Newswise — Astrategic decision-making and team-building exercise for hospital executives developed at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health now includes a simulated pandemic—likely the first such simulation of its kind. The new pandemic exercise will debut in early 2021 with partners in the United States and Italy.

“We have witnessed the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on healthcare systems across the globe. Going forward, all hospital executives and providers need to be adept at navigating an unsettled marketplace, through a host of legal, regulatory and clinical challenges,” says John S. Winkleman, director of the Health System Simulation program and Consulting Practice and a member of the Columbia Mailman School faculty in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

Available both in-person and online, the Health System Simulation introduces a pandemic crisis, along with other challenges, to help teach healthcare executives in strategic decision-making on staff deployment, resource allocation, financing, regulatory requirements, and marketing so they can weather the crisis and best meet the healthcare needs of the communities they serve.

As part of the simulation, healthcare executives face numerous challenges, such as preventing supply chain disruptions, managing lost revenues as healthcare workers redeploy to other areas, and addressing the mental health stressors experienced by frontline workers. Executives must also seize on opportunities, including the chance to participate in developing public service programs and innovating protocols around testing, treatment, and vaccination.

“Pilots routinely train on flight simulators. In a similar fashion, for the past 10 years hospital leaders have benefited from our Health System Simulation, which immerses participants in a realistic exercise that matches the complexity and intensity of decision-making in a multi-hospital marketplace,” Winkleman continues. “The new simulation will include opportunities for teams to grow into new areas, manage through a recession, and most importantly, remain strong and viable throughout and following a pandemic.”


Developed as a capstone exercise for Columbia Mailman School graduate students, the Health System Simulation is now available through partnerships globally:

  • Bocconi University, Milan, Italy has participated in annual simulations since 2019 and will offer another simulation in 2021. In 2020, Bocconi and Columbia faculty co-led healthcare management webinars focused on COVID-19 attended by healthcare executives from 35 countries.

  • NYC Health + Hospitals will take part in simulations for its professional staff from the 11 public hospitals in New York City for a third year.

  • NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital will offer the simulation again as part of its Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) program for rising-star physicians in its health system. 2021 is the hospital’s fourth year offering the simulation.


The first Health System Simulation in the United States, named in honor of its creator, Thomas P. Ference, who taught at Columbia University for 51 years, simulates the complexities associated with managing a complex hospital. Participants are assigned to mock hospital leadership teams in the roles of CEO, chief financial officer, chief medical officer, and chief nursing officer. Through a series of sequential operating cycles, the team makes strategic decisions in operations—for example, how much money to allocate to marketing vs. quality improvements. After each round, teams review their performance results and adjust their resource allocations, supported by feedback from a simulation facilitator. Along the way, the teams create a mission statement and benchmark their progress.

Developed in 2009 with the input of healthcare industry leaders, the health system simulation is a part of trainings given to graduate students, as well as top executives at organizations, including NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the American College of Healthcare Executives, Association of University Programs in Health Administration, Barnabas Health, Cedars Sinai, Holy Name Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mount Sinai Health System, Northwell, Perkins Eastman, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Disney Institute, Deloitte, and KPMG.

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Founded in 1922, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Columbia Mailman School is the seventh largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its nearly 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change and health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with more than 1,300 graduate students from 55 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Columbia Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers, including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity.  For more information, please visit

Register for reporter access to contact details