This week’s spotlight is on Dana Strauss, PT, DPT, a non-clinical physical therapist who is now Senior Director of Government Affairs for CVS Health!
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Dana Strauss, PT, DPT — Senior Director, Government Affairs for CVS Health
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I worked in inpatient (acute) rehab for two years, outpatient rehab for two years, home health for 10 years, and early intervention per diem.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
I’ve treated a wide spectrum of patients:
- Acute neuro
- Outpatient ortho
- Sports medicine
- The 0-3 population
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
Strict routines and schedules felt stifling. I was always saying, “What’s next?” and questioning what didn’t make sense. I didn’t like how the incentives were structured.
Home health and early intervention gave me the most autonomy. I spent most of my career in the home as the site of care.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current senior director role?
I worked in a clinical liaison and business development role. Then, I joined the team that was building a population health department in the health system.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
For as long as I can remember, I tried to organically direct my career by identifying and finding solutions for problems.
The clinical liaison role was eye-opening. So much about what I observed didn’t make sense, so I tried to find ways to address the issues I found.
What are you doing these days?
After building a value-based care (VBC) transitions of care program and learning accountable care and episodes of care from the ground up in the health system I had worked at for almost two decades, I took a role in a startup. I had a wide range of responsibilities there. What I ended up building was expertise in innovative models of care that were trying to solve for the misaligned incentives that had bothered me since I started treating in 1998.
I took a position at Signify Health as a client success executive and was asked about my interest in joining the Government Affairs (GA) team a few months after I started. My relatively uncommon expertise was identified and a position was opening in regulatory affairs and public policy. CVS Health recently purchased Signify, and I was asked to stay on and join the public policy team, where I am a VBC expert supporting related business lines and serving on advocacy and trade organizations with our partners.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I have a small PT gym in my home and treat family and friends as needed. I also do ergonomic assessments of home offices once in a while. I still enjoy treating acute injuries.
What percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?
I treat sporadically, so negligible.
How long have you been in your current role?
Two and a half years.
What do you wish you would’ve known before going into this role?
I had to quickly re-familiarize myself with the processes of policy-making through legislation and rule-making cycles.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
No. I developed expertise in areas that became emerging business opportunities for healthcare organizations. I also demonstrated the ability to leverage that expertise to support organizational strategy through regulatory and policy analysis of opportunities and risk. I was fortunate that I accurately anticipated VBC would only grow, and I developed expertise as a very early adopter.
I had to find ways to capture knowledge for current and potential future projects, and I have spent quite a bit of time in the last two years on courses in personal knowledge management and content creation.
I create and support the development of quite a bit of content in my role for a variety of audiences, and this is a skillset most knowledge workers need to develop to stand out.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I applied to Signify after seeing the role and reaching out to a post-acute care navigator I knew from my network. For the GA role, it was triggered by a professional networking connection from years prior on LinkedIn, who knew me, my knowledge base, and how well it would translate to the role he was going to be exiting (and suggested I could be a good fit).
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
I made sure to include the results of my program development and management, including concrete dollars earned in shared savings and in readmission reduction. It’s a cliche, I know, but objective results are helpful to have on a resume, when possible.
What was the interview like for the senior director role?
The initial transition to the organization was five interviews, including a live presentation for six people.
To transition to the GA role, it was two internal interviews.
What are some of the things you did to stand out, take initiative, and advance in your career?
Standing out by providing value to others has been key. I gladly share my expertise informally and formally to anyone who asks and/or who might benefit from it to be more successful in their role and help the company succeed. I also learned how to present information in ways that resonated with the target audience, and that specificity takes deliberate practice.
Do you do anything else as part of your career growth?
I have recently launched a free newsletter about value-based care delivery. I also offer after-hours and weekend coaching for a limited number of people who are interested in careers in VBC. It’s new and can be complex policy. I’ve found those who understand VBC have an easier time securing roles in healthcare delivery and health tech roles, but there aren’t a lot of resources put together cohesively.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
My family and friends knew I was seeking more from the time I started. No surprise!
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
One of the best things about my role is that no day is the same. It’s more project-based, and I may be supporting different organizational needs at different times of the year. The second half of the year is rule-making season for CMS, and policy makers are also working on bills to fund healthcare and other funding requests before the end of the fiscal year.
I take in a large amount of information and decide what to do with it in the short and long term, so my days involve a lot of small, independent decision-making. I may write a memo to leadership or be working on a committee for an organization to align on a policy position for advocacy. I may be creating content for a presentation or presenting it. I may be working with our state team on state-specific legislative or regulatory barriers to care delivery. I may be teaching client teams about changes to a program or a new program that’s been announced.
My role requires almost constant prioritizing and re-prioritizing of tasks and projects, working with leaders and others across the organization and with our partners, and doing efficient research and analysis. It also involves making sure advocacy priorities are identified and reviewed regularly, so plans are developed well ahead of when the business will need support. I also attend conferences, synthesize takeaways to share with the right stakeholders, and work on goals we share with other organizations in our advocacy groups, among other things.
What are some of the rewards of your role? What are the biggest challenges?
Many of the challenges are also the rewards. I accept that unexpected announcements from the Hill can quickly shift focus. Goals for advancing policy at the federal level can take years, so I have to balance big-picture thinking with specific, short-term strategies to make consistent progress. I love that I am on the forefront of VBC delivery policy.
Overcoming the challenges of capturing and using information from all sources is a skill that is valuable to any knowledge worker. In the policy and regulatory space, I am one of the stakeholders whose skill is disseminating information, with its risk and opportunities.
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
Unlike most who serve in similar roles, I know what it’s like to treat, operate, and strategize in healthcare organizations as a clinician. I can anticipate how regulatory and policy proposals will play out when they have to be disseminated and acted upon—and where the incentives are and aren’t aligned.
As therapists, we have to be able to:
- Treat and communicate at the same time
- Shift priorities quickly
- Be efficient in our non-technical work
All of these skills easily translate. Because therapists have to be skilled communicators to effectively engage patients and care partners, referral sources, care teams, payers, and more, we can communicate authentically with anyone. I think being a clinician is a superpower in the healthcare business and policy worlds.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
The hours are variable, and you have to be very comfortable with uncertainty and using time wisely in a position like this.
The compensation is significantly better. The ceiling on therapists’ pay is a problem for retaining us in clinical roles.
What type of person do you think would do well in your senior director role?
People who would do we in this type of role:
- Are self-starters
- Love to research and disseminate information
- Stay up to date in policy and regulations
- Are able to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders of any kind
- Learn new skills and information regularly
- Give effective presentations
You need to know details and know what to share with whom and when.
Ready to start your own non-clinical career?
Do you work remotely or onsite?
I work remotely from home. Most of my team are local to Washington, D.C.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
I have found no barriers to being hired into roles once I had my first experience in a non-clinical role in the health system. The first role is the hardest. I was 14 years out of school when I did that, and it’s easier to make the change earlier in your career. Clinicians are valuable assets in business. Many people I work with don’t even know I’m a PT because, much of the time, it’s irrelevant to them.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I read Medicare policy manuals, requests for information, and took free webinars to learn about the opportunities available based on incentives and new programs. I continue to do that regularly. In the last few years, I have taken a few courses in personal knowledge management, as I think about how to leverage my experience to support other healthcare professionals on career paths beyond treating. Two of my favorites are Justin Welch’s LinkedIn OS and Creator OS.
What is a typical career path for someone in your senior director role?
Public policy roles are commonly filled by those who went to school for public policy, as well as attorneys. Many work in government jobs first. The government is the largest payer, and healthcare is highly regulated. It’s important expertise to have, regardless of how you obtain it.
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
I love policy, advocacy, and strategy; they are indelibly linked. I’ve learned to be open to what makes the most sense for me. I work with a great team and leaders, and I learn every day. Those are some of the most important aspects of job satisfaction for me.
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?
Learn what’s going on in healthcare policy, regulations, and innovation—no matter what your job or career aspirations. Understand value-based care because it’s the unavoidable direction healthcare is going. Learn what others don’t have expertise in and requires self-teaching.
For example, I know I can’t be an actuary and perform an opportunity analysis of a new Innovation Center model, but I can analyze and understand the model, how it interacts with others, who it might be good for and why, what might make it better, what will be hard to implement, what it could mean for an organization, and why it was developed.
Make connections between what you know, what you learn, and what is new and changing. Share those insights liberally. Be a resource for anyone. If you see how something may help the business or certain stakeholders, share it. Grow your value to an organization by being valuable.
What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?
Understand the healthcare ecosystem better and where my strengths would be best suited.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
For the sake of the profession and all the value we can offer to individuals, I would teach graduate students more about the business and policy of healthcare and about the barriers and opportunities of incentives.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Have a knowledge capture habit and system, make connections, develop new ideas, and share them. I love sharing what I’ve found works well with other clinicians interested in the business side of healthcare!