At the intersection of teaching and research: Mapping the health care management literature
The doctoral students read the abstract of every article published in the past 5 years in Health Care Management Review, as well as selected other health care management journals, totaling approximately 300 articles. Students then, through an iterative process, identify a set of categories based on topics (e.g., quality of care, financial performance, human resources), data sources, methods, or theories used in the articles. Using these categories, students classify the articles into groups and subgroups that constitute current research streams.
The assignment culminates with students presenting (a) a graphical representation of their streams and substreams, (b) a depiction of how each stream relates to other streams, and (c) a list of main contributing authors in each stream or substream. I am purposely nebulous regarding how to define “largest contributions” and am always pleasantly surprised by the innovation that students use to measure this concept. Importantly, students must defend their maps by explaining the methodology and rationalization they used to classify articles, identify interrelationships, and operationalize the main contributors.
The exercise proves useful for all involved. Students learn valuable skills in analyzing and conceptualizing vast amounts of literature—a useful skill for any researcher. Moreover, the students and I are able to use the maps to identify gaps in the literature by identifying shortcomings in a given stream—or the need for studies that tie together two or more streams. For example, despite the growing number of studies examining successful leadership attributes in health organizations, students identified that most of these studies took place in hospitals creating a need for studies in other settings. Similarly, students recently identified that the growing literature on accountable care organizations rarely includes a focus on health information technologies, thus identifying a gap in the literature.
Given the value of this experience, I too complete the assignment and present and defend my own map of the literature. Following the example of my mentors, I invite faculty members and other students to attend the presentations of the literature maps. This creates a forum for discussing the findings of current health care management research, identifying areas for future work, and discovering each other’s specific interests that yield collaborative opportunities for new projects. The act of using the context of “teaching” to facilitate more “research” is as efficient as it is rewarding. This becomes one avenue for enhancing health care management research, building future scholars, and thus strengthening our discipline.