What is your career path leading your current position?
I really wanted to become a professor when I was a master student at Queen’s University, and I decided to pursue a Ph.D degree at UofT, which I thought would be a good pathway to a postdoc role and eventually a professorship. Halfway through my Ph.D I realized that it wasn’t the career trajectory for me, considering the financial aspect and constant grant-writing nature of being a PI, I decided to pursue something else. I began job searching, particularly within the healthcare field, and I was able to find an entry-level position at an organization that was working at the provincial level. It’s mainly policy-focused, but it also involved lots of research and required strong organization and project management skills. I applied because I felt those were the skillsets I had, and successfully got the position. From there on, multiple opportunities have arisen based on the policy side and evidence (research) side. I have worked directly with the hospital when I was at Ivey Business School, within the hospital when I was at CAMH, and now at CCO, a provincial agency which supports the improvement of care to cancer patients across the province.
What does your role, as a director of Quality Management and the Quality Management Partnership (QMP) portfolio at CCO, entail??
I oversee the Quality Management teams, which is within the Prevention and Cancer Control of CCO. Our focus is on delivering province-wide screening programs for three major cancers: breast, colorectal and cervical. My role in quality management involves looking at the data that describes how we reach out to patients who need to be screened and properly follow up with those who have been screened, also ensuring there is a process in place to evaluate and improve the screening program. There are three main areas within QM:
- Evaluation Portfolio – A team of research associates that conducts quantitative and qualitative data analysis to evaluate existing and pilot programs.
- Analytics Portfolio – A team which analyzes data at the regional/facility level collected from the province and to support performance management across different regions within Ontario. It also generates and provides standardized reports (ex: program participation/follow-up) to local facilities.
- Information Design and Data Quality Management team – supports the reporting and data quality for screening program data sets.
- In addition, there is the Quality Management Partnership – A team which collaborates with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) enhance the quality of care, increase the consistency in the quality of care provided across facilities and improve public confidence by increasing accountability and transparency. to other areas beyond cancer (ex: imaging for breast can be used to detect not only cancer but also other diseases).
What is your day-to-day like??
Lots and lots of meetings with different people. I meet with managers within my team regarding operational activities; for example, we discuss about how we can engage with regional clinical leads to get their advice on how to move forward on particular programs. I also meet very frequently with other teams within CCO to discuss how we, as an analytics & evaluation team, can address their data needs and provide support for programs they are trying to implement. There are also weekly or monthly meetings with the executive team surrounding strategic directions of the organization.
What are the necessary skill sets for someone in your position??
Organization skills are very critical as there are lots of meetings to schedule, items to remember, and documents to approve. People management skills are also very important. Directors by definition are middle management, we are the buffer between executives and our teams. We need to ensure that our teams are adequately resourced to perform the required tasks, as well as managing “up” with president or CEO to ensure that the directions they provide are met. Strong leadership skill: try to get to know everyone in your team, which can be quite challenging but also very rewarding. It’s also key to maintain a good relationship with the stakeholders, such as clinicians, as we work very closely with them to execute our programs.
What are the most attractive and challenging aspects about your job??
My favorite part of my job, and my career in general, is the learning opportunity. It is always exciting to learn a new area. Through various positions at different institutions, I learned about the very complex health care system in Ontario. I was fortunate to traverse from different fields, such as from government/policy side, research/evidence side, association/political advocate side, and all of these coming together have been very exciting for me. The most challenging part of my job is trying to manage my time effectively. There are always lots of meetings or documents to review, which can be quite overwhelming at times.
For non-academic careers in general, what are the most transferable skills for a Ph.D student?
The ability to think critically. When I am hiring, I am always looking for people who have the aptitude to have a research-minded approach, especially people with Ph.D, because I know they are trained to think critically. The ability to manage multiple projects or supervise different students can also be applied to many settings. It is also very important to develop good resume/cover letter writing skills early in your career, although it can take lots of time and effort, for me the quality of resume/cover letter is definitely one of the determining factors when I decide who to interview.
What are the types of entry level positions that students should aim for to get the experience necessary for your kind of career/company?
Analysts and project co-ordinators are fairly typical entry-level positions. Don’t always assume that a Ph.D will be overqualified for those positions. It can be very challenging to transition from academia to a completely new environment where you know close to nothing. It is highly unlikely that someone transfers directly from academia to a higher-level position such as a project manager, you will need to work your way up. Although it might help if you have certain certification, such as PMP (Project Management Professional).
How do you imagine your career progressing in the future?
I would say I have my dream job right now! I have a great team and great boss, and my job has a little bit of everything I like: analytics, research, implementation and working with clinical leads. I can definitely see myself staying at CCO for a long time.
Some general advice for current graduate students
Don’t be afraid of being overqualified, just apply, even entry-level jobs. People with Ph.D tend to progress a lot faster up the ladder, and your Ph.D degree certainly won’t be a deterrent to reaching higher-level positions such as director or VP, as nowadays in most organizations it’s almost a requirement to have a Ph.D to hold those positions.