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The Switch: Transitioning into Healthcare

By: Nicole Willens, Class of 2018

While many students that enter the Master of Science in Health Communication program are already working in the healthcare field, I was working in consumer packaged goods and was hoping to leverage this degree to break into the healthcare industry. Switching industries can be terrifying at times, but I knew transitioning into healthcare was the right move for me long-term.

As an undergraduate, I studied communications, psychology, and marketing. Although I had a couple of classes that focused on the healthcare space, I did not know that was where I wanted to end up until a few years later. In fact, after graduation, I started working at Nielsen doing marketing research for clients in the consumer packaged goods industry. I loved using analytics to tell a story about how marketing pieces communicated and interacted with consumers, but I quickly learned that I did not love my end goal of selling more products in an already over-commercialized world. I wanted to do something bigger, something that would have a positive impact on people’s lives and that’s it came to me: healthcare.

The closest I had come to healthcare work previously was through my non-profit volunteer experience. While at Northwestern as an undergraduate, I was an avid Northwestern University Dance Marathon participant and committee member, culminating in my work as the Marketing Co-Chair on the Executive Board my senior year. In this position, I worked closely with the primary beneficiary that year, Starlight Children’s Foundation, to help educate our campus about chronic illness and rally the community to our cause. Seeing the power we had as students to impact the lives of these children living with chronic illness and their families was life-changing. And looking back, the joy I received from that rewarding experience is what was lacking in my job at Nielsen.

My transition into healthcare was one of the most stressful and exciting times of my professional career. Deciding to make the switch was half the battle. When you are comfortable in a job, it seems dangerous to disrupt the status quo. Yet, once you dive into that fear and come out the other side, it feels like you are finally where you were supposed to be all along. While the decision to switch was difficult to make, the actual job search was equally as challenging. Lacking substantial healthcare experience made the interview process daunting. However, I allowed my passion for the area to speak for itself, explaining to organizations why I loved volunteering with non-profit organizations in the healthcare space and how the MSHC program at Northwestern would aid in my transition to the field. All it took was finding the right organization that could see my passion, transferrable skills, and ability to learn. Fortunately, as the MSHC program started up in September, I also began my new position in healthcare at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation. After making the switch, I could not be happier. Through this experience, I learned that if something terrifies you, lean into it, and most importantly, follow your passion, it will never lead you astray.