Executive in Residence Helen Figge Brings Invaluable Mentorship to MCPHS
Helen Figge, an alum of both the Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and the Doctorate of Pharmacy programs at MCPHS, will be the first to tell you that grades aren't everything. "I'll be perfectly honest," she says. "I wasn't an A student. I don't think I got an A in my entire time at the university." Of course, she places immense importance on classroom work. "Education is empowerment," she says, and she firmly believes that the coursework is the base that lets students progress. But Figge, who came to MCPHS from a small town without a whole lot to her name, says she especially values what MCPHS offered her outside the classroom: the mentorship she received and connections she made.
"Boston is the medical [center] of the world,” she says. "I had to work jobs to pay for my apartment, and I was able to walk up and down Longwood and find odd jobs. And those ‘odd jobs,' [turned out to be things like] going to work for a Nobel laureate pulling articles in Countway Library. Or working from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. to write a grant for someone at Harvard Medical School, or I worked filling vials from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. at Children's Hospital before class.” The campus location and her affiliation with MCPHS allowed Figge to rub elbows with some of the most brilliant minds in the healthcare world.
It was making these connections and applying her classroom knowledge to real-world work that made MCPHS so special for Figge. She wanted to further that experience for the current generation of MCPHS students, so she and Michael Spooner, the Dean of the School of Healthcare Business, decided to create the Executive in Residence position.
The idea was to bring an experienced healthcare industry executive, someone currently working in the field, to provide mentorship, perspective, and networking that traditional academic types can't always give. A dynamic and accomplished alum like Figge, says Spooner, was a perfect fit. "She's the best networking person I've ever met in my life,” he says, and "she was interested in supporting our students and supporting our university and watching us grow because the school played such an important role in her life.”
Figge has worked for both healthcare startups and large companies alike, and she serves on several national boards and regularly presents and publishes on healthcare technology issues. She is currently the Chief Strategic Officer at MedicaSoft, a healthcare technology company that collects and intelligently utilizes healthcare data. It might not be obvious how someone with degrees in pharmacy might have had such a career path, or how she might make a great Chief Strategy Officer, but Figge says that her healthcare education—and knowing how to apply that in the job market—is what's enabled her to get positions like this.
"I was hired because they needed a healthcare expert to validate their sales force, and validate the reason why this technology was out there. I've had successes like this because I can navigate with common sense and my healthcare education background. I'm able to build the vocabulary between the purely technical and the purely healthcare related and marry the two. They hired me because I'm a healthcare person who learned how to communicate.”
That's what she wants to bring to students: the perspective to see how what they learn in the classroom is relevant and applicable outside of it, even in ways that aren't immediately obvious. So she regularly meets with MCPHS students to provide that mentorship. Says Dean Spooner: "She helps students unite the theory in the classroom with the skills of the real world. She helps them to develop a career perspective and make what we talk about in the classroom come to life. She's been through this. She's the Chief Strategy Officer for a large medical software firm, and she understands what the value proposition is for a student and how to leverage that in just about any market, to figure out what they're gonna bring to a new employer. It's great.”
That's why the Executive in Residence position makes so much sense not only for Figge but for the students. She brings them field experience and perspective that academic professors can't always bring. "I'm able to show students, 'Yes, this is relevant. This work that you're doing now may seem humdrum, but being able to do finances, to write...it empowers you to understand what's out there." She continues, "When students sit in a class, they look at the professor and are worried about a grade. Of course, be worried about the grades. But see the vision, see the careers that are available if you learn the skills in the courses you're taking. That's what I want the students to know: take this education and use it.”
This Executive in Residence mentorship has proved immensely beneficial to students. Figge says that not only has she been able to help her mentees gain perspective, she's also been able to directly help six or seven students land jobs through references and introductions for students who put in the work. But the most valuable aspect of the role is Figge's own story. It's a powerful message, she says, to stand there in front of students and say, "If I can do it, you can do it."