The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting paths that physical therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Lauren Kealy, PT, DPT, who went from physical therapist to healthcare strategist.
What is your full name and title?
Lauren Kealy, Healthcare Strategist
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 co-workers – 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. 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 created additional stress.
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 academia or business.
I never thought I would leave clinical care within 2 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 in and of itself does not offer 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 are you doing now?
I work as a healthcare strategist for a healthcare company called Status:Go. The company implements Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for a wide variety of providers to improve the provider and patient experience. I work alongside healthcare experts, and technology geeks who all have a passion for breaking the mold and doing things in a new way.
What does your role as a healthcare strategist look like?
It’s pretty awesome! I work with providers (everything from large hospital systems to small private practices) to help them reimagine care design, and implement proper workflows once the CRM software has been integrated into their systems.
I am the only one at my company who has a clinical background, and that serves as an immediate form of trust with other providers.
What are pros/cons of your current role?
Being in this role has taught me more about healthcare from a higher-level perspective than I ever imagined. This role also offers extreme flexibility due to its nature. I am in a salaried position where I can work from home if/when needed, without getting a dock in pay.
I feel challenged, excited about the work I am doing, have tons of room for advancement, and – most importantly – I am a happy working mother to my now 1 year old son.
The cons are that I am not using my clinical degree much (except when a coworker has back pain!), which leads 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 often questioned by PT friends and colleagues about my choice. Another con about my current role is that I am sedentary most of the day. I have to keep reminding myself about good posture while at my desk!
What steps did you take to get there? Was it easy? 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.
Here’s what I did to land this role:
- 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.
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.
Thanks for your insight, Lauren!