Earlier this year, I participated in the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP), a hands-on, team-based consulting project. It’s taken as an extra course during Term 3 that can count as elective credit in Term 5. FCCP begins with a business or nonprofit applying to Fuqua to have a team of students solve a business challenge. During a 5-month period, a team of four to six students works closely with the client on its business problem with guidance from a faculty and alumni advisor. Fundamentals in consulting are provided in an online lecture series, and milestone assignments help guide the project toward the final presentation.
My teammate Cory and I were part of the team that was fortunate to work with the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI). DCRI’s website describes its purpose as, “developing and sharing knowledge that improves the care of patients around the world through innovative clinical research.”
Our project was to determine if site metrics could help DCRI evaluate the performance of their clinical trial sites and better inform which sites to select for future studies. We had the chance to analyze financial data and interview many DCRI leaders to reach our final recommendations.
Our Backgrounds and Why We Did FCCP
One of the wonderful things about coming to Fuqua is the opportunity to participate in a myriad of activities. There are conferences to attend, clubs to join, and amazing guest speakers to learn from. The plethora of opportunities, unfortunately, forces choices. I had to strategically decide which experiences would help me grow the most. This is where FCCP came in.
One of the things I always try to look for is experiential learning opportunities. This opportunity checked several boxes for me. I am really intrigued by the consulting industry, and I wanted a chance to try it on for size to better understand if I would enjoy the work. I also found it exciting to work with a company outside my industry. Lastly, FCCP was a chance to immediately apply classroom concepts in a real-world setting.
At the time I signed up for FCCP, I was a physician at Duke Health and had no intention of pivoting to a career as a business consultant. I did FCCP for two reasons. First, I knew learning to think like a business consultant would be valuable in my future role as the vice chair of Integration at Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging. I will be the physician leader on multiple initiatives analogous to consulting projects, and working with cross-functional teams to solve problems affecting my department. Second, FCCP was a chance to apply and consolidate the theory I was learning in class to a business project with a real client. That seemed exciting and a great chance to get my feet wet with guidance from advisors.
The Most Valuable Learning Experiences
My biggest takeaway from this experience has been the importance of framing the question. To our team’s credit, we initially spent a lot of time trying to decide in which direction we wanted to go. Our client was great to work with, but they didn’t have a hard and fast interpretation of what question we were trying to answer. It was our job to define the question and frame the problem. Inherent in this process is making sure while the team frames the problem, it aligns with the client’s expectations of what work you will deliver. The time we spent early in our engagement framing the problem paid dividends as it allowed us to go back to this key question time and time again for guidance.
I also really appreciated the opportunity to be a total outsider on a project. Our team was a nice mix of subject matter experts and students like me who had no experience in the clinical research field. I call it an opportunity because it allowed me to view the industry strictly in terms of the things I was learning in class. I got to ask questions during the engagement that probably appeared obvious to someone who lives and breathes clinical research, but for me, it was permissible because I don’t have a medical background. This experience has changed the way I view my own industry. What things do we take for granted because we lack objectivity?
In addition to learning and applying frameworks for team problem solving, the FCCP experience taught me to have a longer attention span for team projects and to be more comfortable with ambiguity.
Our project was with a client that was new to FCCP. The first client meeting was an open-ended discussion without a clear question. The physician in me wanted more precision and a clear vision of the end. Instead, I had to trust in the consulting process of framing the question, creating a process map and other principles. We did not have a sense of the story until just before the midpoint presentation. In addition, we faced a series of challenges, just like in real life. However, the team remained engaged and we made progress every week.
Would we do it again?
FCCP has been a tremendous experience. I feel I have gained a new skillset in framing and applying logical thinking to solving ambiguous problems. I have gained new friends and sincerely enjoyed working with my teammates on the project.
The final product was far better than I could have imagined. I am so proud of our team! Personally, I have gained the confidence to take on ambitious projects and use the consulting frameworks to lead the team and process.