A broad educational foundation
From an early age, Nicholas Smith knew he would work in the healthcare industry. Growing up in Rochester, MN, where the world-class Mayo Clinic is “in your face,” he says he was drawn to it.
“Once I went to college I thought, ‘I want to be pre-med. I want to try and become a doctor, I think it would be cool to go back and try to work at the Mayo Clinic,’ and I just had this entire vision in my head,” says Smith.
But after his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Smith realized medicine wasn’t quite the right fit. He says he felt lost and unsure of his next move. That all changed when he discovered the Health Services Management (HSM) program from the U of M’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies.
“The degree caught my eye because it was like a business degree but within the scope of health care,” says Smith. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”
Upon graduation, Smith accepted a job with Optum, part of the UnitedHealth Group. He started in Optum’s consulting development program and recognized that he had a knack for data analysis and reporting.
Soon Smith was recruited to work on a side project building out an internal reporting tool to understand how the pandemic was affecting the business. “I didn’t really know anything about data, but I figured I would just say ‘yes,’” he says.
Because Smith’s background was neither in coding nor data, when he wasn’t working on the project, he took online courses and learned data analysis software by trial and error.
“[I] learned a lot of different skills surrounding data analysis, data visualization, and data management,” he says. “And once we put out some of those reports, leadership started to take note.”
As he got more confident and skilled at using the software, and the team’s reports grew more robust, he got increasingly excited. “I was realizing, ‘Hey, this is the most enjoyable part of my work. Maybe I want to try and make it more of a full-time gig,’” he says. “I started to look around to see if there were any opportunities and found my current position as a product strategy consultant.”
In his new role, Smith and his team analyze Medicare Advantage industry trends to improve benefit planning decisions within the organization to benefit its members.
“Our work impacts millions of seniors across the country and intersects with every part of the healthcare industry,” says Smith.
Looking back, Smith says the HSM program laid the foundation for his current position. “The degree got my foot in the door with Optum, it kind of set me apart. A lot of the knowledge that I gained in the program helped me step into this role and have familiarity with nearly every part of the healthcare industry.”
This story was adapted from the original. Photo by Monique Dubos.