ERIN MCGEACHIE - INVESTING IN YOURSELF
LEARN HOW ERIN'S DECISION TO HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL EXPANDED HER NETWORK AND SCORED HER THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK IN ANOTHER SECTOR OF HEALTH CARE
In September 2016, Erin decided to head back to school and complete her Master's of Health Administration (MHA) at the University of Ottawa. The 28-month program is incredibly competitive, because of its reputation for graduating outstanding healthcare leaders and because it accepts only a small number of students each year (only nine students in 2016!). “What initially drew me to the program was the opportunity to be matched with a senior healthcare executive and complete a four-month management residency at their organization. It was the ultimate networking opportunity.”
“What initially drew me to the program was the opportunity to be matched with a senior healthcare executive and complete a four-month management residency at their organization. It was the ultimate networking opportunity.”
Erin first learned about the program from her boss, whose neighbour was the program director (small world!). While her boss facilitated an introduction, the admission criteria was tough and Erin had to get to work. First, she enrolled in evening classes to complete missing prerequisites in micro and macro-economics. She also had to brush up on her math skills to ensure she had a competitive score on the GRE entrance exam. This is in addition to securing a number of professional reference letters. Even after Erin was accepted into the program, the decision to return to school was not an easy one.
At the time of admission, Erin was leading the Health Policy and Advocacy team at the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) and she knew that returning to school would be a huge time and financial commitment. “The tuition fees for the program were almost $30,000 and I knew that the non-profit I worked at wouldn’t be able to contribute financially. So I negotiated for paid professional development days and secured a written agreement that my position would be held while I took a leave of absence at the end of the program to complete the mandatory residency."
Despite the price tag and grueling program schedule (with classes held up to four nights a week and on weekends), Erin knew that a Master’s degree was necessary to ensure she was competitive in the health management field. Two years, 54 credits, and countless projects, presentations and papers later, Erin was ready to start her residency. After a round of interviews with local hospitals, she scored a coveted position at The Ottawa Hospital working with the Senior Management Team. She was paired with the hospital’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and also had the opportunity to work closely with the Vice President of Innovation and Quality. She received valuable professional coaching and guidance, built a network of contacts at the hospital and developed a strong insider knowledge of the organization during her residency experience.
Erin thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of her role with CCS, but with graduation coming up and her term at the hospital ending, she knew she was ready to take on a new opportunity. “Before I even finished the residency, I was approached about an opportunity at the hospital. I was thrilled to see the program result in such an immediate opportunity to advance my career”.
“Before I even finished the residency, I was approached about an opportunity at the hospital. I was thrilled to see the program result in such an immediate opportunity to advance my career”.
My previous post on Handling Multiple Job Offers was inspired by Erin's journey since she ended up in a position to chose between two fantastic, but very different, job offers; one offer at the hospital, and another offer at a health association in the region. It was a challenging decision for several reasons including differences in salary, job security, and responsibility across the two roles. Erin describes the experience saying, “I was torn. I ended up asking a mentor to meet me for coffee and talk through the offers. With a long career in the health sector, she added a fresh perspective on the roles and helped me make the best decision for myself in the long-term.”
In February 2019, Erin joined The Ottawa Hospital’s Performance Measurement team. In her new role she is tasked with coordinating the benefits realization for a health information system at six health service organizations in the region. The skills and knowledge she learned in the MHA program and her time working with the hospital’s Senior Leadership Team helped her hit the ground running and proved crucial to her early successes in the role. “Already, I am putting into practice the business and management skills that I developed during the program.”
“Already, I am putting into practice the business and management skills that I developed during the program.”
Investing in yourself may seems like a no-brainer on paper, but it is easier said than done. It takes planning to figure out exactly what you want, dedication to see yourself through and a lot of grit when the going gets tough (as it does during an eight-hour Saturday class!). So, if you are thinking making an investment, ask yourself these three questions first:
What additional skills or credentials would make me a more competitive candidate? Erin knew that she was not eligible to apply for many positions that interested her in the health management field because she lacked a Master’s degree. Browse some of your dream job postings and see if you are qualified. If not, make a short list of skills and credentials that you can work towards.
What is the cost-benefit of making the investment? For Erin, there were a lot of sacrifices in the short term, like giving up weekends and holidays, time with her partner (and dog Bagel the beagle), and $30,000 in tuition fees. However, she knew the networking opportunities were well worth the investment. Consider whether the investment you are making will give you the return you are looking for, financial or otherwise.
How can I get the most out of the investment? Beyond just attending classes, Erin participated in optional site visits across the Ottawa region, attended networking sessions hosted by the Alumni group, and volunteered to take on additional projects at the hospital. Be proactive and demonstrate your enthusiasm by taking advantage of the opportunities that come along.
Going back to school is one way to invest in yourself, but it is certainly not the only way. Think of investing in yourself as a way of developing your abilities. Where you are now is only your final destination if you stop taking opportunities to learn along the way. So, I encourage you to take a step back and think about how you invest in yourself these days. For me, this means exploring options to complete a PhD, finishing the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck (expect an upcoming post on this book soon!) and learning and re-learning how to hem curtains (thank goodness for YouTube videos).
(Special shout out to my sister for letting me share her story on Grace on Careers. I have seen how hard she has worked to get to this spot and hopefully her investment can inspire you to make one of your own!).