BTU #207 - Davita, Healthcare Startups, and Healthcare Consulting (Liz Callahan)

The biggest fear that an employer has is that you can’t think for yourself. What they want to see is that you’re making decisions based on your expertise. That’s why an employer is going to hire you.
— Liz Callahan

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Why Listen:
Those of you who smoke cigars have probably heard the phrase “knuckle burner.” Well, this is a “knuckle burner” of an interview - I found myself trying to use every last second to get Liz’s insight, and Liz and I cover a lot of ground in this interview. We talk about Liz’s unexpected departure from the military due to an injury, and the importance of being prepared for one’s transition to a civilian career. We talk about her experience in grad school admissions consulting: the importance of telling a story, translating one’s experience, and emphasizing one’s strengths. And we do a deep dive on the Healthcare industry, including DaVita, graduate school, a healthcare startup, healthcare consulting, working at an academic hospital… so many facets. And we also talk about having a side hustle, and how to best utilize headhunters.

About Liz:
Liz Callahan is a Healthcare Consultant at Callahan Partners. She started out at West Point, after which she served as a MedEvac Blackhawk pilot in the Army for nearly five years. After her military service, she worked at Davita as a Program Manager, she earned her MBA from UC Berkeley, she served as the Chief Operating Officer at Advon Healthcare, and she worked at the Stanford Health Care system as both a Program Manager and a Director of Transition Strategy.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Norwalk, Connecticut is Liz Callahan. Liz Callahan is a Healthcare Consultant at Callahan Partners. She started out at West Point, after which she served as a MedEvac Blackhawk pilot in the Army for nearly five years. After her military service, she worked at DaVita as a Program Manager, she earned her MBA from UC Berkeley, she served as the Chief Operating Officer at Advon Healthcare, and she worked at the Stanford Health Care system as both a Program Manager and a Director of Transition Strategy.


How did you approach your decision to leave the Army?

It wasn’t so much my decision as the decision of my left knee which I injured during deployment in Iraq. Because of that I could no longer fly and I ended up being medically separated in 2008.


Can you talk to us about your work in graduate admissions consulting?

I’ve had a couple different roles in MBA admissions offices. The first one was working for a startup out of Wharton called Admit Advantage. I was one of their admissions counselors. It was interesting to me because I had just recently gone through that process myself so I was grateful that I was able to pass that experience on to other transitioning veterans. One thing I saw veterans struggle with was the articulation of their background and experience to a civilian audience. Veterans need to be able to translate their experience in a way that will make sense to civilians.

When it comes to leadership, people coming out of the military have an almost untouchable level of experience compared to their civilian peers. This experience is really valuable. Your can stand out in your application to an MBA program by taking this one step further and show not only your ability to lead but also how you used your military experience to build expertise in a particular area. There’s so many specialities in the military that allow you to really take a deep dive into a particular area.

The other thing that I saw with individuals coming out of the military struggle with was being able to translate things into civilian terms. We have a lot of shorthand in the military that makes life easier. But when you’re applying to graduate school, you need to think about how and what you’re communicating.


Do you have any practical tips for someone trying to translate their military experience into civilian terms?

First off, I would say that the signature block of an email is very important. “Very Respectfully” or “V/R” are definitely red flags. Someone who reads this will think you are a military robot. Anytime that you’re writing emails, it’s very easy to Google examples that you can model.

The biggest fear that an employer has is that you can’t think for yourself. What they want to see is that you’re making decisions based on your expertise. That’s why an employer is going to hire you. They’re hiring you because they think you are capable of making good decisions.

As far as advice goes, there are great resources out there. I can’t stress enough the benefits of networking. There will be individuals that you served with that have made the transition before you and can be great resources.


What was your first job search like leaving the military and what lead you to DaVita?

I was really lucky that I had a Battalion Commander who was extremely helpful in my transition. He saw that it was unexpected for me and he offered to connect me with some of his colleagues that had already transitioned out of the military. One of those people happened to work at a Junior Officer military head hunting.

I was a little bit constricted by the geography I wanted to be in and wasn’t exactly sure how to conduct a job search on my own so I signed up with several of the head hunting firms. One in particular was very interested in their candidates preparation so I had several rounds of resume prep and interview prep.  

The person that my Battalion Commander connected me to worked for a head hunting firm that was focused in the geographic area I wanted to be in. I went to an interview day and my resume stood out to DaVita. So that ended up being how I got the job there. DaVita has very strong values that align with a lot of military values. They’re also very interested in hiring veterans. The Senior Vice President that was there that day thought that I would be a good fit at DaVita because I had worked as a MedEvac pilot in the Army. I had a pretty decent background in healthcare administration. He told me about a position available in Georgia and it sounded interesting to me. So I accepted that role and started shortly after I got out of the military.

Once I started it was a steep learning curve. It wasn’t exactly just stepping into a new job. I had a lot of learning to do and a lot of changes to make in leading those around me. I had to re-think about the way things should be done. I’ve stuck with healthcare ever since then.


What were the head hunting groups you worked with?

Alliance Careers was the one that was really great about preparing me. The firm that I ultimately landed a role through was Orion Talent. I had really positive experiences with both firms.


Do you have any advice for people that are working with recruiting firms?

Their job is to get you a job. But make sure it is a job that you want. Don’t just settle. It’s tough for folks getting out of the military to reflect on what they actually want to do so they just accept whatever role is offered to you. So be honest with them about where your interests lie.


How did you decide that you wanted to go into healthcare after you left the military?

I went to business school reflecting on that question. I was worried that I had selected the job at DaVita only because that was where I was comfortable. When I picked the medical service corps after West Point, I knew that one of the aspects that I liked was that it was focused around helping people. Also under this branch were opportunities to get experience in so many different things like logistics and operations.

In business school, I didn’t want to spend my time focusing only on healthcare but over time I realized that truly was the industry that I belonged in.


What was a typical day like for you at DaVita?

As I mentioned DaVita is a dialysis provider and I was working in a dialysis clinic. My clinic specialized in home dialysis. Most people are familiar with people receiving dialysis at a medical facility. Our clients were a little different. They were able to do the dialysis at their home. But patients would still be scheduled to come into our clinic to receive care.

My day usually started around 7:30 in the morning. Our first patients would come in around 8:30 depending on the physician’s schedules. When patients came in, we would draw blood and restock them with all of the materials they needed to continue doing their dialysis treatments at home.

Any time a patient came in, they would see a doctor, nurse, technician, social worker, and dietician. So my job was to make sure this was working like a well-oiled machine. I provided oversight with this schedule and patient management.

I usually worked through the full day because we would often do lunch and learns with the physicians. They were really helpful sessions in which we had the opportunity to learn more about the health issues our patients faced from our physicians.

At the end of the day, I would lock up the medications, complete various logs, and make sure all preventative maintenance was complete. In the healthcare industry, making sure everything is cleaned up and in place at the end of the day is essential.


What caused you to go back to graduate school?

I felt like I had confidence in my leadership from my time in the military. But I wanted to balance that with general business knowledge. I was overseeing a profit and loss statement but i knew very little about it. And I wanted to learn more about the backend of the business. I was comfortable with leadership and managing people but I knew i needed more of the backend. This made an MBA the right decision for me.

Going into business school, I didn’t realize how much I was going to be in the minority having a lot of leadership experience but not much business experience. Most of the people going into MBA programs are traditional applicants that have been in the business world. For me, I needed a bare bones business education.


What are your thoughts on going directly to business school after the military versus getting some work experience in the civilian world and then going to business school?

I go back and forth. It’s really individually dependent. If you’re ready for a transition and you’re ready to jump in and get to work, you probably can go right into the corporate world. But if you want the time to think about what field you want to go into, graduate school can be a good fit.

So it just takes some self-reflection to decide which path is for you. There’s no harm in going straight into a graduate program or going straight into the business world.


Could you talk to us about your role at Advon as Chief Operating Officer?

Advon is a company that goes into post-issue nations and facilitates their healthcare transformation. When I was there, our main goal was to take a Special Forces medic type of person and place them into a post-issue nation and have them help build out a healthcare infrastructure. A post-issue nation is one that has been war torn or ravaged by natural disaster.

What we were looking to do was take these experts and put them into the field and do grassroots healthcare development. For me it was very personal because of my experience as a medic in Iraq.

The way the job came about for me was through LinkedIn. At that point, my LinkedIn profile was pretty bare bones but a West Point graduate from the class of 1993 was looking for a specific kind of person to fill a role within the company. He was the CEO of the company. So I talked to him and to the Board of Directors and everyone was so passionate about what kind of an impact they believed the company could have. I was very fortunate to be the COO under this particular CEO because he was extremely upward and outward thinking. My role was to look more inward and make sure we could carry out our mission. I had a real passion for my work there.

While I was there, my CEO was constantly doing rounds of funding and I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to pay off my student loans so I took on a side hustle of doing admissions consulting. Eventually I got recruited to work at Stanford Health Care.


Can you share more with us about your role at Stanford Health Care?

Stanford Health Care is the hospital that is on Stanford’s campus. It’s a medical center with a medical school attached to it. There’s also many more politics associated with it as well because you have world-renowned physicians and then you have the administration side of the house. Balancing all of this can be really difficult. That was one thing I really learned at Stanford - learning to manage individual relationships and figure out the give and take between people. In my role, my job was to help open many different clinics and worked on their hospital expansion project. I was a liaison between the operations team and the construction team. I worked on that for about three and half years and learned a ton because that was my first experience working in a hospital.  

The way that I got that role was through a Berkeley alumni and found out about the role. I wanted to plug that because all of my different roles have come from some sort of networking. I don’t enjoy networking but when you’re even just lightly engaged in it, it can turn out in a very positive way.


What motivated you to eventually start your own consulting practice?

The change came from my family’s move across the country. I was located in the Bay Area but eventually moved to Connecticut for my wife’s job. As we made the move across the country I also needed a couple surgeries to correct some medical issues left over from my time in the military. Very quickly, some of my former colleagues reached out to see if I could do some work here and there. It was something that gave me a lot of flexibility. So that’s what drove the decision. Due to the move, I was changing roles anyway and then it all worked out from there. We have a 2 year old daughter and are about to have a son so I was really wanting something with a lot of flexibility.

Make sure you have some warm contacts already going when you get yourself started. Also, from the entrepreneurship side, make sure you have a good lawyer and accountant. Being your own boss is pretty great. My daughter is out of school this week and I was able to take her to the museum. So there’s a lot of pros and also a few cons that are well-known as well.


Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Thank you so much for having me. My parting advice is that there’s a lot of available expertise out there, you just have to go out there and find it.