The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting non-clinical paths that physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Lauren Kealy, PT, DPT, who went from physical therapist to healthcare strategist, and now to program administrator at a major health system.
What is your full name and title?
Lauren Kealy, PT, DPT
Program Administrator, Innovation and Virtual Health at SCL Health
Where did you attend PT school and when did you graduate?
I graduated from Regis University in 2015.
What made you choose PT?
I began my career out of undergrad as an accountant and worked in two large consulting companies. I did not enjoy the day-to-day work, and I did not feel like I was doing something that made a difference, so I began to search for a career path that would fill that void.
At the time of my career soul-search, I tore my ACL and worked with an amazing PT. The rest is history!
What did you like best about PT? Least?
There is no better feeling in the world than helping someone live a better life. That was my favorite part. That and the relationships I built with patients, the PT community, and my coworkers—as PTs, we have a wonderful group of people.
Despite leaving clinical care, I don’t plan to leave the PT community.
Denver, CO is a saturated market for outpatient ortho PTs and, as I began to talk to other clinicians about salary, advancement, etc., I realized I would hit a ceiling pretty quickly.
Moving elsewhere was not an option because of my husband’s job. It was really demotivating to know that clinicians several years out, with advanced certifications, were not earning much more than I was as a new grad.
I also hated having to play by the rules of the insurance companies, and I didn’t like seeing how small private practices in Colorado (and all over, really!) were struggling. The patients we were treating were being denied care—or had such high copays that they still had trouble accessing the care they needed.
It was at this point that I felt I may need to do something bigger eventually. I wanted to help change the system.
At what point did you start feeling like you might want to do something else?
During school, I was always interested in the business side of PT and healthcare.
I always imagined that, after several years as a practicing clinician, I would branch out into a career in physical therapy education or business.
I never thought I would leave clinical care within two years of graduation, but my life had other plans.
Did anything in particular influence your decision to go non-clinical?
The birth of my son in June, 2016 drastically shifted my career aspirations and my personal needs. Becoming a mother was the catalyst for me leaving the clinical world.
I’ll start by saying that I worked in an amazing practice where my boss always told me that family comes first. If I needed to leave to pick up my baby from daycare or take him to the doctor, it was never a problem.
However, patient care inherently does not offer much flexibility. One time, when I had several new evals and my husband was traveling for work, my mother in law flew to Denver from Omaha to help with my sick son.
As a new mom, I felt so much guilt for not being able to be with my son, but I also would have felt guilt for not treating patients.
As much as my boss encouraged me to take care of my family first, I did not make money if I was not treating. Between student loan debt and daycare costs, I needed a predictable and steady income, which is hard to achieve in an hourly/per patient pay structure.
Suddenly, the career that I chose in order to help people was causing me more stress and grief than it was giving me joy.
I felt that clinical care did not allow me the flexibility, income and advancement to be a successful working mother.
This is when I began to explore other options.
What did you do next?
I worked as a healthcare strategist for a healthcare company called Status:Go. The company implemented Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for a wide variety of providers to improve the provider and patient experience. I worked alongside healthcare experts and technology geeks, all of whom had a passion for breaking the mold and doing things in a new way.
What did your role as a healthcare strategist look like?
It was pretty awesome! I worked with providers (everything from large hospital systems to small private practices) to help them reimagine care design, and implemented proper workflows once the CRM software had been integrated into their systems.
I was the only one at my company who had a clinical background, and that served as an immediate form of trust with other providers.
What were the pros/cons of that role?
Being in that role taught me more about healthcare from a higher-level perspective than I ever imagined. This role also offered extreme flexibility due to its nature. I was in a salaried position where I could work from home if/when needed, without getting a dock in pay.
I felt challenged and excited about the work I was doing, and had tons of room for advancement. Most importantly, I was able to balance work with parenting.
The cons were that I wasn’t using my clinical degree much (except when a coworker had back pain!), which led to a feeling of guilt, and even loneliness, as I have strayed from the typical path.
I did what was best for me and my family, but I am still often questioned by PT friends and colleagues about my choice.
Another con about that role was that I was sedentary most of the day. Ever since I left patient care, I’ve had to keep reminding myself about good posture while at my desk!
What steps did you take to leave patient care? Was it difficult?
It was much harder than I anticipated it would be. I was often met with confusion when a company learned I had a PT degree.
I was told repeatedly that I should have gotten an MBA with a healthcare focus if I wanted to be considered for a more business type of role in the healthcare space.
- Networked in the local healthcare IT/digital health space in the Denver area
- Attended meet-ups
- Volunteered for events
I basically put myself front and center in the arena where I wanted to be working.
How did you change your resume/cover letter to apply for different jobs?
My non-clinical resume and cover letter highlighted my past business and consulting experience, as well as my leadership experiences during and after PT school.
I removed anything overly clinical from my resume and focused on more global skills that related to the roles to which I was applying.
What would you suggest for someone looking to become a healthcare strategist?
Go out and meet people! When I began looking into the healthcare innovation space in Denver, I found so many amazing companies filled with passionate people.
If I would have never gone to those events, I would not have landed the position I am in now.
When and why did you leave Status:Go?
I left Status:Go in February, 2018. Unfortunately, the company hit a rough patch and had to close its doors, so I was looking for a new position unexpectedly. I was also 30 weeks pregnant with my second baby!
What did you do next?
I evaluated what I liked most about my position at Status:Go, updated my resume and reached out to every Denver area connection in the healthcare tech space that I knew.
How did you find your program administrator role at SCL Health?
Connection! Actually, my former boss at Status:Go knew of this role, and recommended me to my current boss.
How did you apply for the role? Did you do anything special to your resume/cover letter?
I had a warm hand-off from the connection, and then went through the formal application and interview process.
I updated my resume and cover letter to highlight past achievements that would weigh heavily in the new role. I also created a portfolio of deliverables that allowed my new team to see what I was capable of.
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- Telehealth: Innovations in Care (PhysicalTherapy.com)
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- Connecting to Communicate: Designing Telepractice Services (SpeechPathology.com)
- Connecting to Communicate: Defining Telepractice (SpeechPathology.com)
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What was the interview like?
There were several. The first one was just your typical behavioral and get-to-know-you questions.
The second one I had to facilitate a group towards a decision; this allowed the team to get a sense of how I lead a group.
The third interview was with the VP of the department and we chatted about the big picture of healthcare and he wanted to get a sense of if I understood the marketplace and could think strategically. I did this all at 34 weeks pregnant!
How long have you been at your current job?
I was offered the position in March of 2018, but with a baby girl due in early May, the team was willing to wait for me and I started at the end of July—so six months!
What do you do in this role?
I focus on direct-to-consumer virtual health offerings (think: Face-timing with your doctor), as well as innovative initiatives that increase access to care such as our partnership with Lyft to help patients get to and from appointments.
How did your PT background serve you in this role?
All of the projects and initiatives I work on have a direct impact on providers. I know from a personal stand point how much is asked of providers—from writing notes, filling care gaps, etc., so I know that any project I take on has to has not only a positive impact on our patients, but our providers as well.
I also understand clinical workflows which allows for me to deeply understand the needs of a project.
What type of growth is there in this role?
I have a ton of growth opportunity in this role and beyond!
Currently, my team is only four people with plans to continue to grow. The health system I work for is growing.
The skills and projects that I am working on are also huge resume builders if I ever decide to work for a different company. With that career growth also comes great pay growth as well.
I paid off all of my loans last year, which I don’t think could have happened if I stayed in my previous clinical role.
Do you have any special advice for someone who wants to move into a non-clinical role like yours?
Network, get involved, meet people, talk to people, and update your resume to be specific for the job you want!
What would you say to a PT who is feeling guilty about switching gears?
Guilt was (and, if I am being honest, still is) something I struggled with when I decided to make this career shift. We spend a ton of money to become clinicians, so I often felt that I had just wasted time and money.
In the long run, I know that my experience as a clinician has given me a view on healthcare that I would not have had otherwise.
To the PT who wants to switch gears but is held back by feelings of guilt or insecurity, I say to you: take a step forward. This is your path and yours alone. You know what is best for you, your family, your career and your long term goals.
No matter what path you forge or follow, the PT community will support you.
What can someone start doing today to stand out for a role like this in the future?
Understand what kind of role you want and why.
From there, read some of the job descriptions and see what they look for. Take on extra projects as resume builders to make yourself stand out.
Did I mention network and get involved? Many cities have meetup groups for healthcare innovation, healthcare technology, etc. So important!
Thanks for your insight, Lauren!