From an early age, Nicholas Smith knew he was going to work in the healthcare industry. He grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, where the world-class Mayo Clinic is “in your face,” he says he was drawn to.
“Once I went to college, I thought, ‘I want to be in pre-med.'” I want to try to be a doctor, and I think it would be great to come back and try to work at the Mayo Clinic, “and I just had this whole vision in my head,” Smith says.
But after his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Smith realized that 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 School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
“The degree caught me because it was like a business degree but in the realm of healthcare,” Smith says. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”
After graduation, Smith accepted a job at Optum, part of the UnitedHealth Group. He got started on Optum’s consulting development program and realized he had a knack for data analysis and reporting.
Smith was soon hired to work on a side project building an internal reporting tool to understand how the pandemic was affecting the business. “I didn’t really know anything about the data, but I thought I’d say ‘yes,'” he says.
Since Smith’s background wasn’t in coding or data, when he wasn’t working on the project, he took online courses and learned data analysis software by trial and error.
“[I] I learned a lot of different skills related to data analysis, data visualization, and data management. “And as soon as we published some of these reports, the leadership started writing that down.”
As he became more confident and skilled in using the software, and the team’s reporting got stronger, he became increasingly motivated. “I was realizing, ‘This is the most enjoyable part of my job. Maybe I want to try to make it more like a full-time job. “I started looking 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 affects millions of seniors across the country and intersects with every part of the healthcare industry,” Smith says.
Looking back, Smith says the HSM program laid the foundation for his current position. “The degree made my foot in the door with Optum, it just made me sort of different. A lot of the knowledge I gained in the program helped me take on this role and get familiar with almost every part of the healthcare industry.”
This story was excerpted from the original. Photography by Monique Dubus.