From IVs to Lean Thinking and Python
I get really funny reactions when I tell people that I am a nurse with a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering who is studying another Master’s in Health Informatics. Unless they themselves have mixed and matched their career path too, they don’t make sense of it at all. And I get that: We are taught to choose just one profession from a really young age… one clear and followable path to develop further. In that sense, it is natural that the most common reaction to my weird career choosing is a sincere surprise and curiosity. This article means to address the conversation that follows that first reaction, which usually involves one of three questions that I will elaborate further.
Question 1. “Then, you didn’t like nursing and you decided to pursue engineering?”
This is definitely the most common conversational tone and it normally comes from goal-oriented people and/or people who appreciate and relate to the specialization path. From their point of view, my CV looks ridiculous and only shows that I am not dedicated enough to master any one thing. I guess this perspective can be explained in several ways, including social stereotypes of “ideal professionalization”. However, it does bring to the table the dilemma of specialization versus generalization or goal-orientation versus problem/project-orientation. Now, do not get me wrong. I really admire people that are able to become masters of their trade and by no means I intend to say that my course of action is the “correct” or “best” approach.
All that I am saying is that I recognize myself to be way better at gaining skills when they are intended for solving problems than achieving mastery of those skills just because. Taking purposeful quests that aim to solve interesting problems is the path where I learn, develop, and perform the best, because I can make the most of my ability to professionally cross-pollinate (see more on this Harvard Business Review article).
Learning different skills, methods, theories, etc. have allowed me to understand cross-disciplinary applications… how they fit, which one to choose, what details you have to consider when using and implementing them. It has also allowed me to become a translator between healthcare professionals and industrial engineers. I have found so far that I enjoy analyzing problems through different lenses and angles, and that this fulfills my sense of purpose.
For example, one opportunity that I had to apply this cross-pollination skill concluded with a project management methodology that combined Lean Thinking, for value and waste analysis, and Scrum, to construct the user-stories based on the identified value, improve stakeholder management and aid the project team in organizing the tasks in small increments. Since Scrum is usually applied for software development, it is natural that few people made the connection of usefulness for process improvement projects. Then again, it occurred to me because I had the correct combination of knowledge and experience at the time. In a way it is like carrying a well-equipped tool box or different sets of glasses. (If you want to know more about this methodology, please feel free to ask)
Anyways, I think Adam Savage explains it way better than me in the video included below, that can be represented by this awesome quote he mentions:
“Jack of all trades… master of none, though oftentimes better than a master of one.”
Question 2. “Oh! And how are you managing to combine them?”
It usually goes this way with people who also have mixed and matched their career. I know several people that did this. From a professor with a PhD in Industrial engineering that got certified in Cognitive Behavioral therapy because that could help her improve her stakeholder management. A psychologist that graduated from a Master’s degree in Business Administration because he is interested in creating and coaching great businesses with great appreciation and understanding of the human factor (this is my brother by the way, see Renan Silva). And a bunch of international people with varied backgrounds (dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, IT developers, entrepreneurs, etc.) that I have the privilege of getting to know this past year in Karolinska Institutet’s Master’s program in Health Informatics.
Now, it is often understood that “we like everything, therefore we want to study everything” or worse “we want to know about everything so as to not depend on anyone else”. I can guarantee you that for most of us this is untrue. We are usually not willing to learn about everything that comes in our way. If you analyze our cases, we have at least one thing in common: we aim to study or solve a specific set of problems and we see value in obtaining that extra set of glasses to put on. For me, those problems are the ones related to Quality Improvement and Patient Safety. Neither productivity, process improvement, clinical modelling, data science, machine learning, etc. interest me by themselves. Yet, applying all those to solve Quality Improvement and Patient Safety issues can keep me going for ages.
Question 3: “What? Please explain.”
This is my personal favorite because it usually involves open-minded people that genuinely want to understand. Therefore, this conversation usually focuses on me explaining why and how I made those decisions. So I guess I will just tell you how it happened…
I realized, while in nursing clinical practice and the year of social community service, that problems in the clinical setting were often attempted to be solved using the same generic managerial tools. The “solution” would work for a while, but ultimately the same problem would arise time and again. For that reason I became very curious on how those problems would be solved in other ways. Now, I do not remember how exactly, but I came into a diplomate in Quality and Productivity Systems that seemed interesting. I completed it and saw the potential applications in healthcare, so I applied and got accepted to the Master’s program in the same area. After 2.5 years, I finished and presented my thesis about using Lean Thinking tools and techniques for process improvement in healthcare.
Afterwards, I was hired by a hospital group where I performed the role of Chief of Process and Performance Improvement. Since it mainly involved project management and problem solving that involved analyzing data on a daily basis, I realized that we had the consistent issue of obtaining automated, accurate, and timely data for decision making. So, I started having an interest in Data Science and started a series of courses in Udemy after I stopped working there. When we moved to Sweden in 2019, I discovered that Karolinska Institutet had a masters program in Health Informatics. I applied, got accepted, and now I am about to finish my first year while planning to develop my thesis in something related to Quality Improvement and/or Patient Safety.
Often, after all this blabbering of mine, people understand why I stand where I am and how I got here. Sometimes they themselves start considering learning from another area too. If you are in the process of learning something completely different from what you have learned before, then I want to share some pieces of advice that have been given to me at some point during this process. First, from my thesis supervisor from the master in industrial engineering:
“Everything can be learned with enough time and dedication”
- Jorge Limón Robles
This advice was given to me in a moment of great frustration where I felt that I wasn’t understanding anything about industrial engineering. After graduating from that program, I can endorse that this quote is completely true. Often you will feel that you are not understanding anything about the new subject. This is normal and should be expected. Just keep going, study with curiosity, ask questions, try to fit the new knowledge with your past experiences. Understanding will come as a consequence.
And finally, from my dad (who probably already forgot about telling me this once):
“The true value of a college career is not the title you obtain. Is the lessons and experiences that you manage to combine to make your own path.”
- Renan Silva Rubio
My dad told me this when I was having trouble deciding where to study my bachelor degree in nursing. His point was that it didn’t really matter which university I picked because I could make my own path wherever I wanted. This, and the fact that he has two college careers (he is both Mechanical Engineer and Informatic Systems Engineer), somehow made me realize that I could study whatever I wanted and use that knowledge however I wanted.
Finally, I would really appreciate your feedback. Please, if you have a moment, share what are your thoughts? Have you done this? Are you interested in doing it?