There are many different paths to healthcare leadership positions, and they are rarely linear, a trio of speakers at the Gevity-sponsored Sept. 12, 2018 meeting of Emerging Health Leaders Toronto told attendees.

That was certainly the case for each of the speakers – Pamela Winsor, Senior Director, Stakeholder Engagement, Value-based Healthcare & Chief Marketing Officer at Medtronic Canada; Ella Korets-Smith, CEO and Director, TO Health!; and Saurabh Popat, Chief Innovation Officer at Health Innovation Rx (formerly part of the MOHLTC) – each of whom described their own circuitous journeys to their current roles. And if you polled leaders of your own organization, chances are you’d find similar stories of big leaps of faith, opportunities seized (and missed), mistakes made along the way, and lessons learned.

No matter where you start, though, there are a few key actions and behaviours that can at least help ensure you are headed in the right direction, the speakers agreed.

  1. Engage with the right people. Find people who are doing things that you are interested in and talk to them. Saurabh Popat, for example, described how his career path was driven by his interest in the intersection of health care and business. After a number of policy-focused roles at pharmaceutical companies, he eventually ended up at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in policy advisor roles before starting his own firm.
  2. Get used to change. Big ones. A lot. Pamela Winsor, who was an emergency room nurse before she moved into the pharmaceutical industry, raised a family, went back to school to get her MBA and zigzagged across the country to accept increasingly challenging roles more than once. Was she always 100 per cent confident that she knew what she was doing and that everything would be OK? Of course not, she said, but a little fear can be good for you if it fuels change and propels you forward. At the same time, be smart – change is not good just for the sake of change and if it’s not part of a bigger picture.
  3. Find a mentor (or two). According to Ella Korets-Smith, the single most important step you can take for your career, whether in health care or any other industry, is to find someone who wants to help you, for whatever reason. It has to be a good match, and your mentor needs to get something out of that relationship, but when you find that person, you stick with them. Forever! Also, use your (and their) time wisely and do your homework.
  4. Make sure people know what you can do. There is no point being the most highly skilled, fiercely motivated, best-qualified member of your current team or candidate for a role or if no one knows your hidden talents and passions. Find ways to demonstrate those skills. Which leads to the next point.
  5. Do the best job you can and people will move heaven and earth to hire you. EHL Toronto Co-Chair Malicent Lavers-Sailly, who was moderating the panel, described how she found the resources to keep an intern on because she was so blown away by her capabilities. She also recalled her own experience persuading her current employer, Medtronic Canada, to award her a communications role, despite having no direct experience, over a 20-year veteran. Malicent is now head of that company’s communications and marketing team.
  6. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do you have an MBA yet? No? Do you feel left out? Don’t. Instead, the panelists advised, figure out which way the wind is blowing. Be the blue duck in the field of yellow ducks and look to develop future-facing skills that today’s MBA-educated cohort doesn’t have.

What about you? Do you have any great advice for moving up the healthcare leadership ladder?

For more information on Emerging Health Leaders, visit