MBA Student

Rx for Success in Healthcare

If you’re looking for a business career that tackles some of society’s most complex challenges – including equitable access to quality health care, diversity and speed of clinical trials, and affordable drug prices – you might consider the healthcare industry.

During Forté’s 2022 MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in June, the following five panelists at the Healthcare/Biotechnology/Pharma session revealed why they are passionate about the industry, where they see opportunities for growth, and how to get ahead.

  • Veronica Check: Senior Finance Director, Global Finance Talent Management, Johnson & Johnson
  • Angelinda Chen: Global Senior Marketing Manager, Amgen
  • Damini Chokshi: Director, Investor Relations, Merck & Co.
  • Natasha Gikunju: Senior Advisor – Financial Development Program, Cigna
  • Atoy Strawder: VP Internal Audit, North America Operations, McKesson

Fusion of Passion and Mission

When asked what gets them up in the morning, several panelists cited passion for their work. Atoy began her career in the food and beverage industry, a field that appealed to the self-described foodie, so the draw of working in healthcare had to be strong to pull her away from a domain in which she already thrived. “I find passion in getting health care to people in need. At the end of the day, there is a patient who needs a product,” she explained.

Working in a mission-driven industry like healthcare, Veronica said, is “a perk to be able to make a difference in the world.” Damini concurred, saying, “Being part of curing a disease is impactful.”

For some, an additional benefit of working in healthcare is the opportunity to solve some of society’s most complex problems. Damini said that fair and equitable access to medicine, lack of diversity and slow speed of clinical trials, and high drug prices have “no easy solutions.”

While the challenges are great, the successes can be very gratifying. For example, while it can “take years and years and years to get a product to market,” Damini said she was encouraged when different entities came together to develop a vaccine for COVID in record time. Natasha stressed that healthcare companies want to solve these seemingly intractable problems. For example, by partnering with pharma companies, “insurance companies are working on preventive care that will lower healthcare costs,” she explained.

Scoping for Opportunities

In addition to the emotional satisfaction a healthcare career provides, there are also many opportunities for growth. Natasha said that, even though it is a mature industry, healthcare companies “must still innovate when it comes to new products.”  She said data analytics is growing in importance because “almost all companies are using big data to solve company problems and societal challenges.”

Like any industry, exploration is important. New opportunities can sometimes be right in front of you. Natasha emphasized the varied career options within singular departments – for example, a company’s finance function often includes finance strategy, corporate development, mergers & acquisitions, enterprise strategy, general management, marketing, and product engagement.

The size of a company can also shape available opportunities. “At larger companies,” there are many opportunities to “have different experiences within,” Veronica said, while Angelinda added, “Some groups are more like start-ups within larger companies,” like at Amgen. On the other hand, Atoy said that smaller companies offer an “opportunity to be a jack-off-all-trades.”

To keep up with industry trends, Damini recommended Fierce Pharma (emails) and Endpoints News, and Angelinda suggested following specific healthcare topics of interest on Twitter.

Rx for Success

What’s the secret to getting ahead in healthcare? Pharma is known for its MBA rotational programs, which are helpful for gaining broad experience, but there are lots of ways to advance. Veronica suggested learning “what you can from the people around you” and cultivating a broad perspective. “A career in finance for me has been so much more than closing the books and journal entries,” she explained.

Sometimes a path is not linear, but it doesn’t diminish its value. “If you have your eye set on a path or endgame, don’t get alarmed when is a little crooked,” Atoy said. A self-described introvert, she prefers individual contributor roles, but for those wanting to become leaders, being able to accomplish goals through a team is essential. “With an MBA there are lots of group projects, which are useful when you get into the real world,” she explained.

Damini emphasized looking at your career as a marathon, not a sprint. When she joined Merck, she was told, “When we hired you, we didn’t hire you for this role. We hired you for a career at Merck.” She suggested setting up meetings with leaders without fear. “Everybody started somewhere at some point,” she said.

Get Yourself a Mentor, Stat

Like all industries, mentorship can also be invaluable to a successful career. Whether you establish formal or informal mentor relationships, Veronica shared, “My best mentorship roles are ones where we got to know each other.” Damini agreed with Veronica’s take on mentorship, saying, “It is not transactional. It is about being relatable and authentic.”

Mentors can also shine a light on aspects of yourself that you can’t see. As an immigrant whose parents live in Kenya, Natasha couldn’t rely on them to support her when she gave birth. Before having a baby, she was a “perfectionist,” but a mentor helped her let it go. “When I became a mom, I had to be ok with being ok,” she said.

Despite coming from a background where people did not talk about themselves, Atoy said a mentor told her to “toot your own horn.” She found the advice very helpful because she was under the false impression that “if you just did your work and put your head down, you would succeed.”

Regardless of the path you take in healthcare or other industry, Natasha offered this prescription: “Take your time with the MBA. Think about your strengths. Don’t climb a ladder. Create a ladder.”

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