Cover Story

Consulting Could Be the Career For You

Timothy Kelley
Senior Contributing Editor

Do you enjoy threading a needle while trampolining? Teaching Greek to resistant learners when you’ve only had a quick Berlitz course yourself? If so, health care consulting ought to be a breeze, as you doubtless possess the flexibility, ingenuity, and tact it requires—together, let’s hope, with a tolerance for room-service dining and today’s cozy airline seats. But if you draw needed comfort from predictability and don’t like to prod people, look elsewhere. Health care is changing fast, and as a consultant you’ll need to push that change on folks who wake up every day thinking they already know how to do their jobs.

Still, for the very reason that health care is front and center on the nation’s agenda, helping organizations thrive in this sector of the economy can be important work. There’s a “prestige factor” in working for the larger consulting firms, says Howard Forman, MD, a radiologist who directs the health care management program at the Yale School of Public Health and has helped to train hundreds of consultants. “And some people like consulting because it gives them an opportunity to work in cross-disciplinary teams within organizations, which can be fun.”

The Guide to Careers in Health Care Consulting, a report from George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, listed six “abilities” health care consultants should have. They need to:

  • Work with minimal supervision
  • Communicate effectively and show leadership
  • Handle stress responsibly
  • Multitask and think logically
  • Be flexible and travel frequently
  • Express an eagerness to learn

The Milken report also notes that while “there are no specific requirements regarding licensure or certification to be a health care consultant” and entry-level positions in consulting firms can still go to young people with a fresh bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree and work experience are required for senior positions. Optional certification is offered by the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants and the Institute of Management Consultants. 

There is a prestige factor in working for a larger consulting firm, says Howard Forman, MD, at Yale School of Public Health.

The report also cites a 2015 national median salary for management consultants—a larger category of which health care consultants are a part—of $131,613. Obviously many factors can pull this figure up or down. 

Who might you be advising? The Milken report says that 38.4% of the consulting market is for hospitals, followed by pharmaceutical companies (28.9%) and physician offices, labs, and assorted other providers (19.5%).

If all of this sounds like you, you’ll need to decide whether to work as an independent consultant or sign up with one of the nation’s large consulting firms, such as McKinsey & Company and Accenture, both headquartered in New York, or Boston-based Bain & Co. 

A vote for bigness comes from Pittsburgh-based consultant David Betts of Deloitte Consulting, with headquarters in New York. Betts insists that his huge employer in some ways has “a small feel.” (See “6 Consultants Have Their Say,” on page 31.) Says Betts: “I get to work on our clients’ most significant challenges, in an industry that needs constant transformation. That is part and parcel of having the scale and depth and breadth that the firm brings.”

Lucy Johns, a San Francisco-based independent consultant and member of the Managed Care Editorial Advisory Board, agrees that “variety of projects” is one advantage of working for a big firm. That steady paycheck is another. “I have always advised people: ‘If you have a growing family, a mortgage, or a round-the-world trip you’re saving for, being independent is not the best path,’” she says. 

Still, there’s a reason Johns has gone it alone. In an early gig with a small consulting firm she realized that her hard work was helping to pay the salaries of higher-ups she didn’t respect, “and I didn’t appreciate that.” So a year later she spun off by herself—and was quickly faced with the challenge of bringing a steady stream of work through the door. “If you value your freedom and the potential to be really objective once you get in, then being independent is better,” says Johns.

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