This week’s non-clinical spotlight features Liana Merkel, a physical therapist and Non-Clinical 101 alumnus who now works as a client success associate for Modern Health.
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Liana Merkel, PT, DPT
Client Success Associate at Modern Health
Where are you located?
San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
The University of Vermont, 2017
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
When I first finished school, I had an outpatient PT’s dream job (seriously any PTs who are working in Vermont and are looking for a great place to work, let me know).
I worked in a private practice outpatient clinic in rural Vermont. Our focus was mostly orthopedics, but we treated everything from orthopedics to neuro as is the nature of being the only PTs in town.
I worked there for about 1.5 years before I relocated to the Bay Area. I always tell my first employer that if I could have taken them with me to California I would have.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
In California, I worked at a sports-focused outpatient orthopedic clinic for about 1.5 years.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
In my first role, I loved being a trusted consultant. The practice I worked at was family run and, thanks to our practice owner and the other PTs that worked there, we were truly part of the community with other providers and our patients.
I loved developing deep relationships with my patients and the fact that they would stay in touch with us even after they had been discharged from our care. I also loved the caseload in terms of diagnosis and how collaborative our team was.
This was an environment in which nobody ever stopped learning. Because we only saw one patient per hour and patients are inevitably ill or hindered by bad weather and have to cancel appointments at the last minute, I had the opportunity to work on different projects and my company trusted me to be productive with my time.
In both of my clinical roles, I loved being the person my patients turned to when asking questions or looking for advice. I was in charge of my own schedule and always felt supported by my manager.
While I love working with people, I didn’t enjoy the aspect of being a clinician that requires you to be “on” all the time. I would finish the day exhausted and needing to be alone to recharge and get my thoughts together.
I love to figure things out as part of my job and in my first role, I had a lot of time to be able to do this thoroughly. It helped me gain a lot of experience and understanding in a short period of time.
When I moved to a busier clinic, I had less time to sit and work through cases than I prefer and felt like my learning slowed significantly.
At what point did you realize you wanted to do something non-clinical with your background, and why?
I felt hints of burnout starting from my very first year in PT school, but convinced myself I was just tired of being a student.
I realized a few months into my second role that maybe clinical work just wasn’t right for me. I had taken a 6-week break while I moved across the country and waited for my new license to be issued and took a job that theoretically was perfect for me, but I was already completely exhausted.
I noticed my chronic anxiety and depression symptoms becoming more severe and realized with the help of my therapist that my job stress was contributing significantly to my mental health issues.
Thankfully, being a clinical PT helped me realize what my strengths are, so I set about looking for a role in which I could still use those skills without the aspects of clinical care that wore me down.
What are you doing these days?
Now, I am working as a client success associate at Modern Health! I manage our smaller accounts and do some client success operations work.
Overall, the goal of client success is to understand your clients’ goals and help them be successful in using your product, among other things.
My role specifically is more focused on leveraging technology to do this at scale and improve processes so my whole team can be effective and efficient.
Is the client success associate role solely non-clinical?
I am solely non-clinical.
How long have you been a client success associate?
I was a paid full-time intern (as a PT I was SO excited about this) for 2 months and have been an official full-time employee for 4 months.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I applied for my current job originally through LinkedIn, but it wasn’t until I did an apprenticeship that I actually landed the role because my company sponsored me as an intern as part of the program (see below for info about my apprenticeship).
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
I found SV Academy, which holds training programs with the goal of bringing non-traditional candidates into tech, on LinkedIn. I noticed that Modern Health was a partner of their customer success program, which was in the pilot phase at the time.
I successfully completed the program and Modern Health chose me as their intern. I worked hard during my internship and expressed my interest in becoming a full-time employee, so they converted me!
As far as my resume and cover letter go, Non-Clinical 101 and SV Academy helped me realize that physical therapy and customer success have a lot of overlapping skills. Things like relationship building, understanding goals, objection handling, expectation setting, and cross-functional communication are essential for both.
I made my resume more quantitative and translated my healthcare language into tech speak to make that clear. I realized that most people that aren’t PTs don’t really understand what PTs do, so I really had to spell it out.
That being said, I did get an interview for a similar position (and eventually a job offer) before I started at SV Academy and have connected with several PTs/OTs who are now working in client success, so I know it is 100% possible to make this transition without any kind of formal apprenticeship.
There are tons of online courses dedicated to client/customer success, and having these on your resume are a great way to show your commitment to changing roles.
What was the interview like for a client success associate role?
I did not have a traditional interview process for my role since I was converted from an intern. However, I did interview for my apprenticeship program. I was asked a lot of questions testing my knowledge of the role and was asked to give examples to demonstrate how my skillset could transfer.
I also interviewed for a different customer success role that I was eventually offered and turned down for my current role.
The process was extremely straightforward and transparent, and the interviewers were clearly trying to evaluate my ability to transfer my skills and my dedication to a new career path. I would say the only difference than a PT interview was that I was asked more questions about what I planned to do in the future to make improvements. This was really encouraging to me because I love being autonomous at work and contributing to growth.
Did you get any special certifications or training?
I completed the SV Academy CSYOU training program! I also completed several Salesforce Trailheads, Gainsight administrator trainings, and an online Excel course because I saw these frequently on different job listings.
If you advanced through the company to get to where you are, what are some of the things you did to stand out, take initiative, and advance?
I haven’t really had the time to advance through my company, but was able to be converted from an intern to a full-time employee.
I was very honest with my boss about what was exciting to me and made it clear I was dedicated to learning about how things work and why we do things the way we do. I also asked my team what we needed, and took initiative in training and learning to make myself necessary.
For example, I knew my company was about to implement Gainsight, so I took all the online trainings I could so I could set myself up to become an integral part of the implementation team.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
My family, friends, and former co-workers have all been really excited for me! I am open about my mental health challenges and by the time I left patient care, it was clear to everyone who knows me well that I needed a career change to address my depression and anxiety.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
My schedule is extremely flexible and changes frequently. I usually do 1-3 client calls per week and email back and forth with clients a few times a day.
I meet with colleagues on my team and cross-functionally to strategize about how we can provide the best experience for our clients and keep our business successful. A lot of my time is spent messing around with different tools that my team uses to see if we can make processes more efficient.
What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?
When I first started, I faced a lot of impostor syndrome because I have no past experience in tech. I soon realized that the general culture at my company values diverse knowledge and experience and that my boss selected me as an intern because of my past roles.
It’s been rewarding to have my co-workers seek out my opinion as a former provider because I have an understanding of the healthcare space that many of them don’t.
I was also encouraged to introduce myself to my clients by mentioning my past experience and tying it to my current role, and it’s become a way to gain their trust and respect quickly. I’ve learned to really own the fact that I have a doctorate degree, which definitely felt uncomfortable at first (I’m sure some people can relate).
Even though I don’t use my hands-on clinical skills anymore, it feels rewarding to get that recognition for my hard work getting my degree.
The biggest reward is that everyone I work with has a different background.
I didn’t realize how homogeneous the physical therapy world was until I was out of it. There’s so much out there to learn from people who’ve experienced the world from a different perspective than I have.
The opportunity to learn from and work with people different from myself is the best thing about my job now and makes me a better person at work and at home.
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
Being a PT definitely prepared me for client success. I always felt like the most important part of being a therapist was understanding my patients’ motivations, goals, and challenges. This is a huge part of my role now.
My past experience in healthcare also makes it clear to my colleagues and clients that I’m dedicated to our members’ well-being and our company’s mission. This allows me to position myself as a trusted advisor to my clients with greater ease.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours salary of a client success associate, compared to patient care?
I am in a much better position financially and in terms of my work-life balance. My salary is slightly less in my current role, but my benefits are hugely increased.
I haven’t had to change my budget at all, and I’m able to save more now every month than I was with my higher clinician salary.
My hours are technically the same (40 hours per week), but far more flexible. I don’t have to take PTO to go to the dentist or see my therapist, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. I work remotely, so I can visit my family across the country without hesitation.
What type of person do you think would do well as a client success associate?
Client success requires someone who is able to be an advocate for your clients, but balance the needs of your company at the same time.
If you’re someone who always says “yes” to your clients no matter what, you’ll need to find more balance to be successful. You also have to be flexible and be able to find information and make judgement calls when there is no clear right and wrong answer, which is certainly a skill all confident clinicians already have.
You’ll have to be a great communicator with a variety of audiences and be comfortable presenting to people you’ve just met.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
I work remotely, but my company does have an office I can work in if I want to (with COVID precautions in place).
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Yes! My company is a healthcare benefit company, so anyone with healthcare or benefits experience already has a leg up as long as they also demonstrate commitment/ability to learn new skills for a new role.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I took the Non-Clinical 101 course (in addition to my apprenticeship at SV Academy)!
What is a typical career path for a client success associate?
This is a new and growing field so there isn’t necessarily a “typical” career path, but client success is unique in that you get to work with every department in the organization. So you can be exposed to and pick up skills to make the career whatever you want it to be!
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
My long-term goal is to transition more into the operations side of things within customer success. I love understanding/establishing processes and streamlining workflows for individuals and the larger business, but also see myself as a great liaison for my colleagues, so I know I would really thrive in a role like this.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
The most effective thing for me was to explicitly draw connections between my role as a physical therapist and my role in customer success. Don’t assume people will make the connections and understand how qualified you are.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I’m still new to this role and quite honestly the field itself is relatively new, so there’s nothing I feel like I would change at this point.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during your PT school program, what would it be?
Stop and think about what you really need from your career (financial, growth opportunity, flexibility, etc). Do more research and talk to people who have the job before making the commitment to it. Talk to people who love it AND people who don’t. It’s not a bad thing to take a pause and make sure you’re going down the right path for you.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
You’ve learned so much more than just physical therapy skills.
Sure, you know how to do things like perform joint mobilizations and create an exercise progression, but you also know how to advocate, build relationships, use data, do research, and collaborate with many teams at once.
Be creative and don’t accept your professional situation if you’re not happy with it.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Once you decide what you want to do and why you want to do it, talk to your manager. You don’t have to tell them you’re thinking of getting a new job, but do tell them what you need to be more satisfied with what you’re doing now and see if there are other/additional opportunities within your current role/organization. You’ll be able to use your skills in a more transferable way and ask your manager for feedback about non-clinical skills.
As an example, I realized at my last job that my manager was overwhelmed with managing and responding to customer feedback. I asked if I could help her manage this as part of my role because I know I’m good at de-escalating situations, making people feel heard, and improving processes in response to feedback.
In the end, there wasn’t an opportunity for me to do this as part of my paid role, but I did get feedback from my manager that I would be great at this and she saw all of these things as my strengths. When I was interviewing for jobs, I was able to share that feedback from my manager.
If you are lucky enough to be able to do other things as part of your role, you might be a lot more satisfied with your current job and it may open opportunities at your current company.
Secondly, talk to people! Introduce yourself on LinkedIn to people who have gone through a similar transition and those who come from completely different backgrounds. This will help you understand the role, make connections, and practice for interviews. Having connections in tech is extremely important but once you break in, the world is your oyster.
Last, don’t give up. It will take time to build the skills/connections you need to transition.
Don’t wait until you’re miserable to make your first move.
Liana took NC101 to help land her role, and you can do the same! Client success is just one of the 25 non-clinical career paths we explore in Non-Clinical 101. I created NC101 to help you skip the confusion and overwhelm so you can land the job you want!
1 thought on “Client Success Associate – Liana Merkel”
Thank you ! Good luck !