By Balu Vignesh Thavidu Rajan
As one of the millions of individuals chasing the American dream, I arrived in the United States in September 2022, to pursue my doctoral degree at Loma Linda University. Having lived, studied, and worked in three different countries prior to arriving in California, I’m now in my fourth country of residence, motivated by a passion for advanced learning while my current career pathway evolves as an international student.
This journey has involved navigating a new system, new community, new culture, and new colleagues and friends, From my big picture lens, it’s imposing and is an immense challenge, especially considering it’s my career and future that I’m developing. But it’s incredibly rewarding as the process adds excitement and daunting challenges, filling me with a range of emotions as I attempt to acclimate and assimilate to this new chapter in my life.
Upon beginning my doctoral program, I wasted no time in signing up for a Student membership at ACHE. ACHE had been on my radar long before I even set foot in the United States, as it’s widely regarded as the “go-to” organization for healthcare networking, building professional relationships, and discussing bold and innovative ideas as the healthcare industry is currently going through a major transformation in terms of care delivery with the expansion of telemedicine and a renewed focus on patient convenience.
In December 2022, I had the opportunity to attend the ACHE of Southern California conference and it absolutely blew me away! The experience far exceeded my expectations, and I was left wanting more. Well, guess what? The “ACHE 2023 Congress,” a national event held annually that brings together some of the best and brightest in the healthcare industry was just around the corner, and I was thrilled to announce that I’d be attending the event for free as a program assistant! How amazing was that?
Despite my initial excitement and energy, I was met with a hiccup on my travels to the ACHE 2023 Congress. Due to a 24-hour delay, I arrived in Chicago one day late for the conference. At first, I was devastated that I had missed out on the welcoming ceremony and half of the first day’s events. Emotions ran high, and I felt that internal pain of a lost opportunity. However, the moment I stepped into the congress venue lobby, I felt the power of positive energy lift me back up. Seeing people’s interactions and conversations reignited my passion and enthusiasm for the event. I was back in the groove, conference remorse washed away like a wave in the ocean!
Although I typically consider myself to be talkative with an outgoing personality, at this gathering of industry professional and leaders, I felt like I was back in kindergarten. The level of knowledge, expertise, and experiences among the participants at this event was mentally stimulating and powerfully absorbing. Almost like an epiphany, I came to the realization that the conversations happening under this roof during this four-day gathering could impact the entire healthcare industry, and the potential for innovation and progress was palpable. For the first time, I was witnessing presentations of a four trillion dollar “state of the industry,” centered around healthcare innovation, patient care improvement, governmental intervention, workplace safety and diversity, access and affordability, and the emergence of new provider settings backed by huge corporate players such as Amazon, CVS and Walgreens. Incredible!
Before arriving in Chicago, I had set a few specific objectives for myself as a program assistant with a host of ideas going through my head. I was determined to attend as many talks as possible, distribute at least 150 business cards, collect as many business contacts as possible, and grow my LinkedIn profile by 100 connections. However, the experience of conversing with so many new people at the Congress took my energy and enthusiasm to a whole new level. I was energized by the excitement and passion demonstrated from the 200 student program assistants I had the pleasure of meeting at different events throughout the four-day conference.
Of all the fantastic talks I attended at the ACHE Congress, there were three that truly stood out to me and left a lasting impression:
First up was Bart Kaericher’s “Leadership Insights: Driving a Culture of Growth.” His talk on the importance of culture in healthcare was truly eye-opening, and I found myself nodding along with every word he spoke. The idea that “culture is everything, but culture is invisible” really resonated with me, and I walked away from his session feeling inspired and energized to create a culture of growth within my own organization.
Next up was Dr. Amer Kaissi’s talk on “Humbitious – a new word from Humility and Ambitious.” His keynote on leading in difficult times was incredibly powerful, and I found his perspective on the importance of humility in leadership to be refreshing and thought-provoking. His words left me feeling motivated and ready to tackle the many challenges that I’ll be confronted with once I complete my academic studies and enter the workforce..
Last but certainly not least was the “JEDI in Healthcare” session by Dr. Nwando Eze and Robin Betts. Their talk on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness in healthcare was both moving and inspiring. Their insights and perspectives were invaluable, and I left their session with a renewed commitment to making healthcare more equitable and inclusive for all.
The ACHE Congress was not just about the inspiring conversations and talks on stage – it was an entire package for career growth! Attendees were treated to an array of invaluable sessions and resources, including CV review sessions, job interview development sessions, and job fairs. What’s more, current healthcare leaders volunteered their time and expertise to help future leaders succeed. It was very apparent, these individuals cared deeply about their profession and in making a difference as mentors in the lives of new healthcare careerists and mid-careerists. That was a major differentiator from other conferences in other industries; the commitment to excellence by attendees and in sharing success stories.
For students of healthcare, the Congress sessions were a fantastic place to learn about the many fellowship options available in the industry. Over thirty healthcare systems showcased their fellowship programs, providing attendees with invaluable insights and opportunities.
But the feature that really stood out at the Congress to academia students such as myself was the free professional headshot photo booth. Attendees lined up for this opportunity like they were waiting for the latest Apple product release, and the lines were long and exciting. I was thrilled by the energy and enthusiasm of my fellow attendees and grateful for the chance to capture a high-quality headshot for my professional portfolio.
I had a heartwarming encounter at the Congress that I’d like to share. . While strolling past the booths, I started a conversation with a National Association for Healthcare Quality® (NAHQ) executive. We got to talking, and I mentioned my wife’s latest achievement attaining the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) certificate. Without missing a beat, she gifted me a coveted CHPQ pin! I was so touched that I immediately called my wife in Saudi Arabia on video chat, and we all had a delightful conversation. It was a small gesture, but it meant the world to my wife. Who knew a little conversation could lead to such a meaningful connection?
Not only did the ACHE Congress 2023 connect me with industry leaders in healthcare and expand my knowledge base, but it also gave me a chance to conquer the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere! That’s right; I’m talking about Chicago’s Willis Tower – I made it to the top! And to further my quest to make this trip a worthwhile adventure, I got to bypass the airport and take a two-day Amtrak journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing the vast American landscape along the way. It was simply an awesome experience. I met some incredible people, saw some breathtaking scenery, and got to take my time doing it. Let’s just say ACHE Congress 2023 did not disappoint.
As a famous Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho, says, “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” As a newcomer to town, I’m fully immersing myself in the culture of California by diving headfirst into social gatherings and local events at ACHE and the Congress 2023. It’s all about seizing those unforgettable moments – because let’s be real, nothing else can even come close the experience!
I entered this new chapter of my life with a myriad of dreams, questions, and uncertainties, but I am determined to find my way to success. With ACHE as my guiding star, I know I’m on the right path to becoming a healthcare industry leader. As Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I may have been afraid at first, but I am conquering those fears and taking the first step toward greatness. As for my career, I am excited to see what tomorrow holds for me, for us, and for the world! Carpe Diem.
அச்சம் என்பது மடமையடா | Fear is Ignorance
Balu Vignesh Thavidu Rajan, MD, MPH, MBA, PMP, is pursuing a Doctoral degree in the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University, specializing in Health Policy and Leadership. He holds memberships ACHE and serves as a CAHL Clinical Leadership Committee member. He is also a mentee of Dr. Nwando Eze within the CAHL Mentorship Program.