There are many people who will pass up an opportunity if the timing isn’t right or the circumstances are less than perfect. Cara Babachicos is not one of them. Her philosophy is to take every opportunity and roll with it, and it has served her well. In this interview, Babachicos talks about her role as the voice of community hospital CIOs at Partners, the massive Epic rollout that will require “all hands on deck,” the challenge of selling users of homegrown systems on a vendor product, and the push for shared best practices across the system. She also discusses Partners’ big data plans, her passion for teaching and helping to build the health IT workforce, how consulting opened doors for her, and the importance of balance.
- Her career path: “Consulting helped open doors for me”
- Taking chances — even when the timing isn’t perfect
- Building the HIT workforce
- CHIME Boot Camp — “It’s really energizing.”
- Networking opportunities
- “Regardless of what you do, you need to show passion and energy.”
- Work-life balance
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The thing that helped me in my career is just taking chances and doing things where others maybe would have said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not going to do this right now,’ or, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Timing isn’t always perfect.
I also come out of it pretty energized. I get so motivated about what books I’m going to read in the next few months. It pushes me to be a better person, so I can only imagine as a student how energizing it must be.
It’s that first point of contact. It’s like having a stage performance — it’s up to you from that point forward, but at least you get that first attempt.
You need to show passion and energy in what you’re doing and why you want to do it, because that’s really going to come through in the interview process and show that you really are in it for the long haul.
That’s why consulting wasn’t the right thing for me — because a schedule of 100 percent travel and living out of the airport and a hotel didn’t give me the lifestyle I wanted to have, and so I had to be true to that and go a different route.
Gamble: So obviously there’s a lot going on; a lot of balls in the air. I wanted to switch gears a little bit and talk about your career background. Looking at LinkedIn, I saw that you have experience in different areas — on the IT side and also in consulting. That’s interesting to me because I can imagine that working on both the consulting and vendor side, you really gain valuable perspective.
Babachicos: I think everything I’ve done in my career has helped build on one another. Sometimes you just roll with the opportunities you’re given and see where it takes you. From the vendor and the consulting perspective, there are a lot of familiarities and a lot of similarities that you hear. The models don’t change all that much. Even the model of how Epic supports their customers isn’t all that different from how we supported our customers when I worked for a vendor. It helps level expectations and have an appreciation for what they’re experiencing on their side so that you know the best way to possibly work with the vendors.
The consultant perspective comes into play with what I do every day — when you’re managing a lot of different sites and reporting to a lot of different executives and a lot of different personalities, it’s the same as a consulting gig where you never know who you’re going to work for and how it’s all going to go. But you really want to try to drive down to what you’re there to solve and how you can help out and deliver a solution that’s a viable alternative and is well-documented and well-presented.
But really I think the way consulting helped me is it helped me meet other folks. My first opportunity to manage really came down to someone taking a chance on me as a leader when I didn’t have a ton of past leadership experience and I really wanted to be a manager of applications at Winchester Hospital. It was someone who I had done consulting for who said, ‘You know what? I’ll give you a shot.’ I think the rest from that point forward is how my management opportunities opened up for me.
I’d say the other big thing that helped me in my career is just taking chances and doing things where others maybe would have said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not going to do this right now,’ or, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Timing isn’t always perfect. I was going back to school and I was getting my master’s in healthcare administration — I decided to go that route instead of a traditional MBA because as an undergrad I majored in business, so it was too repetitive. So I was going to school on the weekends and was pretty busy at night trying to do my homework, when I was presented with the opportunity to not only manage the application side of the house but also around Y2K to take on the technology. It was right at the point where we had to put in probably 12 different routers across all of our different sites, and other than knowing how to spell ‘router,’ I really didn’t know how the technology worked. Between that and the helpdesk and servers and desktops, taking on that responsibility forced me to get more into that side of the house.
And that just bodes well for conversations in how you move through your career. If you feel like you have confidence and that you’ve done some of this before, you’re more able to take on the next step, and so that’s how things have worked out for me. And so I think it’s all the different things that come your way. If they seem interesting enough, you should take that chance and try to make it work. It’s not always going to be a perfect fit with where you are with your personal life or the commute, but sometimes you just have to do it.
My new thing is I really enjoy teaching a lot, so in addition to some of the work I’ve been doing at Partners, I’m helping to work on the new grad program where we’re trying to get new graduates into Partners eCare as junior analysts. We’re working with schools and trying to create the curriculum for how we’re going to train them for the first six weeks. I love teaching at the CHIME Boot Camp — it’s really energizing and you meet some great people and a great network of folks. It’s just a really good environment. I’m also teaching a class—tonight actually—at Northeastern in project management. And again, in the summer, would I prefer some nights to just go home and hang out at the beach? Absolutely, but sometimes you just do these things because they seem interesting and you just roll with it.
Gamble: You just brought up CHIME Boot Camp. I’ve spoken with a few CIOs who talked about how much they’ve benefited from it, especially those who are on the younger side. I’m sure that it benefits you as well hearing their perspectives. Are there any experiences that stick out to you or anyone you remember in particular where you think, ‘Okay, this person is going places?’
Babachicos: Oh sure, there are tons of people you meet where you think they’ve got what it takes — it’s just a matter of hitting it with the right opportunity. So it’s taking their skill and then matching it to the right opportunity. You learn from a lot of folks who are teachers in the Boot Camp that a lot of people have traveled and had to relocate to take the jobs that they have, so it hasn’t always been everything within a 10-mile radius of my office or my work or home. There are a lot of folks that are really talented. I’ve only been teaching for about a year, and so I think they’ll be more success stories that I’ll be able to point back to and say, ‘Wow, this person took Boot Camp from me and now they are the CIO of the biggest hospital in the nation.’ I think that will happen very soon.
I will say that I also come out of it pretty energized. I get so motivated about what books I’m going to read in the next few months. It pushes me to be a better person, so I can only imagine as a student how energizing it must be. I get a lot of notes from people and past students about how helpful it was and how thankful they are for being part of it, and so I think it’s a good thing. It’s a great thing to know that there are others going through some of the same things that you’re going through. If nothing else, that’s helpful right there.
Gamble: One of the comments I remember was someone telling me that by going to the Boot Camp, he had access to CIOs and people who really were veterans in the industry, and he was so grateful that he could just reach out to them with a quick question. For a lot of the younger CIOs, it really seems like it’s a great opportunity to build your network out and talk to those who have been there.
Gamble: So as far as the teaching you’re doing at Northeastern, are these graduate students? You’re part of the adjunct faculty, right?
Babachicos: Right now it’s my first time teaching at Northeastern, and I’m teaching in a graduate program focused on health informatics.
Gamble: We hear a lot now about the workforce shortage with people who have specific skill sets. Do you think that this is something we’re going to see pick up a little more, in terms of educational programs that are really geared specifically toward health IT?
Babachicos: I think so. I hope so. I know that a couple of other schools in the area just started more programs. I think it was Simmons College that started an MBA program focused on healthcare and there are a lot more — especially in the Boston area, there are a lot of healthcare organizations and opportunities. But as with anything, it’s all about matching the person with the skills and finding the right folks. That, I think, is always going to be the challenge. Sometimes it’s just having that network of who you know; helping to get someone’s resume in the door and having someone look at it. You can’t help beyond that point, but it’s that first point of contact. It’s like having a stage performance — it’s up to you from that point forward, but at least you get that first attempt. But yes, I do see more opportunities growing in the healthcare arena.
There are a lot of shifts, and I think with the baby boomer market and the future of healthcare and the need for IT, they’ll be more of a need to grow this industry. That’s why I’m particularly excited about hiring new grads and trying to also create a curriculum around new graduates and even maybe career changers once we finish this pilot. Hopefully, we’ll be able to leverage it for a whole cohort of different groups of students, whether they are career changers or people just wanting to break into IT for the first time.
Gamble: I think it would be really interesting to interact with college and grad students because they are so accustomed to incorporating technologies into their everyday life and have grown up that way. I think that that would be an interesting perspective.
Babachicos: Well, it’s funny because with the class I’m teaching right now, I find that there are some people who get it and then there are always a couple of people for whom the technology seems to be a barrier, and then some for whom the technology is almost nonexistent. It’s just part of them. They don’t even think of it as using technology. I think you see both.
Gamble: Just as far as any advice you might have for people who are looking to get into the field or looking to advance in the field, I really liked what you said earlier about being willing to take chances and take risks. I just wanted to see if there’s any other advice you have.
Babachicos: There are a lot of different things I would say. The class I’m teaching right now is in project management, and to understand how to run a project and to be a good resource for that I think is a great skill set right now. So going that route could be helpful. Regardless of what you do, I think you need to show passion and energy in what you’re doing and why you want to do it, because that’s really going to come through in the interview process and show that you really are in it for the long haul. If you’re not really that interested in what you’re doing now, I would say maybe try to find some area that you do find interesting, because when you have that extra reason for wanting to do it, it just makes the outcome so much better.
I would say that with the work I’m doing right now in continuing care and in rehab and the proud moments I’m having right now related to Spaulding and the care of the Boston Marathon patients and the stories that are coming out, you just feel that sense of pride. When you’re in the IT space knowing you’re helping to put in systems that make people’s job easier and the clinical care outcomes better, it’s just a really rewarding experience. I think I’m in the right spot, but it was a matter of trying to figure out what I liked and didn’t like about different things as I came across them in my career. I guess I would say, be open to that and willing to try new things and go back for certificates or degrees and develop out your resume so it tells a story. I think that’s all part of what makes people’s careers interesting versus just a job.
But it’s not all about work. For me personally, it’s not all about work. It’s having that balance with other things that you enjoy doing outside of work, and how you fit that in, whether it’s golfing or working out. It’s about knowing how you can balance the stress of work. For me it’s going to spinning or taking a yoga class or going out with friends or doing something fun. I think that’s really important and that’s why I enjoy what I do; because I have the ability to have that balance. That’s why consulting wasn’t the right thing for me — because a schedule of 100 percent travel and living out of the airport and a hotel didn’t give me the lifestyle I wanted to have, and so I had to be true to that and go a different route. It may have set me back a little bit in my career initially — in the first year or two — but I think longevity-wise, it proved to be the right track for me.
Gamble: Right, taking a step back to go forward.
Gamble: I like what you said about spinning. I’ve done that and you can’t think about anything else while you’re doing that. It’s a good way to free your mind. Alright, well I know we’ve touched on a lot and we could probably talk about a lot more, but I don’t want to take up more of your time. Unless there’s anything else you wanted to cover, I figure I should probably let you go.
Babachicos: Okay, great. It was great chatting with you, and I definitely look forward to talking more at some point.
Gamble: Yeah, me too. Thank you so much and good luck with everything.
Babachicos: Okay, thank you.