Jones & Bartlett Learning Health Blog

    The Syllabus: The Program Building Block

    Posted by sharonb on Nov 8, 2015 10:56:01 AM

    2014 Headshot_Short HairAs undergraduate and graduate healthcare management education programs move to a competency based framework for curricula, one of a program’s hurdles is assessment of student achievement of those competencies. The basis for this assessment begins in the very building block of our curricula, the syllabus, which many faculty (and some lawyers) call “our contract with the student.” To that end our syllabi should be specific to the course topic, but also address the rest of the program and how this particular course fits into the bigger picture of the competency framework.

    While many readers may feel this is a fundamental area of academic freedom where the instructor is free to include or omit whatever he or she desires,  the fact of the matter is to be learner centered and equitable to all students, certain elements must be included. Many of these are considered boilerplate elements:

    • The instructor’s name, contact information, and office hours;
    • Meeting times and place;
    • Course catalog description;
    • Academic integrity policies and other academic policies (lateness, use of technology, class deportment, etc.);
    • Evaluation methods and grading scales;
    • Assignment details;
    • Required and recommended textbooks or readings;
    • A weekly calendar with topics covered;
    • Assignments and due dates; and,
    • Rubrics for evaluation of the assignments (or links to an online repository of rubrics).

    In addition to these above noted elements, I suggest syllabi should include:
    • Course objectives using Bloom’s taxonomy;
    • Competency framework for the program (can be an appendix, or a link to an external source); and,
    • Crosswalk (aka a matrix or grid) connecting the course objectives, competencies for the course, and assessments (assignments) of the competencies.

    Course objectives are not tasks or activities, or even course competencies. Course objectives are the guideposts to the students and the instructor for course expectations. The educationally accepted approach for articulating these objectives utilizes Bloom’s taxonomy. The action verb at the start of each course objective enables the instructor to distinguish between Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) and Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). In a graduate program, with rare exception, the majority of the course objectives should be HOTS. In an undergraduate program, the upper level courses should, likewise, utilize HOTS. It is helpful to have colleagues and university curriculum committees review your course objectives to ensure they are consistent with the level of coursework. Here’s an example from our graduate course, HCM 669, Patient Advocacy for Healthcare Quality.

    Course Objectives
    1. Critique concepts and theories about patient advocacy in health care, utilizing case studies and real world applications;
    2. Analyze qualitative and quantitative data to assist in formulating effective patient advocacy initiatives;
    3. Design a process to evaluate the effectiveness of patient advocacy efforts in a healthcare organization;
    4. Create an action plan to improve patient advocacy in a healthcare organization;
    5. Construct an interdisciplinary, organization-wide strategy for evaluating the patient advocacy action plan;
    6. Advocate for patient-centered care, patient safety systems, and patient involvement in healthcare organizations; and,
    7. Demonstrate effective written, verbal, and interpersonal proficiencies in application of course materials.

    Once you have you have decided on your competency framework, you can then crosswalk the course outcomes to the competencies and to the assessments/assignments. This table should be front and center in the syllabus, right after course objectives. By doing this, the instructor and the program remind the students of the high priority placed on the competencies and clearly links the course outcomes to the competencies and the assessments/assignments. If a student complains they don’t understand why they have to do a particular assignment, the instructor can remind him of this crosswalk and the explicit link. I like to tell students there are no assignments in this course, “Just because.” The rationale for each assignment is there from the first day of the class.  The following is how I applied this to our Patient Advocacy course. For the purpose of brevity, I have only provided one example of this alignment.

    The Stevenson University Healthcare and Management Program has adopted a Health Leadership Competency Model to guide the design of all courses in the curriculum. The following table delineates the relationship between Program Objectives, Course Objectives, Health Leadership Competencies, and Assessments/Evaluations of Competency Attainment.

    Course Outcome #3

    Design a process to evaluate the effectiveness of patient advocacy efforts in a healthcare organization.

    Health Leadership Competencies

    • Interpersonal Communication
    • Writing Skills
    • Personal and Professional Ethics
    • Cultural Competency
    • Health care Issues and Trends
    • Standards & Regulations
    • Health care Personnel
    • Health Economics
    • Organizational Dynamics and Governance
    • Problem-solving and Decision-making
    • Time Management
    • Quantitative Skills
    • Legal principles development, application and assessment
    • Quality Improvement/Performance Improvement

    Human Resources Patient Advocate Interview Questions and Big Case Study 2 & Reflective Assignment
    Discussion Forum: Letter to a CEO

    While the competencies we have assigned to this course may seem overwhelming, remember when a program is new, it is important to see what works and what doesn’t work in a course. We will be revisiting this matrix in the future, and based on student, faculty, and stakeholder feedback, we will make adjustments accordingly and document those revisions to the curriculum. After reading the above, if you feel you might want to make revisions to your syllabi, this might be a good time to review course sequencing and the levels of the competencies expected from the course and the program, overall. So how do we assess the students’ competencies? That complex and complicated subject will be the topic for my blog for next month.

    Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones & Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management, Cases in Health Care Management, and Career Opportunities in Health Care Management.

    Here are some references if you are interested in this topic:
    Armstrong, P. (2015). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from

    Broom, K., Wood, S., & Sampson, C. (2013, Summer). Current trends in graduate-level healthcare management education: An examination of accreditation outcomes. The Journal of Health Administration Education, 30(3)159-179.

    Buchbinder, S. (2015, June 12). MS in Healthcare Management Program Healthcare Leadership and Management Competencies. Owings Mills, MD: Stevenson University, Graduate and Professional Studies. Retrieved from

    Buchbinder, S. (2015). HCM 669 Patient advocacy for healthcare quality [Syllabus]. Owings Mills, MD: Stevenson University, Graduate and Professional Studies.

    Topics: Author, health administration, Sharon Buchbinder Blog, syllabi, alignment, competency based education, outcomes

    Subscribe to Blog Email Updates

    Recent Posts

    Posts by Topic

    see all