Learning Through Immersive Simulation

MHA’s Leadership Innovation

When it comes to difficult healthcare management decisions, boardrooms can feel like boiler rooms. The financial, personnel and supply-chain issues that impact healthcare organizations can be difficult to prepare future health industry leaders for, especially when these important decisions must be made under pressure.

With that in mind, WSU’s MHA program offers students a unique chance to sit in the hot seat without getting burned.

By incorporating simulated leadership into learning, the program has taken an innovative approach to connecting classroom and industry to best prepare students for their careers. Every year, students have the opportunity to participate in a highly immersive leadership simulation where actual healthcare professionals and educators create a low-consequence space for learning through doing. Future leaders get the opportunity to bridge their classroom learning and industry experience.

Going beyond mere role playing, the WSU exercise borrows elements of clinical simulation to immerse participants in situations they will face in their careers — without the real-world consequences.

“As soon as I got here and immersed myself in this experience, I knew right away that it was the right decision,” said Austin Duncan. “It just felt valuable, like this was well worth my time.” 

A 2023 participant in the simulation, Austin appreciated how close the simulation felt to reality. 

“There’s no room to kind of ease into it,” he said. “The meeting starts, then you’re in it. Real time, real life.”

Wildaline Figaro, another participant who has since graduated from the MHA program, admitted that she was anxious in the beginning of the simulation. That anxiety dissipated, however, when she came to understand that, while challenging, the simulation was supportive. 

“I’m human,” she said. “I’m not going to have all the answers, but I’m going to have people I’m working with who maybe know more than I do, and I can learn from them.” 

Before the simulation, students received packets detailing some of the scenarios and roles. While they didn’t know quite what to expect, it soon became clear that they were in an environment with a culture of fostering success. 

“With a little coaching, I got better and better,” said Ashlee Shemenski, a now-MHA graduate who came from the dental hygiene world. “And I was able to perform and take aspects from one simulation to the next. By the last one, we had pretty well nailed it.”

Marcus Garong, another MHA grad and simulation participant, said that the supportive environment was indicative of the MHA program overall. 

“There is a sense of mentorship here,” he said. “There’s a sense of development.”