Practical Experience: The Health Care Administration Practicum
The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire health care administration practicum is a 50-week experience that allows health care administration majors to apply on-the-job skills and knowledge in a health care facility. During the practicum experience, students rotate throughout the various departments of their facility. As a result, students develop fundamental skills regarding the day-to-day activities that occur in a health and aging services organization by assisting or observing staff in each department. Students also take courses through UW-Eau Claire during the practicum and complete a capstone leadership project, requiring the student to take a lead role on a significant project or task. Upon completion of the practicum, graduates have the knowledge, skills, and experience required to perform as leaders in the field of health care.
In many ways a practicum is similar to an internship: paid, done for credit, gain on-the job experience, etc. Unlike the internships that students from other programs may experience, the health care administration practicum follows a set of guidelines that students and their preceptors (a.k.a. mentors, who are also licensed health care administrators) must follow. The practicum is designed to provide a reasonably uniform experience for all students to expose them to the knowledge and skills involved in being an administrator or leader in the health and aging services profession, regardless of the organization in which the practicum experience takes place. Essentially, the practicum fulfills the field experience necessary to meet the licensure requirements of the state of Wisconsin; however, each state’s requirements vary.
To give College of Business students more insight into the practicum experience, Meredith Wolf, Communications and Events Coordinator, interviewed Rebekah Streit, a senior health care administration major from Chippewa Falls, Wis. Streit is currently completing a practicum at Wissota Health and Regional Vent Center in Chippewa Falls.
MW: You complete a number of rotations during your practicum. Tell us about the different areas that you work in. What have you learned?
RS: I have completed all my rotations but three: Administration, Medical Records, and Nursing. Currently I am in the Therapy Department where I am getting a feel for the role each member of the rehabilitation team plays in a resident’s well-being.
I worked with so many fabulous people and learned many new and exciting things during each rotation. Even the rotations that might be termed as “less important” turned out to be great learning opportunities, teaching me about the environment and traits that I need to look for in a permanent position and as a future administrator.
While I am not sure I have a favorite rotation, I have focused mainly on my Human Resource and Business Office rotations because these operations are the backbone of any long term care organization.
MW: All practicum students complete capstone projects as part of their experience. What projects you are working on?
R.S. I am currently working on three projects. The first project I am working on is updating our company website. The site is outdated and in major need of renovation. Most people do not regularly visit our website, and of those that do, even fewer take the time to read it. Our website’s content needs to speak to the present, needs to be updated, communicate effectively, and show that we are active.
My second project is updating our employee performance evaluations. The common complaint among managers of the organization is that the performance evaluation is all narrative and takes too much time to write. In hearing these grievances, I’ve decided to adjust the evaluation to include check off boxes that require a brief comment/reason why that employee warrants that measure. Also, every employee’s performance evaluation will be tailored to each specific department. I will work with each department individually to create a specific evaluation form for Nursing, Dietary, Social Work, etc…
The third project, which I haven’t spent a lot of time and effort on yet, is the implementation of an inventory software and inventory tracking system for our dietary department. Almost a full work day is spent counting inventory in all the different coolers and pantries. With an inventory software and inventory tracking system, managing inventory reorders won’t take almost 8 hours each day.
MW: All practicum students are assigned a mentor or “preceptor” who supervises and guides their progress during the practicum. Tell us a little bit about your preceptor.
RS: I am fortunate to know and work with Jeremy Kiley, the administrator at Wissota Health.
Every day he teaches me to accept the challenges and follow through with them; to work hard but also play hard; to also be my own person; and maintain a good sense of humor.
The inspiration he creates helps to further build my passion in helping others.
MW: Your practicum experience sounds wonderful. What are some of the greatest rewards of the practicum and working in a long-term care facility?
RS: I love getting a feel for all the different outlooks of health care administration. Not many people have that opportunity. It really has helped me get an idea of what I want to do, the type of work environment I want to work in and the people I want to work with.
For me, the best thing about the internship is the hands-on experience I get. Actually applying some of the principles from the classroom and using them in the real world made me learn so much more than I thought possible. The skills I’ve obtained from my practicum will put me a step ahead of my fellow college graduates when it comes to getting a job in the near future.
MW: Now the flip side. What challenges have you faced during your practicum?
RS: Adapting to the variety of projects that I am simultaneously working on is my greatest challenge. Since the beginning of my internship, I have tried to become more flexible and hone multi-tasking skills, but I still find it challenging balancing work, school, and life.
MW: Now that you are at the half-way point in your practicum, how would you say that your UW-Eau Claire courses and experiences prepared you for your practicum experience?
RS: I feel this institution did a great job in preparing me for my role as an administrative intern. At both the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire/ Health Care Administration program I was given the skills and training in learning to improve my writing, speaking, researching, and team working abilities. I was also taught the broader knowledge of both the business and health care side in both understanding the long term care industry, their operational procedures, and varying organizational structures. There is no question as to what talents, qualities, and training is required to succeed as a health care administrator, and UWEC and the HCAD program will help in guiding you to that final decision.
The practicum experience for UW-Eau Claire health care administration students is a year-long cohort experience that begins each August. Students in the program apply and are accepted into a practicum cohort at least one year in advance of beginning the experience. While in the practicum, students receive UW-Eau Claire credit for the courses taken and pay full tuition and fees to the university. Practicum students also receive a stipend to help defray living costs. Upon completion of the practicum, students who graduate from UW-Eau Claire are ready to begin performing as a leaders and managers in the health care field.