move around."
However, there are plenty of success stories in the state, as well. James noted a 2017 program alum was offered a full-time job with benefits at Erlanger starting the day after her internship ended. John Baldwin, III, MHA, market associate administrator/co-ethics and compliance officer for Parkridge Health System, credited the program with providing a solid platform on which he has been able to build as he has moved into increasing leadership roles (see box).
Word-of-mouth awareness of the unique program has spread. James said she has seen an increase in out-of-state students applying for the program over the last few years. Those interested apply in the fall for the following summer's internship class. After an application review, candidates selected to move to the next phase are interviewed, and those accepted go through two orientations prior to starting the program. For the purposes of Agenda 21, "minority" is considered to include race, ethnicity and gender, which would include non-white male and all female students, as well as students of any race who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
For those who question the need for such a program, Becker said the answer is straightforward. Diversity gives hospitals a better shot at understanding the belief systems, customs, cultural differences or point of view of the populations they serve. "I think there is a growing awareness among our hospitals that they need to be reflective of their community," he concluded. "If you don't know that, you aren't really serving your community well."
Insights from an Agenda 21 Alum
John Baldwin, III, MHA
Market Associate Administrator/Co-Ethics & Compliance Officer
Parkridge Health System, Chattanooga
John Baldwin participated in Agenda 21 for two summers. He was first selected in 2015, just prior to his first year as a graduate student in the Master of Health Administration program at the University of Memphis, and again in 2016 between his first and second years of graduate studies. Below he shares personal insights from the experience:
Nashville Medical News: Where were you placed, and what was your experience?
Baldwin: I had the privilege to serve as an Agenda 21 intern at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center under the leadership of Tom Ozburn, chief executive officer. Tom was very intentional about providing a well-rounded and valuable internship experience. I was provided the opportunity to shadow and complete rotations to gain exposure to the various departments in the hospital.
In addition, I was treated as a member of the leadership team and attended all of the senior leadership meetings. I completed a plethora of projects that supported operations, strategy, quality, finance, and process improvement for various members of the leadership team.
One of my favorite projects was the design and implementation of the H.E.A.R.T. Cart. This was a complimentary snack cart that provided refreshments to visitors of the hospital to improve the patient experience. H.E.A.R.T. was the acronym that represented the core values of the hospital (Healing, Empathetic, Attentive, Respectful, Together). The cart was utilized daily by members of the leadership to round in the hospital and it was a huge success!
NMN: What was the value of that hands-on experience?
Baldwin: The Agenda 21 internship exceeded all of my expectations and provided valuable exposure that I may never have gained prior to this program. This hands-on experience was the catalyst in my interest in pursuit of a career in healthcare administration.
I was able to gain practical knowledge and application about the profession. The Agenda 21 internship was truly pivotal to my progression and development as a healthcare administrator. I learned about the various complex challenges that exist within healthcare and also learned about the mission-driven focus of the organization.
I observed how patients were kept at the center of all decisions and how compassionate care was provided by all of the team members. I learned about the importance of team work in the pursuit of excellence to provide high quality and affordable care.
NMN: How has Agenda 21 impacted your career?
Baldwin: It served as a tremendous platform to build upon as I pursued my graduate studies and later provided an opportunity for employment.
Upon completion of the Agenda 21 internship, I was provided the opportunity to interview for an administrative fellowship with HCA Healthcare. In June of 2017, I began my healthcare administration career with HCA Healthcare as an administrative fellow at TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center. Upon completion of the administrative fellowship, I accepted a position as market associate administrator for Parkridge Health System in Chattanooga.
NMN Note: The position at Parkridge has reunited Baldwin with Ozburn, who now serves as market president and CEO of the HCA-affiliated system.
NMN: Any other thoughts on Agenda 21?
Baldwin: The THA staff and members of the Council of Inclusion and Health Equity do outstanding work each summer to support this internship program. The investment by the organizations to provide exposure and experience to students that want to pursue a career in healthcare administration is truly remarkable.
Craig Becker is a huge supporter and advocate for the program, and as a result of his leadership, the program has continued to thrive. It will be a tremendous honor for me to help serve as an Agenda 21 preceptor this summer in which Parkridge Health System will provide a very robust internship opportunity to another student. I'm thankful to have had the opportunity and encourage all to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity.