What degree did you receive from GW’s SPHHS? What was your concentration?
I received a Master of Public Health degree in 2011 with a concentration in Health Policy.
Please tell us about your current position. Can you describe a typical day?
As a research consultant at Lewin, I work on a range of consulting projects focused on identifying and minimizing the potential gaps in scientific evidence. These initiatives allow key policy leaders and decision-makers, from the Department of Health and Human Services, the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, the academic research community, and healthcare providers, to identify solutions and mitigate risks to the healthcare system. I like to think of it as bridging the gap between science and policy, and the translation and dissemination of evidence-based medicine, in order to improve healthcare for the patient.
Typically, my day consists of writing reports, conducting literature reviews and working with our clients to meet their needs. I think being a consultant with Lewin differs from some of the other management consulting organizations (e.g., Deloitte, Booz Allen, Accenture), as the projects we work on require critical clinical expertise and relates more to the science of healthcare, rather than the business. Our clients rely on our consultants to provide scientific guidance in order to help navigate the evolving healthcare system.
For example, one of the projects I’m working on today is to review the literature on the treatment and management of adult obesity and assist in developing clinical practice guidelines and recommendations for primary care providers. Our goal is to give clinicians the tools they need to make clinical decisions for their patients, based on scientific evidence, rather than purely by expert opinion.
Please tell us about your path from SPHHS to where you are today. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?
My path from SPHHS to my job today was kind of interesting. I moved up to DC in the September of 2009, ready to go to grad school but quickly found out that living is expensive. I started looking around for jobs, but I didn’t really know where to start in terms of what field and what kind of industry. I was looking through LinkedIn and contacted some people (whom I had never met and with whom I had no connections) that I thought had interesting jobs. Over the next few weeks, I set up meetings (phone calls or coffee if they were in the DC area) with people who responded back, and just picked their brains. I asked them a ton of questions on their job, their career paths, their background and education, and even their hobbies. Some of these individuals turned into great professional contacts for the future.
One person, the VP of a very small firm up in Baltimore, responded and said that based on my LinkedIn profile, I might fit in well with their organization. I went in for an interview and got a job as a research analyst.
I worked part-time at this company throughout my two years at GW. The company was flexible with my schedule and mindful of the fact that I was still a full-time student, but allowed me to take on as much responsibility as I wanted. One of the best things I did was to take every opportunity that I could to go with my colleagues to conferences and meetings. This gave me great insights into the industry and allowed me to really understand what I wanted to do when I grow up.
Shortly after I graduated, I made the decision to move to another slightly larger company. I reached out to the Senior VP at Lewin, who I had met at a couple of conferences, and asked about any open positions within his group. We set up an interview and that’s how I ended up here.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
I’ve worked at a lot of different types of companies. I was a biomedical engineering major as an undergrad, during which time I interned with a life sciences consulting company, a start-up firm focused on developing a product to measure radiation for cancer patients, and a cancer clinic laboratory at Duke University. As different as these organizations are, I received some great career advice from each one.
Always find mentors — whether it’s your bosses, your colleagues, or the person on LinkedIn whose career path you find awesome. At the same time, make sure you have more than one. No one person is perfect, and no one is going to embody all of the attributes you seek. Take the best characteristic of everyone you meet and add that to your own professional development.
Never underestimate the power of a good network. Seek out the opportunity to go to conferences and meetings. Join community groups (e.g., Society for Health Policy Young Professionals) and talk to people who you’ve never met before. The first few times you do, particularly with people who obviously have more expertise than you, will be incredibly awkward. You may feel like you don’t have anything to say…but you’re interested in talking to this person for a reason. Tell them that their speech was fantastic, or that you admire their work. Remember that people LOVE to talk about their accomplishments – so let them. You’ll learn something along the way and they’ll be able to put a name to a face when you reach out to them for a job in 6 months.
Learn how to communicate effectively. I can’t stress enough the importance of good writing skills and being able to explain your ideas effectively. When you’re new at a job, you may be asked to write up a meeting summary. Do it and do it well. This task isn’t beneath you just because you have an MPH. It takes a lot of practice and skill to be able to take a two-hour conversation between 15 experts and succinctly summarize that information to highlight key points. This is Policy 101.
Finally, don’t stop looking for opportunities for advancement. Keep searching the field and other companies that seem interesting to you. Just keep on the lookout.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Be excited about what you’re doing. We’ve all heard our coworkers complain about their jobs, but once they start complaining about the content and nature of their work, that’s when I start to worry. If what you’re doing isn’t interesting to you, then all the other day-to-day stuff will simply destroy you. It’s easy to put up with the mundane activities and office politics if you like the end product.
What was the impetus for getting your SPHHS degree?
Like I mentioned before, I did my undergrad in biomedical engineering and worked in a lab, but I realized quickly that I wanted to learn more about the complete process of developing medical devices – from conceptualization to market. I wanted to know what happens once we complete the clinical trials – how does the product obtain FDA approval, and how does the company get reimbursed for the product? Essentially, how does the patient end up gaining access to the product? What better place to learn about policy than in the heart of Washington, DC at GW?