Facing a Closed Door? 3 Ways to Pick the Lock

May 2, 2018

After working on Disability.gov (the federal government’s former information portal for disability services) for nearly seven years, I knew my next role was meant to be in healthcare. I had spent years learning about the disability experience and wanted my career to be challenging, yet impactful. A family transition brought me to New York and I eagerly applied to every healthcare agency position I could find. The resounding response was closed doors. “You have great experience, but…”

That is, until Ketchum. Through some cold networking on LinkedIn, I connected with the former Ketchum Health practice director who agreed to an informal conversation. We talked about my experience working with different disability groups, understanding the nuances of federal government regulations and my desire to learn everything I could about my impending career change. I was fortunate that Ketchum was, and still is, an agency that looks beyond the traditional agency résumé, focusing more on potential and determination.

Three years later, I am receiving the honor of being a “Rising Star” in the industry by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and on May 3, I will be recognized with other leaders who have spent the same amount of time, if not longer, entirely in the healthcare field. That’s the part that feels most surreal.

So, what wisdom can be gleaned from my experience and unorthodox career journey? I am certainly not the first nor the last to pivot professions. Below are three things that come to mind…

Let Each Experience Build on the Last:
My career has not been a straight line, but I’ve carried key learnings from each to the next role. Whether it is knowing proper Capitol Hill protocol for planning an event, understanding the basics of graphic design, or having insider knowledge into website information architecture and accessibility, these diverse experiences make my counsel unique. Yes, we should specialize in a field, but that doesn’t mean limiting ourselves to one area. Embrace new opportunities outside of your comfort zone even if the connection isn’t 100 percent clear at the time. On the other side of the table, we should look for patterns and behavior to help determine whether a candidate is the right fit for our team.

Fuel Your Passion for Learning:
When people ask, what sets healthcare apart from other public relations specialties, we often point to continuous learning. No matter what area of healthcare you touch, tomorrow will not be the same. There will inevitably be a new product, new drug, new surgical technique and even a new environment. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Chief Experience Officer at Hackensack Meridian Health whose company is partnering with Seton Hall to open a new medical school that will change the way patient care teams are taught. Instead of separate tracks for each, doctors, nurses and others will be brought together at different times during their education so that the hospital ward is not the first time they are collaborating. I find advancements like these fascinating! This dynamism also means we must be comfortable with the unknown and quickly get up-to-speed for new and existing clients.

Find a Mentor – Be a Mentor:
We are fortunate at Ketchum to have leaders who take mentorship to heart. I have never turned down a coffee run for my team – and not just because of my caffeine addiction. I’ll be honest, interacting with mentors is not always the easiest in the beginning. There are countless individuals who have made a large difference for me personally, helping me get to the next step of my career, and it all started with a conversation (albeit one that felt awkward at the time). Sometimes I am at a loss as to what to ask – but that’s natural. It gets easier with time.

On the flip side, you should give as much as, if not more than, you receive. Being a mentor is incredibly fulfilling and you don’t need to wait until you’re part of the C-Suite to start. Just accept a phone call from a young graduate looking for advice on entering the PR industry, or take a break from your desk to speak with a colleague about navigating a difficult challenge. As small as those moments seem, they can have a lasting impact.

These are the three tenets that have kept me grounded and always reaching higher for the next opportunity. I am proud to represent Ketchum Health and the entire Omnicom family at 2018 Woman of the Year luncheon this week and congratulate all the recipients. Lastly, thank you to those who have helped me unlock and push open the doors to be a part of this incredible field. You rock!