2012 Challenge News Story

Reprinted from the April-May 2012 edition of The Record (page 12).

On January 21, the first-ever UTHSC Health Care Challenge kicked off in the Student-Alumni Center. More than 90 students from all six colleges gathered to form 14 teams. The Mission: to design a health plan for the members of the MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) Senior Companion Program. The Prize: $1,000 and implementation of the program by MIFA.

“MIFA is excited [about] this new partnership with UTHSC’s Health Care Challenge. Our Senior Companion program can only benefit from the expertise and contributions of these talented students. MIFA has relied on collaborations throughout its 44-year history, and we look forward to learning and growing through this opportunity as well,” said Sally Jones Heinz, executive director of MIFA.

The Senior Companion Program pairs low-income able seniors with homebound, disabled or critically ill peers. Companions help with the many activities of daily living in order to provide caregivers (typically family members) with a much-needed break. There are currently more than 115 companions serving more than 600 clients in the community. A significant portion of the companions and clients face health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and a wide array of cancers.

The goal of the Health Care Challenge was not only to help MIFA seniors, but also to help foster interprofessional camaraderie and cooperation. Students were given the opportunity to use their individual specialties, whether it is in occupational therapy, medicine, dentistry, or another health care focus, in order to create a comprehensive long-range plan to aid the peer-to-peer program, such as initiating health screenings or policy changes. Thus, the Health Care Challenge was really a model for the way health care providers must work together on a day-to-day basis in their professional lives. Faculty advisors, representing a wide range of health professions from across UTHSC, were assigned to the teams in order to guide students to possible resources available to complete the proposal development.

2012 winners
2012 Winners - Team CHIC
From left: Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, UTHSC executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer; Cheryl Scheid, PhD, vice chancellor of academic affairs; Chasity Shelton, PharmD, assistant professor, College of Pharmacy; Karen Wong, first-year, College of Medicine; Tara Tae, first-year, College of Medicine; Mary Austin Smith, second-year, College of Dentistry; Vata Sitimascharoen, first-year, College of Pharmacy; Holly Norwick, first-year, College of Medicine; Laura Matthews, second-year, College of Dentistry; Mythili Chunduru, first-year, College of Pharmacy, and Steve J. Schwab, MD, chancellor of UTHSC.

“It was great to witness students at varied levels of training from different disciplines working collaboratively with enthusiasm and intensity to create a project for the benefit of seniors in the community,” said Melody J. Cunningham, MD, associate professor in Pediatrics and team advisor. “The sole focus was on the seniors and the project, not on the students themselves.”

In March, of the 14 teams in competition, six advanced to the final round, where they pitched their plans in front of a panel of judges from MIFA. The proposals were judged on feasibility, creativity, sustainability, appropriateness, consistency with MIFA and UTHSC’s missions, and on whether or not it truly reflected an interprofessional approach to health care.

“MIFA judges were extremely impressed with the teams’ thoughtfulness, professionalism, and passion for their projects,” stated Dot Gilbertson, MIFA vice president of development in regards to the difficulty of judging a winner from the pack.

Winners and runners-up were announced on April 3, at the Health Care Challenge Recognition and Awards Ceremony. Members of the fourth, fifth and sixth ranked teams all received $50 gift cards to the Barnes & Noble bookstore on campus. Two teams tied for second. Those team members received one more little surprise when they showed up at the reception – they too would receive a cash prize.

Each member of the two teams tied for second place received a $500 prize. In addition, the MIFA judges determined that all of the top three teams’ plans would be so beneficial to the Senior Companions program that they wanted to implement all three, and invite members of the teams to be on the implementation committee. It was truly a surprise to the members of the teams who applauded at the news.

The first team to tie for second place was Team CHIPS (Community Health Initiative Program for Seniors) which designed a Senior Companions newsletter and developed team-oriented training sessions for the companions. The second team in the tie was Project SAFE (Student Aid for the Elderly) with its plan to screen and treat health care issues of the companions, including dental screening in collaboration with the Bellevue’s Mobile Dental Clinic. Check out the full list of the exceptional team members and their advisors in the info box on the bottom.


  • David Bulger, Medicine
  • Jennifer Flanagan, Dentistry
  • Megan Perry, Pharmacy
  • Dory Sellers, Dentistry
  • Andy Thomasson, Dentistry
  • Brittany Wodowski, Pharmacy
  • Drew Wodowski, Medicine
  • Advisor: Melody Cunningham, MD, associate professor, Pediatrics

Project SAFE

  • Kylie Beukema, Medicine
  • Tyler Dougherty, Pharmacy
  • Stefanie Garder, Dentistry
  • Lesley Milton, Dentistry
  • Stuart Sherwood, Dentistry
  • Kyle Smith, Dentistry
  • Advisor – Leslie McKeon, PhD, associate professor and assistant dean for Student Affairs in the College of Nursing

The first place team in the 2012 Health Care Challenge, winning $1,000 each, was Team CHIC (Collaborative Health and Interprofessional Care). Their plan included a 12-part curriculum for the companions on health care issues affecting them. They also found grocery stores and producers to donate food for an end-of-the-year cooking demonstration and dinner of appreciation, featuring a local “celebrity” chef, for all of the companions.

Even with the new funds in their pockets, many of the members of the winning team focused on the experience of the Health Care Challenge when asked about what they took from the experience.

“I really enjoyed working with a variety of people in this challenge,” said Team CHIC member Mythili Chunduru. “Not only did I interact with students from different professions, but I also interacted with members of the MIFA and UTHSC communities. I have gained perspective on my pharmacy education, and how I want to apply it in the future.”

“I thought the Health Care Challenge was a great and very worthwhile experience,” echoed teammate Laura Matthews. “MIFA has been so great to work with, and I look forward to the next step to start incorporating our ideas in the Senior Companion Program. It was just a great experience all around! I would definitely encourage students to participate in the program next year.”

Congratulations to all of the participants in the Health Care Challenge for their efforts and ideas. A special thanks to the 26 faculty members across UTHSC who served as faculty advisors assisting with each of the teams and to MIFA for their partnership in this endeavor. The Health Care Challenge was coordinated by the Office of Interprofessional Education and Clinical Simulation.

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