Wednesday, June 21, 2017

19 Years and Counting...

     When I answered an ad in the Biloxi Sun Herald for part-time summer work at something called The Department of Veterans Affairs, I had no idea it would completely alter the course of my life and point me in the direction of a career I had never imagined.  It was 1998 and I had just moved to Mississippi.
     With my BS in Journalism and PR and being six credits away from an MA in Education Administration, I had never considered healthcare administration as a career option.  It was simply not on my radar.  I applied for a job in the Insurance Billing department and had plans to complete my degree by Christmas and pursue my intended career in collegiate student services with the ultimate goal of becoming a Dean of Students.
    I didn't get the job but Rebecca (Becky) Gustin recommended me to the Chief of HR and I was offered a position in their department.  My first day in HR, I met four wonderful ladies who would become my 'Mamas', help me navigate the unfamiliar territory of federal government and take care of me especially when my mother died.  Elaine Cooper, Nita Gross, Pat Finnegan and Belinda Corley may be just names to you, but to me they are a part of my heart.
     At the end of the summer, another 'Mama', Diane Sicuro, placed me into an internship program for college students which put me on a path for a permanent position once I finished my Masters in December.  A quick note about what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it and have supportive family and friends:  during the fall of 1998, I worked 40 hours per week at the VA, 30 hours per week as Assistant Manager of a McDonald's and completed graduate school on a campus more than 10 miles from my home without a car.
     In 1999 I met Jackie Collins (not the author) when my boss assigned me to help her get ready for an inspection.  We immediately clicked and she became my mentor and helped bring about some of the most significant changes in my career.  She hired me to be her Administrative Officer (like an Office Manager) for Prosthetics in 2000.  She then helped me get prepared and gave me a sterling recommendation and a big push to become the Chief of Prosthetics (like a Department Head) in Alaska at the teeny-tiny VA in Anchorage.  As a note, Prosthetics in the VA is more broad than the private sector.  Prosthetics provides everything patients use in their home (hospital beds, eyeglasses, computers, wheelchairs, iPhones, home oxygen, shoes, braces, walkers, environmental control units) as well as programs that will remodel your house and place adaptive equipment in your vehicle.
     Once I was in Alaska, Jackie was promoted to VISN Prosthetic Manager (like a Regional Manager) for VISN 10 in Ohio.  She recommended me for the Chief's job in Cleveland, Ohio.  I showed my thanks by turning that department around and making it into a well-run, efficient operation.  I always show my gratitude for someone giving me a chance and hiring/promoting me by being an exceptionally hard-working and creative employee.  Your boss doesn't need to hear you say 'thank you', they need to see you say 'thank you' every day by being awesome.  A little tip from me to you.
     While in Cleveland, Jackie told me they needed my voice in Washington, DC.  She was adamant I apply for a Policy Analyst position so I could go help them 'fix' Prosthetics at the national level.  I agreed to apply for the position just to stop her from bugging me about it, feeling confident I would never be selected.  To my surprise, but not hers, I was chosen to move to DC to help shape the policies for the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Department.  Country was about to go to town, y'all.
     When I got there, I found policy writing and program management was something I truly enjoyed and at which I excelled.  I would never have imagined it would have been possible my redneck tail would have been allowed to shape this particular section of healthcare.  After two years, an opportunity came for me to become the VISN Prosthetic Manager in VISN 1 which encompassed all six New England states.
     I ventured into the frozen tundra of New Hampshire and completely revamped their operation from a systems redesign perspective.  My work was recognized by the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operation and Management as Best Practice in my VISN and then ultimately Best Practice for the nation.  I graduated from the Leadership VA program as my goal is always to be the best leader I can be.  I also oversaw the Togus, Maine Prosthetics Department's transformation and award as the first national Prosthetic Service of the Year.
    After my presentation to every muckety-schmuck in DC, I was asked by Dr. Billie Jane Randolph to come back to DC to create an oversight program mimicking the facility reviews I completed in New England.  She and I had met earlier in the year in Manchester, New Hampshire, during a taping of a 60 Minutes episode on Prosthetic innovations.  We bonded while avoiding the cameras as we weren't cleared to be on TV, so we hid out and ate snacks and shared our stories, both of us being from the boonies; she much more fancy than I.
     My 90-day detail back to DC stretched in an 11-month detail and she became my mentor and 'Mama' and we found we worked wonderfully together.  The program was extremely successful and we re-shaped Prosthetics across the country.  I accepted a permanent position in DC placing me in charge of Education and Training for Prosthetics for VA.  In my element, we had numerous successful educational conferences, all within the proper guidelines, unlike those people from GSA who got in trouble (see previous blog, April 14, 2012 "Is a Clown at a Conference Really Kidding?").
     The opportunity came to move to Palo Alto and fix their failing Prosthetic Department and Dr. Randolph encouraged me to think about what was best for me as I had grown progressively unhappy living in DC.  I can only take so much politics before I become jaded.  Moving to California was the best decision for many reasons; one being having room for my father to move in and for me to start this blog.
     Revamping the program in Palo Alto, my team and I received the national Prosthetic Service of the Year Award in 2012, showing again standardization and accountability are always the path to success.  I also got a new mentor in Palo Alto, Tony Fitzgerald, who helped mold me into the executive I am today.   In addition, I completed the Excellence in Government Fellowship in 2013 which helped prepare me to be a high-functioning and successful executive.  I have been in my role as Assistant Director in Long Beach for two and a half years and I couldn't be happier.  My work has shades of being a Dean of Students as I oversee all the Employee Engagement and Development programs in addition to various administrative functions like Education, Environmental Management, Police and Emergency Management, Occupational Safety and Health, Prosthetics (of course), Veterans Travel and Transportation, Volunteers and Food Services.
     The best part of my job is I get to do what I love and help veterans like The Dad every day.  It almost feels unfair I get to earn a living and feel good about what I do.  It's a win-win situation, which aren't common, I know.
     19 years, 10 jobs, 9 states, 8 mentees, 7 mamas, 6 hospitals, 5 cars, 4 awards, 3 mentors, 2 leadership programs and always 1 goal:  Awesomeness.

2 comments:

  1. #awesomeness fits you to a T, my dear friend! I love you so much! xoxoxoxoxo, Em

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  2. Dean of Students, Comedian, Mentor, Sensei, Uncle, Inspiring, Motivating, Genuine and so many other things. As one of the ones under your wings, you have no idea how significant and comforting it is to have you! I'll continue to bust my tail!

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