This constructivist study explores 16 graduate assistants’ (GAs) healthcare experiences and uses grounded theory to create a model of graduate assistants’ experiences with university-provided healthcare in a large research university. The model is composed of four broad components: (a) systems; (b) access, care and coverage; (c) knowledge, quality and cost; and (d) self. Graduate assistants’ needs and expectations constantly negotiate various systems in the model. Expanding upon the limited research regarding graduate student healthcare, this study provides implications for higher education administrators and policy makers. Based on our study findings we argue that it is not sufficient for university administrations to simply provide paid health insurance “options” without robust support systems on campus. Because students are often stressed out, lack time and energy, and find it hard to navigate the complicated systems of profit-driven health care industry, the lack of direct support in graduate students’ day-to-day healthcare needs can cause tremendous loss on their success and productivity. Hence, universities have tremendous opportunities to better understand and address their graduate students’ real needs so as to add value to institutional success and productivity.


Graduate Students, Healthcare, Qualitative Research, Union, Constructivism, Higher Education, Student Benefits, Administration, Policy, Learning environment

Author Bio(s)

Uttam Gaulee is Associate Program Director of Community College Futures Assembly at the University of Florida’s Institute of Higher Education. His research interests include using qualitative and quantitative methods to study international higher education, entrepreneurship, and global engagement. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Uttam Gaulee at, Institute of Higher Education, PO Box 117049, 1215 Norman Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7049 or E-mail: gauleeuttam@ufl.edu

Brenda Lee is a doctoral student in Educational Technology at the University of Florida and a practicing instructional designer at Shadow Health in Gainesville, Florida. Her research interests include the practice of online collaboration and the role of epistemic beliefs with the use of technology. Lee can be reached at brenlee@ufl.edu

Douglas Whitaker is a doctoral candidate in Mathematics and Statistics Education at the University of Florida. His current research focus is on in-service statistics teachers' professional identities and assessing statistics Whitaker can be reached at whitaker@ufl.edu

Natalie Khoury Ridgewell is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education at the University of Florida. Her current research focus is on how to best prepare pre-service teachers to help support the diverse needs of students. Ridgewell can be reached at nkr@ufl.edu

Mirka Koro-Ljungberg (Ph.D., University of Helsinki) is a Professor of qualitative research at the Arizona State University. Her research and publications focus on various conceptual and theoretical aspects of qualitative inquiry and participant-driven methodologies. In particular, Koro-Ljungberg’s scholarship brings together theory and practice, the promotion of epistemology, and the development of situated and experimental methodologies. Koro Ljungberg can be reached at Mirka.Koro-Ljungberg@asu.edu

Dayna Watson is a doctoral candidate in Counseling and Counselor Education at the University of Florida. Her current research focus is on issues of poverty and social class in mental health counseling. She can be reached at watsondm@ufl.edu

Colleen Butcher is a doctoral candidate in School Psychology at the University of Florida. Her current research focus is on caregivers' perspectives in psychological assessment. She can be reached at colleen.butcher@gmail.com

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.




Submission Location


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.