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Amanda Lee, Evening MBA student and Civic Scholar, Director of Practice Transformation at Access Community Health Network


Tell us about yourself

I'm actually a nurse practitioner. I did a post bachelor's nursing degree, and got my masters as a pediatric primary care nurse practitioner at the Yale School of Nursing. I've been practicing clinically in Chicago at the largest federally qualified health center network in Illinois. We have 35 community health centers and care for about 180,000 patients annually. 

Over the past ten years my role within my organization has evolved quite a bit. I participated and eventually led our Pediatric Quality Committee, and then expanded more into focusing on the onboarding process of providers across our health centers. That was a really good opportunity for me to learn more about the organization and learn about what the different departments do and how all the pieces tie together.

Why did pursuing an MBA make sense for you?

When you're an upstream thinker, as you experience challenges, your brain is automatically going to ask what's causing this challenge? What are the things that I could do with my skill set to help address this? In community health, the list of challenges is very long and many of them lie outside of just providing healthcare. I thought about the challenges that I experienced as a new health care provider and the challenges that our patients experience in navigating health systems. 

As my responsibilities changed I thought about what my natural skills were, what training had I already completed and what other challenges did I need to learn about to be able to do my part in addressing them? As a healthcare provider, or in nursing specifically, the traditional option is to get a doctorate and contribute towards the research or teaching, both of which are really important. But the further in I got, and in thinking about how decisions are made within an organization, I realized a doctorate wasn’t for me.

I did a leadership development program through the Duke School of Nursing and the Johnson and Johnson foundation that was so impactful. But it was full of people who were really similar to me. While it was great to be in a community with people who understand where you're coming from, I wondered where I could learn more. I care about people's health and want to understand the different factors of the world in which they're living. Through this years-long process, I ultimately decided that an MBA was the right fit for me. I not only wanted to add skills in leadership and better understand finance, but also gain a better understanding of how the world and business works, how different regulations shape things, all the factors that ultimately affect people's health.

Why nursing? Why specifically pediatric nursing?

Growing up, if you're smart and you like medicine, you’re told you should be a doctor. I majored in Biology and wanted to get better exposure to the healthcare environment, so I ended up working as a nursing assistant after college in a hospital and a pediatric hematology/oncology clinic for two years. That's when I learned what nurse practitioners were and about the level of training involved, working as a provider who is assessing, diagnosing, prescribing and treating.

The nursing components of care were so interesting to me and the philosophy is very holistic and really spoke to me. Apart from the strategic work I do, I'm still actively seeing patients. I see kids for their checkups. I answer very personal questions from teenagers in person and messaging me through electronic health record portals. It is important to me to be in  the community and to learn and contribute in that way. I enjoy the blend of clinical acumen or expertise as well as thinking about the upstream big picture. Providing health care is a very intimate relationship. You're really involved in people's personal lives and there's a lot of trust. It's such a deep responsibility and also such a gift. 

So much of how someone exists in the world starts to take shape in infancy from things like adverse childhood events, different traumas they're exposed to, different nutrition. It's such a critical time in someone's life and being a supportive person for families throughout that process is such a privilege. Also, I just like kids — they're funny, smart, and earnest. I learn from them all the time as well, and knew I always wanted to work with kids.

Amanda Lee

I care about people's health and want to understand the different factors of the world in which they're living. Through this years-long process, I ultimately decided that an MBA was the right fit for me. I not only wanted to add skills in leadership and better understand finance, but also gain a better understanding of how the world and business works, how different regulations shape things, all the factors that ultimately affect people's health.

— Amanda Lee
Covid Testing Site
COVID testing site

What was it like pursuing an MBA during COVID?

It’s been mutually beneficial. My daily job completely changed once the pandemic started. I'm currently the director of practice transformation, which we did not have before. The role was designed around the work that needed to be done to lead us through all the transformation that's happened related to the pandemic.

My interview with Booth was in March 2020, literally the weekend before the shutdown. The Saturday that I interviewed I also spent preparing virtually with my chief operating officer for our incident command team. I will never forget that weekend. The whole time I was speaking with the professors and different members I was interviewing with, I kept thinking ‘Okay, on Monday at work, what is it going to be like?’

Sometimes when there's a space with a need, often the right person ends up there, if that makes sense. Due to the previous work I had done, both with clinical expertise and quality projects that incorporated different departments, I had a good understanding of our different workflows and how the pieces fit together. We had only ever seen patients in person and all of a sudden there was an immediate need to offer care virtually.

I was in a meeting and the group was like ‘Amanda, do you want to take this on?’ It forever changed my life. I was put in charge of our task force to develop and implement telehealth. We launched a telehealth program across 35 health centers in two weeks. Although it was additional work, starting my MBA classes in fall 2020 provided a needed opportunity to take breaks from pandemic related crisis management to recenter and focus on my own development.  

Did you sleep at all during that period?

No, definitely not. After we launched telehealth, we immediately shifted to COVID-19 testing. Our organization was offering entirely different services that we’ve never offered before, along with the old ones as well. You need to think about operationalizing, staffing, and all the resources needed to do that. We needed to develop a process and workflow to do so safely with limited PPE. We ended up constructing standalone testing centers within locations we already owned. I worked with our contractors to design the space. Then we transitioned to video telehealth, and since Fall of 2021 it’s been all about COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to being a nurse practitioner, I'm now also an operations person and a supply chain person. I'm also still supporting the vaccine inventory management piece of all of this, which is a never-ending moving target with never-ending variables. A year and a half ago I thought it would be a good idea to get an MBA to build some skills. Now I'm deep in the supply chain process, and I still feel that it was a good idea to get an MBA!

Being in school has been a huge lift for me personally, but also extremely helpful when taking classes like Managing Organizations while trying to lead teams through this never ending fire. Getting those pieces from school and putting them into effect immediately has been huge.

It sounds like your title, Director of Transformation, is an apt one.

Thank you. There’s transformation yet to come. We honestly have no idea what's ahead of us. I think the next couple of years are going to be really challenging. From a burnout perspective, a staffing perspective, a delayed healthcare perspective, the level of grief and mental health challenges that have come up over these past years, there's a lot of transformation yet to be done. People are really tired. We need to think about what that will look like and how to continue to innovate, but maybe not at such a breakneck speed. It is going to be interesting to see how the next few years play out, all the while not knowing what the resources are, or even what the needs will be.

How has your organization supported you in getting an MBA?

There are a number of nurse leaders in my organization that have MBAs so there's definitely an understanding and appreciation of the curriculum and the program. They have been absolutely supportive and enthusiastic about the degree. Booth also has incredible cross-pollination between different schools at the University of Chicago. This makes for a really meaningful learning environment, in terms of different backgrounds, perspectives, and all those things that I was really looking for in pursuing this degree.