by Olivia Blaber, COL ’17
At Penn, many students are compelled to have a plan towards career success mapped out freshmen year. Deviating from your path can be a frightening move. However, taking a risk and allowing yourself the opportunity to grow and explore can be just as rewarding as it may seem daunting.
I came into Penn positive I wanted to be a doctor and had mapped out how I would get there. However, my junior year I took a healthcare management class that opened my eyes to the array of opportunities to affect change in healthcare. I wanted to explore those opportunities outside of a clinical roles. Still, I was wary that it would not be the best way to position myself for medical school, and I was even more concerned that it would lead me to change my path entirely.
I scoured PennLink (the job board prior to Handshake) for a healthcare related business opportunity and landed on the analyst position with the Redwoods Leadership Development Program at DaVita. This fortuitous find could not have been more impactful. To me, three things ultimately differentiated this experience. The first was that DaVita, as an enterprise, shared my passion for improving patient care. Second, the Redwoods Program afforded us immense exposure to senior leadership and high impact projects. Finally, the support network and emphasis on personal growth and development far exceeded my expectations.
I was weary that at a large, for-profit company the experience of individual patients would become obsolete. However, part of DaVita’s mission is to be the Provider of Choice and its first core value is Service Excellence. What I learned was that these words are more than just a tag line, but a compass driving the direction of business decision. I was surprised to learn that the CEO, Kent Thiry, begins every earnings call with clinical outcomes and by the amount of times I was in strategy meetings where patient impact was the first consideration.
Further, the exposure my intern cohort had to senior leadership from every arm of the enterprise was incredible. The open dialogue channels with leaders who shared lessons learned from their careers was invaluable as I grappled with how to navigate the beginning of my own career journey. Even more exciting for me, was the opportunity to work closely with members of the leadership team. As an intern on the corporate strategy team I worked on a project to develop a five year growth strategy for one of DaVita’s smaller strategic business unit. The learning curve was steep at first but resulted in the confidence to actively contribute in working sessions with the business unit’s CEO.
Finally, the support network developed by the Redwoods team was a resource I had not expected to receive in the corporate world. The summer started with a comprehensive training period that ranged in topics from a business overview to honing hard skills in excel. Support did not cease when training did, but rather the Redwoods team was constantly setting up career development sessions and checking in to make sure our development goals were being met. Outside of the formal Redwoods team, everyone I encountered at DaVita was excited to offer up their career learnings and help me think through my options.
At the end of the experience, I had accomplished my goal of branching out from my initial career path. But I had also learned that I had an appetite for the challenge that strategy work presents and an excitement about systematically transforming healthcare. I was not content to let the learning end there and reflecting upon the differentiating qualities of the Redwoods program, I decided to come back full-time. In my role today, I am constantly challenged to push the bounds of my comfort zone and continue to be rewarded with increased aptitude and confidence.