Grad Student’s Capstone Project Attracts National Attention

News Date: 
Wed. 05/21/2014

A Friends University graduate student is receiving national attention for research she did through the Master of Health Care Leadership (MHCL) program. 

Nicole Ensminger, an MRI technologist for Anatomi Imaging in Wichita, extensively researched and helped create a protocol for health care professionals to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

“As I was doing my research, I found that there has been an increase in awareness of human trafficking, but there is not a lot of education and training for health care professionals,” Ensminger said. 

Ensminger investigated the subject throughout her participation in the MHCL program, but her cumulative research was part of her capstone final project. The MHCL capstone project provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their cumulative knowledge of a health care subject and apply that knowledge to real-world problems.

Cathy Rider, a 2008 MHCL graduate and a Friends University adjunct professor who oversees all MHCL capstone projects, said “In essence, MHCL students have the opportunity to integrate two years of course work into a final project."

Through extensive research, Ensminger recognized that health care settings might be one of the only times that a victim might come in contact with someone willing to help. “It’s critical that health care professionals are trained on how to spot the red flags of trafficking and how to adequately assist the victims,” Ensminger said.

After Ensminger presented her findings, she was approached by her classmate, Skip Hidlay, senior administrator of communications and digital media for Via Christi. Hidlay also saw the need for health care professionals to receive education on identifying victims of human trafficking.

“Skip did a tremendous job of getting the right people at the table,” Ensminger said. “He assembled a great team that dedicated a lot of time and energy and hard work to ensure the success of this project."

Hidlay said he helped facilitate meetings with key Via Christi stakeholders for project planning and implementation.

Through their efforts, Ensminger, Hidlay and their team coordinated with the District Attorney’s office to implement what is fast becoming a nationwide effort to reach out to victims.

“Via Christi is part of Ascension, the largest Catholic health care provider in the United States,” explained Ensminger. “Ascension is interested in rolling this protocol out across the organization, which will help victims of human trafficking across the nation."

The team set out to achieve three goals: 1) Raise awareness among frontline health care workers; 2) teach them how to recognize red flags that a patient might be a human trafficking victim; and 3) empower clinicians with a protocol to follow in taking action to help trafficking victims.

“This third goal was very important and something I had not seen done in the health care sector,” Ensminger said. “We can talk about the human trafficking problem all day and night, but we make a much larger impact when we give individuals the tools and resources that enable them to assist and serve the victims. By giving professionals an action plan, we give them confidence to respond to a potential trafficking situation and to activate a response team."

Health care professionals are given a four-part protocol, including physical assessments, observations, and – when necessary – notification of law enforcement professionals and/or counseling staff. The complete assessment protocol can be found at

“I am optimistic that the four-step human trafficking protocol Nicole and the team has developed, along with our training curriculum, will be used by other health care systems across the nation,” Hidlay said.

For their hard work, US Attorney Barry Grisson, who oversees Kansas, presented Ensminger and her team at Via Christi with an award for outstanding community service in developing the human trafficking protocol and training.

“He has also shared our protocol with his US attorney colleagues nationwide,” Hidlay said.

Not only has the human-trafficking team at Via Christi received honors and accolades, they have also been featured statewide in just about every major media outlet in the state – including The Wichita Eagle, the Wichita Business Journal, KSN, KAKE, KWCH, the Topeka Capitol Journal, and the Kansas Health Institute.

Ensminger and Hidlay graduated in May 2014, but their efforts on this topic are far from complete.

“The training was not the end of this project, but only the beginning. The training was a large success and served as a stepping stone for helping these victims on a national level,” Ensminger said. “The future holds many opportunities for progress."

For more information about the MHCL program, click here.