This week, we’re featuring Liz Rowe! Her title is Manager, Strategy & Insights, and she’s a licensed occupational therapist. Her story is inspiring for anyone, but especially for those who have taken time away from their careers to raise children. Liz shares incredibly valuable tips about how to rejoin the workforce after taking time off.
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What is your full name, title, and company name?
Liz Rowe, OTR – Manager, Strategy & Insights at Open Health
Where are you located?
When did you graduate from OT school?
Worcester, MA 2016.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I graduated college in 2004 and worked in non-profit settings, so it was my first career transition when I went for my MOT in 2013.
I found out I was pregnant with our first child the same day I passed the NBCOT exam, so that changed things a bit post-graduation! I chose to work per diem, so I was at three different facilities.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
When I worked per diem, I was at two inpatient rehab facilities and one SNF. I loved the close-knit team and mentoring I received at the SNF, but the setting wasn’t ideal for me.
I worked in those settings for around a year and then transitioned to a part-time home health role.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
When I was first starting out with inpatient rehab, I really enjoyed it, especially at the hospital where I had done my fieldwork. I had great working relationships with the staff there, and it was a nonprofit hospital, so the care for the patients was very evident.
I found it became monotonous rather quickly though, and I felt like I was doing the same things all the time.
The SNF setting just wasn’t for me. The rehab team was wonderful, but many of the patients I was treating needed long-term care or 24/hr supervision, and I didn’t feel that I could impact their lives in a meaningful way or get them the support they needed to return home.
I envied the social worker a bit in that setting, because at least they were pulling all those pieces together as much as could be done.
Home health was my favorite setting. I worked maybe 25% in the community (people’s houses) and about 75% in senior living communities with a mix of individuals in independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Being in people’s homes suited OT so much, as you could get a stronger sense of their day-to-day lives and what was important to them.
The challenge in this setting was documentation. In the beginning I was doing it every evening after work hours to catch up. It improved over time, but I didn’t like taking work home.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
I was full-time caregiver for our kids for a couple of years just before and during the pandemic.
If I can make a career transition after the stay-at-home-parenting gig, anyone can. It just takes a willingness to learn and grit.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
I knew I wanted to return to work in the near future, but I wanted to use my clinical knowledge in a different way. I had been in The Non-Clinical PT’s Facebook group for a while, and decided to buy Non-Clinical 101 to really do a deep dive into what could be next for me.
The other piece of the puzzle is that while I was taking Non-Clinical 101, I was pregnant with our third child, who has a rare disorder.
She really set our family off on a new journey full of lengthy hospital stays, advocating for her care, and medical complexity.
Sitting on the other side of the clinical relationship as a caregiver gave me a whole different perspective.
What are you doing these days?
My experience as a rare caregiver is what launched me into my first non-clinical role. I had become interested in working in product/tech, so I participated in the Yale Health Hackathon and volunteered my time as a user tester for an app geared toward therapists.
I followed quite a few people in healthtech on LinkedIn, and that led me to a company called Folia Health.
They were looking for someone with a clinical background, qualitative research experience, and personal experience with rare/complex disease. It was a natural fit, and I worked there for about a year wearing a wide variety of startup hats including user support/testing, user onboarding, paid advertising/marketing, content, and condition community building.
I learned a ton and discovered that the area I most enjoyed was getting to know a patient/caregiver community deeply and using those insights to inform strategy. That led me to my current role at Open Health, where I’m focused specifically on rare disease patient engagement.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I’m a non-clinical OT, although I’m keeping up my NBCOT certification and I’m still licensed in one state.
How long have you been working in strategy and insights?
Just over a month in this new role.
What do you wish you would’ve known before going into this role?
My first non-clinical role was remote, and I wish I had understood the nuance of being full-time remote in a hybrid environment. Part of my team was in-office two days a week, and part only came to the office quarterly or less.
I found that dynamic challenging because it felt like I missed conversations or wasn’t part of decisions that happened casually in the office. Remote work can be beneficial in some ways, but there are definite trade-offs.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I took Non-Clinical 101 and highly recommend it. It really helped me think about my job search in a holistic, exploratory way. There were so many resources to help me think through my skills and passions, as well as advice on networking methods using LinkedIn, which I was barely on at the time.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I found my first non-clinical role because I followed someone in health tech on LinkedIn who liked the CEO’s post on Rare Disease Day, and it had an invitation to connect if the organization sounded interesting.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
I tailored my application specifically to the job description to make sure my experience aligned as closely as possible to the role, and I talked about my personal connection to the rare disease space in my cover letter.
What was the interview like for the strategy and insights role?
The recruiter for my current role was amazing and really expedited the process. It was one of the most organized and clear processes I’ve experienced and gave me a very good impression of the company.
I had three rounds of interviews with various members of the team. I was asked questions about my past experience, results I saw that related to the role.
Some questions I was asked I had to answer that I didn’t have experience with X or Y, but I had done Z. In the end, they were willing to train on some things I hadn’t done prior in part because I was a good culture fit for the team and I had the essentials they were looking for.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
Because I’m still healthcare-adjacent and my earning has improved, it hasn’t been a concern to my family or friends in any way.
The OT degree was not a waste at all—it’s a huge part of what has brought me to where I am today. I’m still having an impact on patients and caregivers but now with increased growth potential.
It doesn’t make sense to box ourselves into one profession when our therapy skills and general clinical knowledge can be so useful in so many places.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you as a manager of strategy and insights?
My day-to-day involves desk research to understand a rare disease state, current treatment options, and patient/caregiver advocacy and engagement landscape.
This provides our team with the insight to create a patient engagement strategy for our pharmaceutical clients. I’m in meetings with clients, understanding their goals for patient engagement programs, reviewing content to ensure strategy pull-through, and reviewing slide decks.
Right now, because I’m so new in the role, I’m doing lots of learning—especially around pharmaceutical compliance.
What are some of the rewards of your role? What are the biggest challenges?
I have a fantastic supervisor who is very supportive and works to make sure I have resources to learn some of these things that are newer to me. I love the team, and their passion for rare disease is so evident.
For me, working remotely is something I do because I have to (I’m not local to an office).
I’d much prefer a hybrid setup, where I get to see people and not look at a computer screen for meetings. I do appreciate not having a commute, but there are drawbacks.
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
My clinical knowledge, understanding of how the medical system functions and works (who all the players are and their roles), ability to read scientific articles and explain it in plain language, project management, time management, and organizational skills.
Soft skills like discovery and understanding goals/needs in order to develop a plan help, too.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
As a per diem and home health therapist, I often set my own schedule, so it’s tough to compare. That said, I did wind up doing a lot of documentation in off hours.
Current hours I work are standard 9-5, unless there’s an off-site event. The pay is better than the clinical setting.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
Someone with the following skills/traits:
- Good listener
- Qualitative analysis
- Attention to detail
- Takes initiative/self starter
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Open Health has a wide range of medical comms roles. They don’t hire therapists as a rule, but they do look for science or clinical backgrounds.
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
There are some options for this type of role.
Some people might want to go toward the marketing/social media management side of things. Some might decide to work in patient marketing or patient engagement for a pharmaceutical company. Others might work for a market research organization.
I’m not sure there’s a “typical” path here, but there are definitely some related options.
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
With young kids, my current career goals are to work something that doesn’t cause tons of added stress, is fulfilling, and that I can turn off at the end of the day as much as possible.
It’s a very busy season of life; our kids are 6, 4, and almost 2. Having work that I enjoy and find meaning in—but also can be balanced with family life—is a high priority.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
A career development program would be fantastic. Things like entrepreneurship, networking, online professional communities, learning about transferable skills, etc.