Population health director: What I do and how much I make
Sarah talks about her responsibilities and compensation as director of population health at a large hospital system in New York.
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My name is Sarah Schuyler. I'm 31 years old. I work at a major teaching hospital in New York City, and my job title is administratively population health director. The fancy version is population health transformation architect. I make 135 K per year. So my hospital, it's massive. We span lots of different facilities across the city, about 35,000 employees last I checked. I think the only bigger employer in the state of New York is actually the government, so we're really big, and my department, population health, is dedicated to kind of a threefold mission, and we call that the The Triple Aim. The three things in The Triple Aim are lowering the cost of health care, improving the quality, so improving patient outcomes, and also improving the patient experience and doing those things in a balanced triangular way. So my teams roll is all about executing the projects required to make those three Triple Aim things happen. So a lot of times, population health means we have to do kind of different kinds of contracts with insurance companies. We might look to implement new technology to automate things, lower costs, and make it clear where there are opportunities to, for instance, prescribe a generic instead of a brand name prescription and save money in those ways, creating new programs for the hospital. Those are all big changes, and so my team is responsible for identifying the changes that need to be made in a broad way, prioritizing them, gathering the teams to make them happen, seeing them through, and then in the case of, you know, developing a new program, then we hire the program staff to carry it on. For instance, you'd be surprised at how separate patient data is, so we are in a really big health system with multiple different electronic health record systems, so if I see Dr. A in this facility and Dr. B in that facility, even though we're the same hospital, my records may not connect. So a huge initiative that's important to pop health is implementing technology to aggregate patient data across all of these systems into one central place, so you know, I can see is someone responsible for taking care of a patient, every episode of care they've had, what medications they're on prescribed by different people. So those sorts of technology initiatives, that would be an example of a project. The team is really collaborative, and that's one of the things I love best about it. Our team is made up of a few directors like me and then a few project managers who report to the directors. So the directors, I think, as I said, it's very collaborative, but the main distinction is that as a director we're responsible for, in addition to making sure the work gets done, providing kind of content expertise and input, helping to make decisions in partnership with the leadership of the health system. So I work really closely with the project managers. I rely on them to do a ton of the work. A lot of the things we do require collaboration across lots of different teams in the hospital, for instance, IT, the data analytics folks here, the people who do our contracts with insurance companies, nurses and care managers who work with patients. So it's important to have people who can help coordinate the efforts of all those groups. I'm kind of accountable for all of those. I make $135,000 a year. I did not start out making that much money. I started making $15,000 pretax, but I think 135K is probably average for someone in my position, like a director level in a health system in New York City with a Masters degree. It's tricky because the director level in a health system can mean so many different things depending on what department you're in, but for my type of role, I think that's probably pretty standard. I think at this point I had to negotiate to achieve that salary. I think if I were to get an increase again it would come through a promotion or a raise that I would have to justify and prepare for, and I could promote to like a senior director role, and then the next level beyond that in my department is vice president, so not quite there yet. You know, salary would increase with those promotions. The most important skill I think you'd have to have to do my job, which involves working with all kinds of different people with different skillsets, expertises, working styles, experience levels, is just be a good read of people and be able to work with them in a collaborative way, develop those relationships, and I think something I learned pretty early on is that you have to know what motivates everyone you're working with and what brings them to the table. So if somebody is really looking to gain a specific skill and I have an opportunity to help them with that, then they're gonna be much more interested to work with me, or if I know that somebody, you know, really wants to leave work by four everyday because they have kids and they want to get home, I want to be mindful and aware of that. So I think just kind of knowing those nuances about different people and the way that they work best and why they would want to work with you on that particular project can go a long way in being successful in my kind of role. Flexibility is another one. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with working well with people. I am very, very extroverted. I think out loud, so something that I had to learn on the job is that when I'm working with someone who's more introverted and processes information internally, you know, it's a little bit rude of me to invite them to a meeting and give them nothing to prepare and ask them to make a decision on the spot. So I can flex my style when I'm meeting with someone who, you know, may need a bit more time to process, and it's good for me to do that because then I'm setting them up to be successful in our meeting, and I'll get the information I need. Another important one is time management, so when you're juggling a lot of different initiatives with a lot of different people, it's important to know how to prioritize, and a skill I'm still working on is delegating effectively, so knowing when it's best to take things on yourself and when it's best to share the load with other people who may even be able to do it better than you can. Knowing the best way to communicate with different types of people in different settings, like picking the right tone and the right medium, is super important. If I'm e-mailing a really busy senior executive, I'm gonna keep my e-mail really short and to the point and make it clear what I'm asking for. If I'm interacting with somebody who wants a lot of detail and numbers, I want to make sure I come prepared with that information so we don't have to go back and forth, and I think it helps gain credibility when you can communicate in a way that works for the person you're talking to. I absolutely love my job. I think for me it's a really good intersection between some of the things that I love and wasn't quite sure how to piece together when I first entered college. I love healthcare. I love helping people, and also, I mean, I'm pretty organized and like working with people, and I'm good at getting things done. So for me, it's a really nice mix of all those things. I feel like it brings out some of my better skills, and it's in a setting that's super collaborative, and you know, I love the fact that every day feels a little bit different, and even though I'm more focused on the business side of the hospital instead of the clinical side, I still feel really connected to the mission here, which is really it's all about patients at the end of the day. Even though our mission is all about patients, there is still a part of me that I think secretly would love to be on the floors interacting with patients, so that's something I'm looking into doing on a volunteer basis, and some of the physicians in our group are really generous and let me go on rounds with them, so I find ways to bring it into my day to day, but everyone's motivated by different things. You might be motivated by opportunity to learn or opportunity for recognition or challenges. I'm really motivated by feeling like I'm helping someone, so if I don't see the patient in front of me, it's... You know, I have to remind myself that I'm still connected to that. The other big challenge I have with my job is that a lot of my day is spent in front of a screen. I don't like that. I'm an outdoor type of person, so even though the days are busy, I make a point to take a lap whenever I have a free moment. Even if it's just five minutes, I'll step outside, take a walk. My colleagues have kind of the same mindset I do, and I love my team, so we're often on different projects, so it's great to have even those five minutes to walk and talk with them, share ideas, share tips, maybe vent a little bit if we need to. Those are my mental health breaks, and I think they're so important, and if you're managing your time well, you absolutely should have time in the day to take a walk outside, take a step away from your desk, and interact with people. It's only gonna help you and the work you do also.