Vocation: Director, Data Strategy in Healthcare
Location: New York, NY
1. What do you currently do now and how did you end up here? Any pit stops along the way and did those pit stops help you get to the career and woman you are now?
Since April 2013, I’ve functioned as the Director of Strategy& Data Analytics at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital which means I have the nebulous role of developing the hospital’s analytic infrastructure, including (but not limited to) the processes, policies and vision for how we use data institutionally. It’s a fantastic blend of being nerdy & analytical & technical and holistic almost academic, making connections between what’s going on federally with the Affordable Care Act and the “Big Data” hype and how we meet the needs of our institution. I do my best thinking out loud and with others (usually on a white board – I love white boards!) so I am very fortunate to work with highly intelligent, collaborative and fun colleagues.
Prior to this role I was a Process Improvement Manager at the hospital, which was another position I loved because it was using all my problem-solving skills and scientific methodologies to help people do their job easier. I worked with some amazing beautiful people and was fortunate to have contributed to projects that made patient lives better. I miss that direct interaction. For various personal and professional reasons, I had just outgrown it though.
The story of how I got that job is so roundabout actually: I had planned on working in international health policy after graduate school and while I was interning at the UN the summer between first and second year, I was also writing a paper with one of my professors and a classmate about the balance between development, aid and global health. We had all hit it off during the course and this classmate happened to be working at NYP as a Process Improvement manager. That fall was the beginning of the recession so when I finished school in December, there were no jobs. I mean, zero jobs. I was interviewing with the UN, GAO, USAID, NYCDOH, even places without acronyms… I couldn’t find anything. I had been doing obesity research for Columbia while I was in school so my boss was kind enough to let me stay on but I was very depressed.
I was seriously considering going back to school again to wait the recession out even though I wasn’t sure about being in academia. The following summer, 2009, my classmate told me he was going to get his PhD and told me to interview for his Improvement Manager job, that he thought I would be really great at it. The idea of working in hospital administration was absurd to me – I was a public health/social justice type! I had lived in Tanzania doing community development and studied obesity & diabetes in kids – I was going to change the world! I was not going to become a suit! But that’s how life works – you think you’re going in one direction and then this random door behind you opens and you’re like, oh, ok, I guess we’ll see where this one goes…
2. What are your current gaps, barriers, facilitators, or motivators? Any of those in particular that helped you along the way?
Politics. Most of my professional barriers are pure politics. But I know what we’re doing matters, that it will make colleagues lives easier and ensure clinicians have the right data to make decisions about the patients they care for. Maybe this is me trying to jam that public health aspect into my administrative career but I hope it’s more than that, I hope it’s how everyone views their role in this world.
3. What is your ideal state / dream state of being as a woman in your career and a woman in this world? How will you get there?
My ideal state is being appreciated for the enthusiasm, judgment, diligence and empathy I bring . These are obviously qualities that both women and men can have; they should be identified and appreciated just as often when brought to the table by the former though. I have never felt discriminated in terms of opportunities because I’m a woman; working in healthcare has likely helped shelter me from some of the sexism that pervades. I’m not naïve though, I’m positive that people make judgments based on my physical appearance - young(ish), slender(ish), crazy(ish) nail polish colors – so I figure the best I can do is just be myself and my work product will speak for itself. My work product and my motivation to do good (“white girl savior” complex rears its ugly head!)
4. What common misconceptions do you find about your field, your life, about women in general?
I think it’s a misconception I have: that “strategy” is code for “you have no actual skills”. I mean, I’m constantly second guessing myself – “what would you say, you DO here?” And it’s hard, because you’re not administering something, you have no tangible work product to speak of per se. I have been lucky in this role because I take on a fair amount of implementation, so I’ve been able to use my Improvement background and create/enhance processes and products. But in spite of that, it’s hard for people – and me – to wrap their head around what strategy is.
That said, I went to this fantastic conference in December on Data Governance – I had no idea there were so many people who did this for a living! I just stumbled upon the need myself. In some ways, I thought I had made the role up! Not that I’m that brilliant, but just that I thought we were the only place so big and bureaucratic to need a team focused on that stuff. Anyway, I digress… I went to this conference and one of the speakers talked about Data Governance in terms of an orchestra: that the musicians and music are the tools & applications, the conductor is IT personnel and that the integral but oft unnoticed role of governance is making sure the flute player has the flute music and not the cello music, that the violins all have the same understanding of what a quarter note is, that all musicians are placed optimally to ensure a harmonious experience. You don’t really think about those things when you’re in the audience listening, but you KNOW right away when they weren’t done correctly! Which suits me: I like being more behind the scenes and getting shit done. You may not see me, but if I don’t do my job, you’ll know!
5. Any advice or tips & tricks you want to give to a younger you? Whether it be how to apt hunt on craigslist to getting your shoes cobbled to getting a work mentor etc
Part of me wants to be like, “not really”. Not because there haven’t been innumerable valuable things I’ve learned as I get older, but more because I love the person I am and I think whatever choices or decisions I made were based in the knowledge and feelings that were real then. But then the other part of me is like, “stop being so contrarian!” I think mentorship is important, both personally and professionally. I had a great mentor about a year into my process improvement role who taught me “always say yes”. One of my idols, Tina Fey, had a whole chapter about it in her book “Bossypants” and I think it’s great advice. I mean, always say yes within reason, like I’m not advocating having sex with someone you don’t want to or eating Brussels sprouts if you don’t like them (although you should like them), but like, when an opportunity knocks, even if you’re scared or you have no idea whether you could do it, you should say yes and do it. Because more often than not, it’s gonna work out. You’re gonna gain a new skill or learn new facts or meet new people and those skills/facts/people are what get you the next job. And the next job and the next job and the next job.
BONUS QUESTION: What should lead your life: passion or pragmatism? (general thoughts, could be a convergence, could be one or the other!)
I was listening to a podcast recently with like Elizabeth Gilbert or someone and she said something that resonated strongly with me – that it’s not about passion or practicality but it’s about always being curious. That when it’s time to meet your maker, a life lived curious is the one she wants. And I think that describes me and the way I exist to the utmost. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with a family that values learning, but I always joke with myself and others that I’m a five year old kid enveloped by an adult woman’s body. I always want to explore and experience and know “why?”: through traveling to foreign countries, through talking and listening to friends and strangers, through reading books and watching movies and laughing and photographing. Everyone in my life has told me some variation of “you ask a lot of questions!” which I choose to embrace –yes, I do! Because I love learning about things and thinking about things and sharing knowledge about things.
BONUS BONUS QUESTION: What are you most proud of? (professionally or personally)
Oh man, this is hard, the ultimate in navel-gazing... maybe I’m most proud of my ability to navel-gaze?