Important Considerations: MHA Capstone

HAP790: Capstone Practicum

A Unique Feature of the MHA in Health Systems Management

The capstone practicum course provides a unique opportunity for students in the program to spend several months with a health care organization in their concentration. During the course, students engaged in the analysis of a complex problem assigned by the host organization. Students demonstrate critical thinking skills in actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to inform an executive decision regarding an important problem or issue. This provides students with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout their program of study in a real-life situation in front of key healthcare executives. Performance in this role can provide the student a launching pad to pursue opportunities for future professional growth and development.

Employment after Graduation

While the capstone practicum provides students with an opportunity to gain meaningful experience in a local health care organization, there is no guarantee that this will lead to employment with that organization. This will depend on a variety of factors including the availability of positions; the student’s performance; and the suitability of the student for available opportunities. However, a successful performance will typically lead to good references and a meaningful engagement to place on a student’s resume.

The online MHA in Health Systems Management is a mirror image of the CAHME-approved campus program. Both matriculation paths are designed to prepare students in the competencies necessary for success in health care executive roles. Most of our students are gainfully employed following graduation. However, students should know that the MHA degree (or any degree) cannot guarantee future employment. Equally important is an individual’s experience and track record of performance. This includes their time in graduate studies where students develop the ability to effectively communicate and maintain effective working relationships with others. During the capstone practicum, students have the opportunity to continue developing these skills, while they earn recognition for their professional competence and leadership acumen. This recognition will be important to success in post-graduation employment and career advancement.

Classroom Format

The capstone practicum course is conducted through a synchronous seminar format. Each week, students can expect to make a live presentation to the class on the progress they are making on their capstone project engagement. The seminar involves dialogue, consultative critiques, and other feedback from the course instructor and peers in the class. Through this process, students apply new perspectives and insights to managing their projects as well as selected aspects of project executions such as analyses, project conclusions, and recommendations.

Practicum Requirements and Eligibility

All coursework in must be completed before a student enrolls in the capstone course. Any exceptions must receive the approval of the student’s academic advisor and course faculty. This is important because the capstone requires the application of the knowledge and competencies students are expected to have acquired from prior coursework.

Practicum Institution Requirements

Most health care organizations will only employ individuals without a criminal background in a position of organization responsibility and public trust. While there is no universal standard, health care organizations usually will not accept students for a practicum placement if the student has a criminal background. Most health care organizations will require that students complete a background check, which may include—but is not be limited to—law enforcement finger printing, state driving records, credit reports, and a criminal records check.

Background checks, blood tests, and other requirements such as HIPAA training often must be satisfied prior to beginning a practicum assignment. The Department of Health Administration and Policy complies with the background check requirements for all health care and service organizations.

Background checks, medical exams, and pre-employment training requirements take time to complete and can cause a delay in securing a practicum placement. As a result, all practicum placement requirements are worked on and finalized the semester prior to taking the HAP 790 Capstone Practicum course during the HAP 789 Pre-Capstone course. Students who are concerned about potential background issues must contact the program coordinator to discuss their concern and determine the impact on field placement. The MHA program cannot guarantee practicum placement or subsequent degree completion for students who do not pass a background check. Moreover, employment prospects for students is not likely for those who cannot pass a criminal background check and other pre-employment screening typically conducted by hospitals, healthcare clinics, long-term care, or assisted living facilities.

Students who are not able to pass a criminal background check and are ineligible to take the practicum course must indicate this information at the time of application. If a student is unable to meet this requirement, a determination will be made as to whether or how the practicum course requirement may be met. If a student is not eligible to satisfactorily obtain the necessary health, background check clearance, and agency orientation requirements, he/she may not be able to complete the practicum and therefore may not be able to meet the curriculum requirements for degree completion.

Process for Securing an Approved Practicum

Students are expected to work with capstone course faculty and their academic advisor to secure an approved practicum organization (with a qualified, approved preceptor) prior to the beginning of the semester in which the capstone practicum course is to be taken. An approved George Mason University Agency Affiliation Agreement must be executed by the Department of Health Administration and Policy and the practicum agency. Students are advised to start early in identifying and seeking program approval for a capstone host organization.

Students may elect to pursue a practicum from a wide array of organizations and agencies. This may include but is not limited to: hospitals, senior care facilities, medical group practices, health maintenance organizations, insurance companies, governmental agencies, international health organizations, bio-medical equipment companies, management consulting firms and others. Students may not be approved to engage in the practicum with the business unit of the same organization where they are currently employed.