Healthcare consulting: What does that even mean?

When I started out my career as a healthcare consultant following completion of my Master of Public Health (MPH) program, I sat wondering how I’ll be able to do this job, and do it well, with only a few research internships under my belt. I’d heard the horror stories of what it’s like to work in the private sector. How different will the expectations of working in a private firm be from what I’ve always known in research (public sector)? Will I be able to exercise the skills I worked hard to build throughout my MPH studies and actually use the public health knowledge I’ve developed?

Fast forward to six months later, not only have I been able to apply countless skills to my career as a healthcare consultant, but my journey has only further emphasized to me the sheer range of areas in healthcare which one can specialize in and pursue, and how incredibly important each area of work is to the ultimate goal of providing good care at the individual- and population-level. This understanding is built from of the four projects I have already had the pleasure to support as part of my consulting practice, each solving a different “crisis” for just a handful of our public sector clients. 

Healthcare consulting, for those unfamiliar with the practice, is an advisory service in which professionals provide guidance to both public (i.e. hospitals, provincial and federal government) and private (biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical companies) on the most efficient and effective means of delivering healthcare. Engagement (projects) often run short in duration as consultants are often brought in as experts to help guide and support clients during major business or operational transitions. Short durations for projects in which consultants are brought in to strategize for organizations, implement effective programs, and provide support and surveillance following implementation, allow consultants to pursue multiple projects at once, or jump from project to project. This then provides countless opportunities to work for a variety of clients and organizations with varying needs and focus areas in healthcare. For example, in only the last six months, my own projects have ranged from clinically oriented work in the improvement of workflows between pharmacists and nurses for safe and efficient production of intravenous admixtures across a provincial healthcare network, to preparing clinical teams across multiple hospitals for an upcoming large-scale Electronic Health Record (EHR) implementation at their organizations.

A day in the life

Days often begins with meetings with the client to touch-base on key project activities or connect on an upcoming deliverable. This can mean working sessions with the client, one-on-one connects, or simply quick updates on progress. 

Following a series of morning meetings, consultants often spend a significant portion of the day producing a wide range of deliverables, depending on what the project at hand demands. This can mean head-down, independent work in developing a new operational workflow for clinicians, or more collaborative work such as drafting group presentations to deliver to client executive boards later in the week. 

Consultants are often required to learn new material in their area of healthcare at a rapid pace and must develop the ability to apply their existing expertise and background, as well as newly learned information, to the client’s challenge. This requires time in the day to read and connect with experts in the area to best understand the space in healthcare which your project is in. 

Finally, the day often ends with team activities and volunteer work, including side-projects in healthcare, whether pro-bono or proposal work, which consultants often participate in to further their knowledge and skills outside of their staffed projects.

What do I need to become a healthcare consultant?

I often get asked what educational background and skills candidates need to enter the healthcare consulting industry and differentiate themselves from other candidates. From my personal experience as a biology and life sciences, and subsequently a public health graduate, I have come to understand that aside from interpersonal skill, consulting does require experience in and understanding of the industry you wish to provide advisory services in, but most importantly, advisory work demands curiosity of its practitioners. One can quickly pick up the fundamentals of pharmacy operations or the ins-and-outs of an Electronic Health Record, though curiosity is what keeps consultants constantly willing to learn more about the projects and clients they pursue, ultimately to expand their horizons in what they understand about healthcare on the granular and systemic level. It is for this reason that consulting recruitment does not limit the degrees and backgrounds for hiring and, considering the fact that my colleagues range from nurses, to epidemiologists, to community health workers, amongst many health care professionals, I’ve come to learn that it’s in candidates’ best interest to reflect on and feel confident in the value they will bring to the table, regardless of their academic background. 

For those interested in taking the first step towards a career in healthcare consulting, I highly encourage taking the time to connect with a healthcare consultant at a firm you’re interested in through LinkedIn or a recruiting event to truly understand the team and practice to explore if it’s the path for you!

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