Health Behind Bars: Vanderbilt Competes in University of Oxford’s Global Competition


In an effort to tackle two of the United States’ most pressing issues, our interdisciplinary team researched the intersection between healthcare and incarceration in the United States. Per the 8th amendment of the Constitution, U.S. insiders[1] are the only population in the country with a legal right to medical attention and health services. Despite this, correctional healthcare is inefficient, and in many cases, insiders are not being treated. Acknowledging the relationship between insider health and public health, Team Health Behind Bars set an ambitious goal to dissect this complex system.

Below, we discuss four phases to the process: (1) the team formation (2) our approach (3) the final presentation (4) reflections on our process and growth as social impact leaders.

  1. Team Formation

For the fourth consecutive year, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, England has organized and hosted the finals for the Map the System Global Challenge. Jordan Jurinsky (M.Ed), Hannah Keith (JD/MBA), Mike O’Hara (MBA)* and Karah Palmer (M.Ed), had the opportunity to spend three months preparing for the 2018 Global Final. Vanderbilt was one of 15 teams out of 470 across 27 international institutions invited to Oxford, England to share our findings.

The Map the System Global Challenge promotes the idea that “social transformation doesn’t happen in a silo, nor does it come from one person or one great idea. Mapping out the system allows us to think about context and the many interacting factors that contribute to the development of the issues facing us – be they economic forces, political movements, or global trends.” Thus, instead of developing a single business plan or quick fix, we were asked to think differently about social change. At the heart of the challenge we were to reflect, explore, probe, and research the context and influential elements within the system that our passion resides. Systems thinking provides an opportunity to dive deeper into the complex issues, so that we can better understand, share, and learn from them in hopes to impart change.

Now that we had our team established and an understanding of the format of the competition, our next step was to choose a system to map. Over the next several weeks, we brainstormed possible avenues and ideas.  Harnessing our team’s interdisciplinary nature and intersecting interests of prison reform and public health, we decided to map the correctional healthcare system in the United States.


  1. Our Approach

After selecting correctional healthcare as our focus, it was time to do the research. Healthcare in the United States is a complicated issue. Adding the dimension of incarceration exacerbates the issue.  Our team hit many roadblocks in determining the best way to move forward with the intersection of these two highly debated topics.

Nevertheless, we persevered. We began our research by highlighting the most essential stakeholders involved (private healthcare companies, advocacy groups, prisons, insiders, departments of government) in the system, we assessed our resources and identified where to find further insight. Because we were each coming in with a unique background, we had our hands in different places and were able to leverage multiple connections.

For example, Hannah had exposure to No Exceptions Prison Collective. She contacted the leader of the organization and arranged an interview. Karah’s involvement with the TN Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services enabled her to get a hold of personnel at the TN Prison for Women. Jordan optimized his resources by arranging an interview with a former insider, who provided us with a genuine perspective of prison and health, or lack thereof, on the inside. Mike set up a meeting with a former COO of a private correctional healthcare corporation, who explained his complex position as a person who wanted to create change, but was held to certain expectations of increasing profits. After speaking with stakeholders and conducting additional research, we began to draft our report and pull together slides and statistics for our presentation.

As a way to gather feedback on our findings, we arranged a practice presentation and invited members of our school communities to watch. We gained profound feedback and realized the need to sharpen our focus. The team arranged an all-nighter and worked diligently to dissect harmonize our problem statement and focus our approach. We identified stakeholders’ competing perspectives and incentives as the most important barrier to effective healthcare in prisons. From that point on, we continued to meet and prepare for our trip to England.


  1. Going to Oxford – The Final Presentation

Our team arrived in Oxford on Thursday, May 30th and checked into our Airbnb in a quiet part of Oxford, just a bus ride from the business school. A little jetlagged, we spent the evening rehearsing and refining our presentation.

On Friday, June 1, the official events kicked off–and the organizers had a full schedule of excellent events and opportunities to connect with our colleagues from other schools. Our general itinerary:

Friday, June 1:

  • Check in and group lunch
  • Opening session with networking events and “speed shares” where each team described their project in 60 seconds or less
  • Individual team practice sessions with a presentation coach
  • Walking tour of Oxford
  • Group dinner and networking on campus

Saturday, June 2:

  • Round 1 of presentations: each group presented individually to a panel of judges
  • Group lunch and group activity while the judges deliberated
  • Round 2 finalists announced
  • Group reception and dinner at the beautiful Balliol College

On Sunday, the six final teams presented once again to a panel of judges and an invited audience.

While our team did not advance to the finals in our first year participating in this event, we are excited to share our experience with our administrators here at the Turner Family Center to help empower future Vanderbilt teams to participate and compete in this event for years to come.


 Reflections from Team Health Behind Bars

Collaboration is Key

Being an interdisciplinary team challenged us to consider different perspectives. Coming from concentrations of education, psychology, law, and business, we each saw different sides of correctional healthcare. Although there were difficult conversations, we confronted and persistently reevaluated our assumptions about the causes of and solutions to ineffective correctional healthcare. Being a social impact leader is about understanding, respecting and utilizing multiple perspectives to achieve a common goal.


You Don’t Have to Have ALL the Answers

Participating in this unique global challenge has completely reshaped our view of leadership. A common assumption about effective leaders is that in order to be successful, we need to have all the answers. This experience taught us the value of systems thinking: we don’t need to have all the answers. Instead, we need to hone and focus our questions. Systems thinking is about exploring all aspects of a particular topic, and a strong leader or agent of change knows what questions to ask. The Map the System Challenge reinforced the importance of closely assessing and analyzing all aspects of an issue before throwing a “solution” at it.


Lead from the Heart

The Map the System event is an amazing opportunity to network with brilliant and passionate students and professionals from all over the world who work on important social issues. This challenge is an important reminder to lead from the heart and root yourself on a path that inspires and invigorates you. We really enjoyed the opportunity to expand on a topic that means a lot to each of us, and we were also inspired by the opportunity to think critically about what else inspires us and how to follow through on future ideas on projects.

[1]Insider – a person who is incarcerated