For Maegi Yang, the topic of health care gets personal really fast. Growing up in a first-generation Hmong American household, she watched her parents struggle to navigate the US health care system. “Preventative health care wasn’t part of my upbringing. We only went to the doctor if we were in dire need,” Yang says. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to understand the importance of preventative medicine, and it’s influenced what I want to do in my career.”
As a first-generation college student and the first among her siblings to attend college, Yang had to blaze her own trail when it came to college. She entered the U of M with her sights firmly set on a future as a doctor, but as she began the rigorous coursework necessary for that future, she came to an unsettling realization. While Yang loved helping others, becoming a doctor wasn’t her dream: it was someone else’s.
Fortunately, around the time this dawned on her, Yang was also exposed to a new undergraduate degree program that deeply resonated with her. The Health Services Management (HSM) degree program offered her the chance to fulfill her passion of helping others, engaging in work that supported preventative health care, all without forcing her to go down a path that didn’t feel authentic.
“My passion for health care comes from a desire to help people, especially when it comes to understanding access to health care in the United States. As someone with immigrant parents, I can attest that the value of preventative care is something that isn’t taught. Now I understand the importance of preventative health and how it can have long-lasting effects on your life. So that’s where my passion in health care really lies.”
What She’s Learned and How She’s Applying It
Among many things, Yang developed two important skill sets throughout her HSM studies. The first has to do with public health and data. She points out that determining public health policy comes down to understanding statistics and having the insight to make critical decisions in health care systems with that data.
Yang’s second focus is on leadership principles. “Leadership requires you to have both a deep understanding of yourself and a deep understanding of the people you’re leading,” she says. “If you can do that, then you can be an effective communicator, leader, and teammate.”
“Leadership requires you to have both a deep understanding of yourself and a deep understanding of the people you’re leading. If you can do that, then you can be an effective communicator, leader, and teammate.”
Yang had the opportunity to apply these two skill sets through a spring internship she secured in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was excited to work for Wellshare International, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to partner with diverse communities to promote health and wellbeing. The organization does this by dispatching community health workers to pay home visits to recent immigrant or refugee families, offering guidance on how to navigate the US health care system.
“That really struck home with me because my parents went through a similar program coming to the United States,” Yang says. Here was the chance to support preventative health and to educate about health care access.
Yang hit the ground running. Her goal was to help Wellshare where it needed the most help: refining its organizational tools and data collection. She began by aggregating numerical data about the work that Wellshare was doing in the community and depositing this into spreadsheets. From there, Yang leaned into her leadership strengths by spearheading the annual report project—a massive undertaking that she nonetheless completed eight months ahead of schedule. Her supervisor was impressed at how efficient and effective Yang was, and Wellshare immediately noticed the difference made by their new intern’s data organization and leadership. The rest of Yang’s internship included sorting historical database materials, ironing out wrinkles in grant application information, and adapting to a remote work environment as the pandemic took hold. The leadership she embodied throughout the duration of her internship was apparent to all who worked with her.
“It was really intense, but I actually got a lot done,” Yang says. “I was pretty proud of myself.”
Wellshare was so pleased with the improvements that Yang made to their records and database that when her internship wrapped up in May, the organization wasn’t ready to let her go. Yang was offered a two-month contract to stay on and assist with another project. She worked on data management for Wellshare’s home-visiting programs. By devising a systemic approach to data entry, Yang simplified the way in which the organization accumulated data, all while leading community health workers through the process of bridging the technology gap.
“I was the first to do this organizational work at Wellshare,” Yang says. “I created systems for managing their data, including grant tracking. By taking the reins and running with the work I did at Wellshare, I was able to see how valuable organization, leadership, and strategy are when it comes to the success of the organization.”
What’s Next for Her
Yang appreciated the opportunity to do her internship in the nonprofit sector, and she hopes to continue working in that space. She says she’s motivated to continue doing work related to project management or philanthropy, though she adds that as long as her work has a positive impact in the lives of others, she’ll be happy. Having graduated in May with her HSM degree and a wealth of real-world experience, Yang is set up for a successful career where she’s sure to make that positive impact on many lives.