Healthcare was not my original career path.
Growing up, I often struggled to figure out what I wanted to become professionally.
Throughout my teenage years, I developed an affinity for the culinary arts and hospitality. For my friends and family, I would host “lavish” dinner parties and “wow” my guests with artisan creations. While in high school, I was fortunate to be part of a pilot project called the high skills major in hospitality. This program offered high school students the ability to graduate with hands-on experience and tailored knowledge in the hospitality industry. By the end of the 12th grade, I knew that I wanted to be the next Isadore Sharp (Founder, The Four Seasons), working in the luxury hotel properties around the world and providing the best possible customer service imaginable.
Meanwhile, over in Detroit.
My mother at the time was the Unit Director of the Obstetrical Services at the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in Detroit, Michigan, USA. As part of her role at HFHS, she was invited to consult on the design and construction of HFHS’s newest community hospital in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield is unique for many reasons. One of the most prominent reasons why it is unique is that the individual hired to build and run this new hospital came to HFHS with no prior experience in healthcare. HFHS hired Gerard van Grinsven for the job. Gerard was previously the Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage at the renowned Ritz Carleton hotel company.
Knowing that I had a similar aspiration for hospitality, my mother was able to coordinate a meeting with Mr. van Grinsven and me to discuss his success in hospitality and provide me with some advice on how to succeed in the industry. What I remember most about that meeting was Mr. van Grinsven’s comments regarding how both hospitality and healthcare require similar skill sets, primarily set around empathy and a service orientation. Also, I remember him saying that his plan for Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield was to all the experience, acumen, and knowledge he had assembled and mastered at the Ritz Carleton and translate it into healthcare. That notion that we can learn and transplant concepts and ideas from other industries still resonate with me to this day.
Out of high school, I decided to enroll in the University of Guelph’s Hotel and Food Administration program; a business administration program tailored for this hospitality industry. Mr. van Grinsven had suggested I enroll in a leading hospitality school in Europe, however, at the time I simply was not prepared to move that far away from home.
To make a long story short, I enjoyed the first-semester of coursework at the University of Guelph, but by the time the winter semester rolled around, I was ready to move back closer to home. By the second week of the winter semester, I had transferred my life back to Winsor, Ontario and enrolled in the Business Administration program at The Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor.
I will not lie, it was a very deflating experience to walk away from everything you thought you wanted to be, only to end up back at home. I stayed in this space for a couple of years working on finishing my degree, unsure if I would ever achieve my dream of becoming an hotelier. During my last year of undergraduate studies, everything changed when I noticed a ‘special topics’ course advertised on the school’s intranet; “Health Innovation & Leadership with Dr. Anne Snowdon”. After reading the course description and learning outcomes, I decided to enroll.
I remember sitting down on the first day of Dr. Snowdon’s course, listening as she shared her experience and expertise with us. She then made a very profound statement. She stated that the majority of the solutions our health system will require to deliver value, and meet the ever-increasing demands of demographic trends, will be found by learning from other industries. At that moment I experienced what I could describe as an epiphany. All of a sudden I made the mental connection between what Mr. van Grinsven had said to me years prior and what Dr. Snowdon was telling me at that moment, I realized I had found what I wanted to be, a healthcare innovator.
I ended up completing that course at the top of my class primarily because the content was engaging, and Dr. Snowdon was an excellent lecturer and facilitator. My final project was high-level proposal to manage patients with multiple, chronic and complex medical conditions. I found it validating that a couple of years later, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care launched a very similar program in real life. I knew I was on the right track.
After graduation, I was fortunate to join Dr. Snowdon on her team. I became a research assistant at the Ivey International Centre for Health Innovation (ICHI) at the Ivey Business School at Western University. In that position, had a front-row view to some of the world’s most forward-thinking academic works regarding health system design and innovation.
Not long after working with ICHI, I landed an internship at Leamington District Memorial Hospital, now known as Erie Shores Healthcare in my sunny hometown of Leamington, Ontario. Through this opportunity, I was exposed to the practical, real-world side of healthcare and gained experience and insights into things you cannot glean from a white paper or a scholarly article. Interning for a few months with Erie Shores Healthcare was my gateway into the health system. Within a few months, I was offered the position of Project Coordinator and eventually promoted to a newly created position as Manager of Innovation, Partnerships, Communication & Development. I spent approximately 2.5 years in this position working internally and externally building partnerships to increase local access to care and demonstrating that small rural hospitals and their community can lead innovation in healthcare.
Life comes full circle
After making some lasting contributions to Leamington, I decided it was time to look for an opportunity to innovate on a bigger scale. It’s right around that time that I said “yes” to a recruitment call from Henry Ford Health System.
I currently serve as a Principal Transformation Consultant at HFHS. In this role, I support our system leadership and executives at executing on corporate and strategic initiatives across our 5 hospitals and health plan in South East Michigan.
If my story resonates with you, I would love to hear from you. Shoot me an email at Zain@zainismail.com