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Alumna Spotlight: Dr. Tara Grabowsky '88

Dr. Tara Grabowsky ‘88 is an expert in the field of healthcare analytics. Currently, she works for McKinsey & Co., where she leads data strategy for the Pharmaceutical and Medical Products Practice. She originally trained as a physician and practiced internal medicine for over a decade. In 2014, she transitioned from clinical medicine to industry, where she helped to build a healthcare analytics company as the Chief Medical Officer. By leveraging partnerships with data vendors, payors, academic partners, and patient advocacy groups, the company employed advanced analytics to answer medical affairs, commercial, and clinical pharmaceutical questions. Dr. Grabowsky worked previously for Johnson & Johnson in its regulatory affairs department. She graduated from Dartmouth College, attended Stanford Medical School, and completed her internal medicine residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women's Hospital.

In addition, Dr. Grabowsky was recently named one of 12 Power Women in Bioscience by the Philadelphia Business Journal. This recognition highlighted her combined skill sets of advanced analytic strategy, clinical medicine, and entrepreneurship.

Congratulations on your honor as one of 12 Power Women in Bioscience. Please talk about your job and the path that led you to where you are now.

McKinsey is a management consulting company that serves clients across many industries, including oil & gas, finance, agriculture, etc. There are two healthcare practices. One focuses on hospital systems and insurance companies, and the other one focuses on pharmaceutical and medical device companies. I’m in that latter group – it is formally called the Pharmaceutical and Medical Products Practice, or PMP. McKinsey brought me in to lead the data strategy for PMP. It’s my job to make sure that we have access to the best data sets that will provide our clients with the best data and analytics-enabled insights. I don’t work with our clients directly. Rather, I serve as a thought partner to our consultants.

My path to this job is not the norm, I would say. I was a practicing physician and was not trained in data or analytics. About five years ago, I heard about a tiny team within a large intelligence company that needed a physician to consult. Before bringing me on board, they had been getting all of their medical knowledge from Wikipedia! I became Chief Medical Officer at that company and helped to spin us out from our defense company parent. In those five years, I discovered that I really loved being in business. I loved building a company, running a team, and mentoring people. I loved the combination of entrepreneurship, business and medicine. I loved working with people of all different skill sets. Rather than being in a room with just physicians, I got to sit at a table with satellite engineers, physicists, mechanical engineers, and image scientists. We were doing something that no one had ever done. I'm lucky that I got to learn the analytics on the job without ever having to learn to code. I still have no interest in learning R or Python, but I get to focus on the analytic strategy, which is something I love.

Who were your mentors both when you were younger and through your career journey? 

If I go back to my Stuart days, I would have to highlight my English teacher, Mrs. Betty Lies. She really helped me learn how to think and how to reason. She was such a great writing teacher: we had to have our thoughts together and present them in a way that was clear, organized, and concise. I have used the skill of writing throughout my career, no matter how deep into science I've been. I always tell my children (and anyone else who will listen) that they have to learn how to write, because it's a critical life skill.

In my career I have had many flavors of mentors. I think most people expect that because I am a woman that I have had women mentors. It just happens that in my case that isn’t really true. I have landed in male-heavy environments in all of my work environments. The nature of the relationship is far more important than the gender of the person. My most influential mentors have been men, and I have to say that Stuart probably played a role in preparing me for that. Stuart educated us to be good communicators with anyone, whether it was a man or a woman, a teacher or a coach, a classmate or a younger child. There is something about the way Stuart fosters comfort with public speaking, self-confidence, and ability to relate to others – whether male or female -- that helps you to develop meaningful relationships in the professional world. Remember, there are plenty of men out there who are feminists and ready to go to bat for women! (My Dad and husband have been two of my most important mentors.)

Now that you are in a mentorship role, what have you found to be the key elements of a successful and impactful mentorship?

It is so important to stay in touch actively once you find the right people. Even if you no longer work with them, make sure reach out from time to time. Don't call them just when you need something! I have found that people really want to help, especially if they have already invested in you, and they respect and enjoy you. They will always take your call!

The other thing I would say is that it is far less valuable to focus on how “important” someone is, rather to focus on who that person is. The most important lesson I have learned in the business world is that we have to stay true to who we are and always function from the core of our own ethics and values. If we look for mentors who have similar guideposts in place, the relationship will be far more meaningful. Of course there is a practical need for a mentor to be senior to us, but there are many of those people over a career – fewer will mesh with our value systems.
 

Looking back on your personal and career journey, how did Stuart have an influence in that?

I would call out Stuart’s size and core values to answer this question.

Because Stuart is a small environment, there was no way not to lead at some point! Everyone held a role in an organization, whether it was playing on a sports team, performing in a play, taking pictures for the yearbook, writing for the newspaper, or even reading the morning announcements. Everyone had exposure and leadership opportunities, a place to contribute. That's really an amazing thing to be able to say about a school. The faculty and staff at Stuart worked so hard to find opportunities that were right for each girl.

Stuart values helped me decide who I would be as a professional, and of course a wife, mother, and daughter. I hate to say it, but every career has tough moments. There is no doubt in my mind that all of those in-depth dialogues with Mr. Kilker on the couches in campus ministry shaped me into someone who could face the inevitable hiccups along the journey.

What advice can you offer our students?

My career today is wildly different than what I would have predicted. I thought that I might like something beyond clinical medicine, but I truly had no idea what that would look like. It was a strange set of circumstances put me in touch with the start-up that transformed me from a clinician to a data/analytics person. Based on that, the advice I would offer is this: be open to those unexpected moments. Be aware, watch, and be receptive. You never know when a random moment can change the course of your career.

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