Feature | Finding New Paths Forward

This article was authored by KellyAnn Light-McGroary, MD, MHCDS, FACC, chief medical officer at the United Healthcare Community Plan of Iowa in Des Moines, IA.

What happens when you decide to use your skills as a physician in an entirely different way, such as a nonclinical path? I asked myself this question for the first time about four years ago. If you want to look at a cardiovascular subspecialty to change your focus, or another complimentary clinical training like palliative care, there are many road maps and mentors available. I went down this path twice, once as an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist and again as a hospice and palliative medicine specialist.

It becomes much more difficult when exploring nonclinical pathways such as pharma, payers and government. At the time, I realized I was on the road to burnout with the increasing complexities of our health care system. I could be creative for one person at a time and problem solve around care delivery challenges or social determinants of health, but I could not change care for the larger population. I needed additional education to help drive systemic change but there were too many options, including an MBA, MPH and MHA. It was hard to choose. None of them met all my needs, as I needed parts of each one.

I was fortunate enough to find the Masters in Health Care Delivery Science from Dartmouth College-Tuck School of Business and subsequently receive a sponsorship from by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic to pursue the degree. This opportunity opened the door and provided a foundation that allowed me to advance in a number of directions, including hospital administration, government and payer settings. The program provided a collaborative network across all aspects of the health care system, such as clinicians, administrators, government officials and payers, which became critical for me.

About a year ago, I made the big leap into the payer industry and went to work for the UnitedHealthCare Community Plan of Iowa, one of the three managed care organizations contracted to deliver care to Medicaid beneficiaries. I accepted the role of chief medical officer and have had an amazing experience ever since. One aspect of the job that struck me was that the primary goal in my new role completely aligned with my goal as a direct provider – to find the best care for the right patient, at the right time, for the right reason and the best value, linking quality to cost. I work with a great team to ensure Iowans are getting quality care and that we are pulling together the three most critical areas of care – medical, behavioral and social determinants of health.

While every day is filled with new opportunities and challenges in our evolving health care system, I am energized and invigorated in this critical work to ensure the most vulnerable patients have access to the best quality of care. I now do the type of work I’ve always dreamed of – working within the organization and with innovative community partners to address social determinants of health and the medical and behavioral aspects of care to prevent chronic disease and disability. I touch the lives of patients every day, while also working for a healthier population, a healthier Iowa.