Nick Smith has a gift for squeezing every ounce of knowledge out of an opportunity to learn. That goes for courses he’s taken, the internship he pursued, and the Health Services Management (HSM) major he chose.
On many levels, he’s not your average student. For example, Smith actually enjoys midterms. He says they give him a chance to really digest material halfway through a semester. And he has a knack for seeing the big picture, knowing that he has to make the most of opportunities while he’s still on campus, which is why he’s a student representative on the HSM Advisory Board as well as President of the HSM Club. His ambition has taken him beyond the campus, too. In the summer of 2018, Smith earned a highly competitive internship with Abbott Nutrition in Columbus, OH.
We sat down with Smith to learn what it is about the HSM program that ignites his abundant ambition.
Have you always known that you wanted to pursue a career in health care?
I was born and raised in Rochester, MN, so the Mayo Clinic had a big presence in my life. My family has worked in health care, and I knew that’s what I wanted, too. I originally wanted to be a physician, but as a freshman taking hard science courses, let’s just say my science grades were not med-school quality. I wasn’t looking forward to everything I’d have to do to become a physician, so I started exploring other majors.
How did you find the HSM major?
A week or two before my sophomore year, I was scrolling through the majors and minors list and I found HSM. I immediately thought it would be a cool route to go, combining health care and business. So in a matter of hours, I dropped all my science classes and picked up new ones in Health Services Management.
What are some things you appreciate about the program?
I like how personable and experienced the instructors are. I really got to know my instructor Bill Kenney—he’s such a great guy. I could ask him questions after class, and he always made time for me. I also appreciated that the instructors have so much experience in their fields and that they bring that real-time knowledge into the classroom. We know that health care is changing fast, so it’s great to have adjunct faculty that teach about health care from a real-world perspective.
We understand you had a great internship with Abbott. Tell us more about that.
I’m really interested in medical device sales, so I was looking for an internship with a sales component. I realized that Abbott had one, so I applied. I figured it was a long shot since the internship was based in Columbus, OH, but the next day I got an invitation to an online hiring interview, so I did that. Forty-five minutes later I got an email stating that Abbott wanted to fly me out to Columbus for an in-person interview. I felt like a rock star. The interview went well, and I got the internship.
I think that because of the HSM program I was able to come to Abbott with a different perspective, which helped me land the internship. HSM students understand how hospitals and clinics work, and we can use that to our advantage when it comes to a sales position. A lot of what makes someone good at sales in the health care industry is understanding how to navigate hospitals and clinics, knowing what doctors and administrators focus on. Because of my courses, I was able to bring that, along with a much more empathetic perspective.
So, I spent the summer in Columbus, interning in Abbott Nutrition’s pediatrics division for sales. My internship required me to call on 80 different accounts for internal sales, and I was also given a challenge project for the summer, along with a ton of autonomy, which was really nice.
What was your challenge project?
It had to do with finding a better system for organizing and administering sales training and evaluation. When I came onboard, this evaluation was happening the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. My challenge was to digitize the process so Abbott could easily analyze and consolidate the data. It seems black and white, but it wasn’t. I worked on the project all summer, and eventually came up with a system that I built in Excel. I spent countless hours working in a spreadsheet, which might sound boring, but it was so much fun. I loved every second of it.
Best part is, my spreadsheet is now being used throughout the company. I talked to my boss a couple of weeks ago and she said, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that I’ve gotten a bunch of phone calls from district managers, and they’ve all loved using the spreadsheet.” That was satisfying—knowing I had an impact on the company. Now 400 people are using something I created to do their jobs, and it’s working.
"I think that because of the HSM program I was able to come to Abbott with a different perspective, which helped me land the internship."
Sound like the internship was a success! We heard that you were offered a job, too.
Yes, I did get an offer from Abbott at the end of the internship. However, I decided to take a different offer I’d received from UnitedHealth Group Optum in its Consulting Development program instead. I’ll start working full-time in September of 2019. Optum is a health care innovation company that works with everything from small clinics to the federal government to solve any issues that come their way. The company’s work with the public sector is something that drew me to it, but its ultimate goal to make the health care system better for all is what truly hooked me.
Smith’s favorite course: Health Economics & Policy. “I like looking at health care systems from a macro perspective, and I like thinking about how people utilize their health care, which affects how it’s distributed. That course made me realize I have a passion for public policy.”