Last week I spoke on the phone with Olivia Elee, a New York-based consultant focused on global health. Olivia has always been interested in healthcare, and her career path has shifted from her original plan of becoming a doctor to studying public health and advising governments around the world. Now, Olivia is working to integrate technology into healthcare to improve nutrition in the United States.
Olivia entered Johns Hopkins University as a neuroscience major with the intention of becoming a doctor. As the child of immigrant parents—both her mother and father were born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. before she was born—Olivia’s intentions were at least partially fueled by her parents’ expectations.
While at Hopkins, Olivia took an introductory class on public health. The class would expand her career horizons. Before taking this course, it hadn’t occurred to Olivia that instead of focusing on the health issues of individual patients, she could explore how health, wealth and policy affect populations. Olivia developed a strong relationship with that professor and switched to a public health/political science double major with the professor as her advisor.
Her first job after graduation was working with an NIH-funded researcher, tracking IV drug users and the spread of diseases—including Hepatitis C and HIV—within undeserved communities across Baltimore. This role gave Olivia a strong understanding of the underlying causes behind poverty in the city and across the country.
After years working in research, Olivia shifted her focus to global health and economic development issues impacted by HIV. She began working for the World Bank Group in the office of the senior vice president on human development. This position provided Olivia the opportunity to travel the world, working alongside global leaders. While she enjoyed looking at health system improvements in global policy, she realized that she wanted to return to graduate school to improve her analytical skills to more effectively take on larger problems.
Olivia returned to Hopkins to earn a master’s in public health and graduated with her degree as the country was undergoing a major shift—the economy was in recession and the first black president was entering the White House. Olivia’s health economics advisor suggested she go into consulting and began working for Booz Allen Hamilton on the strategy and operations team, focusing on their health clients. Olivia enjoyed working with her clients, but realized she could use her skills to make a greater impact by becoming an independent consultant.
As a consultant, Olivia again turned her focus to global health. Olivia traveled around the world and got to work with many of the clients she had worked with while at the World Bank—but this time on a much more personal level. Her travels took her to Nigeria, which she found particularly rewarding because she got to understand some of her own family’s background.
In 2014, the largest outbreak of Ebola hit West Africa. When a CDC-funded tech group asked Olivia to help with strategy and operations, she headed to Liberia—one of the hardest hit countries—to help control the outbreak. Working with the CDC, Olivia used data analytics to predict future disease outbreaks. Watching people die and suffer from this disease was difficult for Olivia, but her desire to help people motivated her to stay in the middle of it and keep on working. Thankfully, the efforts of Olivia and numerous health workers on the ground were successful and in March of 2016, the World Health Organization terminated the Public Health Emergency of International Concern for the breakout.
What’s Olivia up to now?
Olivia is back in the United States and again working for a health technology start-up in NYC that is using SaaS to improve health outcomes.
She has been researching possible clients and works at growing the startup in different capacities. She has also been helping clients use the SaaS platform to collect data about prenatal and infant care to better understand why infant mortality is higher among African American infants.
Although Olivia remained in the healthcare industry after moving on from her private consulting, the company she works for really sits on the border of healthcare and technology. Olivia pointed out that the healthcare industry has always been slow to adopt new technologies despite the direct positive impact that these technologies can have on world health—it just takes time.
Advice from Olivia
Olivia’s advice for people entering the workforce is short and sweet—experiment with opportunities to find your passion and everything will eventually work out.
In Olivia’s career, she has been in positions that were not a perfect fit for her and has not received job offers she thought she would get — but things always worked out. In her eyes, everything happens for a reason, so don’t let career setbacks slow you down.
Olivia’s advice: experiment with opportunities to find your passion and everything will eventually work out.
From my conversation with Olivia, it was evident that she is extremely passionate about her work and driven to improve people’s lives around the world. It was inspiring to hear about Olivia’s devotion to public health and clear that she is in the right field—even though it didn’t align with her initial plans.
I found Olivia’s reflections on technology in healthcare to be particularly interesting. As someone reasonably in tune with technology’s impact on science, engineering and business in recent years, it did not occur to me that the healthcare industry has not yet experienced the same level of technological advancement. However, with people such as Olivia leading the way, I have no doubt that new technology will continue to find its way into the healthcare industry and improve global health.
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