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Henrietta Lacks Health Equity Case Competition

Michigan Ross MBAs Launch First-of-Its-Kind Health Equity Case Competition Inspired by Henrietta Lacks

Brittani Banks and Ana Taylor, both second-year MBAs and Consortium fellows at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, share a passion for tackling health inequities and disparities. With numerous historical examples of research studies conducted on individuals of minority backgrounds without their knowledge or consent, it was an issue that Banks felt compelled to take on.

Brittani Banks
Brittani Banks

Such instances include the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the Human Radiation Experiments and, perhaps the most well-known, the case of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge and ultimately led to many health breakthroughs. However, none of these breakthroughs benefited Lacks or her family members, who often struggled to get access to the very healthcare advances their mother’s cells helped make possible.

Banks and Taylor had participated in healthcare case competitions together before, but Banks wanted to create one that specifically focused on health inequities and disparities. With permission from Lacks’ family, Banks chose her as the namesake for the Henrietta Lacks Health Equity Case Competition and recruited Taylor to help her put it together.

Ana Taylor
Ana Taylor

As a top MBA program and Consortium member school with a wealth of healthcare resources, Ross, Taylor believes, is perfect for hosting the event — which will be the first case competition of its kind focused on racial health equity presented by the school. “We wanted to bring something to showcase the Ross name,” she says.

Banks and Taylor partnered with fellow students Jazmin Branch (also a Consortium fellow), Nick Broady and Kat Nguyen, all members of the Healthcare and Life Sciences Club at Ross — which is led by Banks — to create the competition. “At Ross, we talk about tackling these things, partnering with corporations to talk about health inequities and health disparities or just diversity in health in general,” Taylor says. “This seemed like a really good avenue to make sure that we were finding actionable solutions to these issues by putting it on the students.”

Jazmin Branch
Jazmin Branch

The competition is open to teams of three to five students from accredited graduate programs across the country; the application is open through Sept. 12. Taylor emphasizes that the application — which will be assessed by the event’s planning committee, consisting of the five creators of the competition — was intentionally left open to encourage participation from students across disciplines. 

“We will look at the resumes of the team members as well as their interest in health equity,” she notes. “The other part of it is a little bit more open-ended, just to see what inspires the teams — especially since the case competition will be tackling some fairly specific questions.”

Nick Broady
Nick Broady

Selected teams will be notified on Sept. 17 and assigned a case that will prompt them to develop an innovative solution to one or more health disparities in areas such as health coverage, chronic health conditions, mental health and mortality in underserved populations. Teams attending the competition will be provided a lodging per diem and meals, as well as attend a networking reception.

The cases are being developed by corporate sponsors of the competition, some of which are also Consortium corporate partners. Janssen, the pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson — where Banks interned this summer — is the lead sponsor. 

Kat Nguyen

The planning committee is working with the sponsors to make sure the cases address issues of health inequity but also generate actionable solutions that the companies can actually implement. “We have ideas for cases, whether it’s black women having the highest mortality rate in terms of pregnancy … or diversity in clinical trials, but we want them to be tied to very specific problems that these companies have,” Taylor says.

Teams will have one week to develop their solution, which they will present to a panel of judges that includes academic and business leaders within the healthcare industry on Oct. 2. Currently, the competition is scheduled to take place in person, but a hybrid in-person/virtual model may be implemented to ensure that everyone is able to participate. 

Judges will assess a multitude of factors, including specificity, practicality and the cost of implementation, as well as team preparedness and delivery of the presentation. The hope is that company sponsors will execute on winning ideas, depending on available resources and timing.

Semifinalists will move on to the final round for their chance to win $6,000 for first place, $2,500 for second and $1,500 for third. Taylor hopes winning teams will use the money to “continue to pursue their careers with a stronger understanding of how they can impact equity in their respective fields.”

With an undergraduate degree in bioengineering and industrial engineering, Taylor believes the competition embodies her passion to bring together the fields of healthcare and business in order to make a real impact.

“You don’t have to be a doctor to serve patients. This is why I decided to get my MBA. At the end of the day, while you need healthcare experience, you also need that mindset in terms of how to navigate solving problems as a business,” she says. “Healthcare companies need to have the right people in the room who are looking out for the patients with a different perspective.”

This is why the competition is open to students of all fields — to invite problem solving from multiple angles. “We wanted to encourage groups of diversity, not only within background and perspective but also knowledge and school experience,” Taylor says. “That is critical for helping these major decisions stick — having all of those considerations in order to develop realistic solutions.”

They also wanted to create an opportunity for both participants and sponsors to act on their commitment to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. “For me, this competition is important because diversity is always talked about but rarely acted upon. I saw this as a great way to not only provide actionable solutions for corporations but also get students thinking about how to do this,” says Taylor.

Taylor says part of the inspiration for the Henrietta Lacks Health Equity Case Competition came from seeing Consortium peers at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School  launch the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition earlier this year. “We’re used to doing case competitions focused on overall business decisions, but truly applying it to the diversity, equity and inclusion space — one where diversity is woven into business solutions — that was really inspiring to see,” she says.

For her, the Henrietta Lacks Health Equity Case Competition is a lasting demonstration of her and her fellow Consortium students’ commitment to The Consortium’s mission — as inspired by Henrietta Lacks’ story — to ensure the representation, acknowledgement and advancement of underrepresented minorities. 

“The mentality that we have in school is, ‘We’re not here just for us.’ As much as we want to make sure that we ourselves succeed, it’s about making a difference and making it better for either people in the BA pipeline or society as a whole,” says Taylor. “We’re building that momentum for change.”

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