Event Recap - Career Resilience: Managing Your Future in Health Care Innovation

On Aug. 23, the Cambia Grove hosted an event on career resilience. The panel discussion was presented in partnership with Seattle Health Innovators meetup and the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Washington Chapter.

On stage that day was a diverse panel of Seattle area health care technology and innovation leaders who sought to help attendees learn how to enhance their career resilience. They shared their unique perspectives on the strategies they have used to manage their own careers, what they have done to expand their skill sets, and how they tackle uncertainty and drive innovation in their organizations. 

The event was designed to help attendees look ahead to market trends – not necessarily in preparation for a specific role but rather as a guide for those who want to develop their professional skill sets to progress within their current organization or transition to a role in support of transformation in another organization.

The panel:

  • Kristin Helps, RN, BSN, MS Informatics (Moderator) – Clinical Faculty at University of Washington
  • Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP – Design Researcher at Microsoft
  • Cassie Wallender – Chief Product Officer & Co-Founder at Invio
  • Mark Long, PhD – Senior VP of Digital Innovation at Providence St. Joseph Health

After brief introductions and a description of their path to become innovators, the panel dove directly into some concrete suggestions audience members could use to enhance their career resiliency.

The Experience Dilemma in the Health Care Technology Sector

Wallender replied first to the question of the best way to gain industry and professional experience. She said that at most startups, you have opportunities to learn how to do a lot of things you might not know how to do. “If you need to get into something … and you don’t know how to get your foot in the door, go join a startup.

“It will be really hard, and you probably won’t earn a lot of money, buy you’ll learn a lot because you’ll have to wear a lot of hats and say ‘Yes, I can figure that out’ to many, many things. Along the way you’ll discover the things you hate doing and the things you love doing.”

Long said that it often depends on the hiring manager. “You may find hiring managers who will say, ‘OK, well you don’t have health care.’ Your way around it is either to find a more enlightened hiring manager… or you could go teach yourself something.” Long said your passion can be explored in class, or a weekend workshop, or by reading about the subject. “If you’re really passionate about it it’s something you can teach yourself. … The specialty you’re bringing is really the key.” Long argued industry knowledge is something you can learn on the job.

DeCapua expanded on that, saying volunteer positions help familiarize you with the culture at provider systems and day-to-day operations and jargon used at clinics and hospitals.

Skills Sets Needed for Innovation

Wallender found herself gravitating to User Experience as on outgrowth of an early Product Manager role. She discovered a passion for investigating how users experience the products she was building and if it was helping them achieve their goals more easily. “I decided to take a calculated risk,” she said. She took one step back (by switching job functions) to take two steps forward, which resulted in a new role and newfound happiness. “Within nine months I was running a team again. It was a momentary lapse in having to take a step back, but sometimes [changing job functions] is really, really worth it. … Life’s too short to keep climbing up the wrong ladder.”

For Long, helping employees along in a large organization includes helping them investigate their passion. “The world is changing so fast, it’s not about my skill [set] today, it’s about where I want to go, and what state of the art I’m interested in keeping up with.” He added that his team attends conferences, but are also required to teach what they learn to their peers, which helps create a culture founded on being a learning organization.

Areas of Growth in the Health Care Field

The panelists identified two primary areas as good targets for future innovators looking to get ahead of market trends:

  • Product development and design, particularly if you are empathetic and care about great usability and user experience
  • Roles for people with strong quantitative skills who can find meaning in data and who are able to communicate that meaning to designers, developers, and other people

DeCapua also explained later in the discussion that her faith in her ability to learn about the requirements for success in new roles has allowed her to take calculated risks that pay off.

Audience Q&A Highlights

The first audience question was about potential career potholes.

Long said that “walking dead” startups that do just well enough to survive, but not thrive, can become a misplaced object for our loyalty. “When [your] learning plateaus off, you’ve got to have a tough conversation with yourself and [ask], am I really getting anything out of this other than a paycheck?”

He said “walking dead” startups can be identified by the lack of convergence between product hypothesis and market uptake.

The panel also had some reflections on work/life balance and, with Wallender suggesting that saying “Yes” to everything is a recipe for frustration and even failure. “Under-promise and over-deliver – if you can do that in your role again and again, your boss is always going to know you’re dependable, your team is always going to know you’re dependable, your employees are going to know you’re dependable and that really goes a long way,” she said.

Two questions spurred some commentary on the importance of official credentials. Helps said that careful exploration of your interests and understanding exactly what your professional options might be upon graduation are measures that will help you make the most out of graduate education. The panelists also agreed they look for collaboration skills, passion, intellect and problem-solving ability, more than a degree from a prestigious university or a popular code camp. They emphasized the need for character and competence, in addition to the skills discussed earlier.

Other Notable Takeaways

  • Wallender added that a boost in your career trajectory—and especially salary—is typically associated with a move to another organization, rather than staying with one company for an extended period.
  • DeCapua said that pursuit of her passion for writing and learning, and interests in psychiatry, health care and technology in her blog helped her establish a public profile. That added visibility led directly to new opportunities.
  • Wallender also said that given the rate of progress in health care, it can take 7-10 years to accomplish something meaningful and it’s important to acknowledge that.

Full video of the event is available on the Cambia Grove YouTube channel.

The Career Resilience event was the first of a three-part series for Emerging Leaders. As health care innovation and technology grows in our region, many new and diverse career opportunities are emerging. This series focuses on personal and professional development, both for people looking to enter health care and for those looking to take the next step in their career. The next event in the series on Building Your Personal Brand is on Oct. 25, register here.

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