Making the jump from academia to management consulting: A discussion with Dr. Karolina Bidzinski

Article by Carmen Li

Graphic design by Mimi Guo

Are you considering healthcare management consulting as a career path but uncertain about making the switch?

IMS Magazine interviewed Dr. Karolina Bidzinski, a Management Consultant in the Healthcare Solutions, Operations practice at KPMG Canada, to provide advice on opportunities to explore the world of management consulting as a graduate student.  

Healthcare management consulting is the process of guiding healthcare organizations to make business-savvy decisions and maintaining the welfare of staff and patients. Healthcare consultants are experts in the industry—they have in-depth knowledge of healthcare laws, regulations, and policies to help medical organizations and hospitals run efficiently and effectively. For example, they may work with clients to align their clinical operating model to their strategic and financial objectives. 

Remarkable, right? However, as an IMS student with an interest in pursuing consulting after their MSc. or Ph.D., how do you get started? How do you make the leap from working in an academic laboratory to brainstorming strategies to streamline the operations of a healthcare organization? 

For IMS alumni, Dr. Karolina Bidzinski, the switch from academia to consulting took a great deal of persistence and networking. It also took active participation in skill-building opportunities hosted by the Graduate Management Consulting Association (GMCA) at the University of Toronto. As Dr. Bidzinski may tell her own mentees, making this kind of career switch is possible for anyone; it just takes strategy and determination. 

Dr. Karolina Bidzinski
Ph.D., M.Sc., H.B.Sc.
Management Consultant Healthcare Solutions, Operations,
KPMG Canada

Photo Credit: Karolina Bidzinski

To give background, Dr. Bidzinski describes her experiences during her graduate studies and initial interest in industry careers. To start, she points out that the majority of her M.Sc. and Ph.D. research is published under her maiden name Kozak. Dr. Bidzinski has a H.B.Sc. with a Specilization in Biology from the University of Western Ontario. She then came to Toronto to complete both her M.Sc. and Ph.D. under the supervision of Dr. Tony P. George at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). For her M.Sc., Dr. Bidzinski conducted clinical research investigating the effects of pharmacotherapy on cognitive functioning in a subset of  schizophrenia patients. Her following Ph.D. project assessed the effect of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on cannabis use and cognitive outcomes in schizophrenia patients with a cannabis use disorder. During the start of her Ph.D., Dr. Bidzinski started exploring potential careers. “As rewarding as executing clinical trials and publishing research is and observing the positive outcomes amongst patients that surface with some of the research that you complete,” but there was something missing. She explained, “I wanted to pursue a career with a more immediate impact. I came across a U of T student group, the GMCA. They are an organization that aims to bridge the gap between academia and consulting.”

By engaging in activities presented by GMCA, Dr. Bidzinski noted that she had the opportunity to figure out whether or not consulting was for her and even which sector of consulting she was most interested in pursuing. She recalls attending their networking events, case competitions, and completing GMCA’s business fundamentals course, a “mini-MBA” (so to speak). Through her involvement in so many different activities with the GMCA, Dr. Bidzinski realized her passion for consultant work. Combined with her six and a half years of clinical research experiences, she knew healthcare management consulting was the perfect niche.

However, how would another IMS student know if consulting is right for them? What if you are unsure about what sector you want to pursue, such as finance or healthcare?

In response to this question, Dr. Bidzinski suggests that interested students should access digital or local resources as a starting point. Part of participating in activities like the ones hosted by GMCA is learning about the various consulting jobs. Additionally, the content presented on platforms such as Youtube, Coursera, or LinkedIn are also viable for learning about the job and developing fundamental business skills. For example, GMCA’s first business fundamental course session focuses on case analysis. Case studies are presented in interviews or case-study competitions, where a real-time problem-solving scenario is presented to assess candidates for their ability to succeed in consulting. The case is often an open-ended question, usually a problem that a business faces that the candidate is asked to solve. If you are preparing for an interview with a case analysis component, practicing such cases ahead of time is recommended to succeed in your interview. 

If you are still unsure, Dr. Bidzinski suggests seeking professionals on LinkedIn or through GMCA’s (or student groups alike) networking activities to schedule coffee chats. Dr. Bidzinski remarks that it requires more than merely networking with professionals in her field of interest; candidates should also learn to think with a “business mindset.” Coffee chats offer an opportunity for you to learn about individual workplaces and consulting firms answering questions like: Does the firm have a specific division/sector for healthcare management? How does the firm provide opportunities for professional development? Dr. Bidzinski also suggests for students to get some form of relevant consulting experience (e.g., pro bono work). You can always try a job out before further pursuing it.

When asked what she predicts the challenges are for healthcare services and healthcare management consulting in the future, Dr. Bidzinski points out the adoption of digital solutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, there is a shift towards hybrid online and in-person healthcare service models. She also mentions the potential to accelerate existing transformational changes that were already underway in more mature healthcare organizations. Though this shift was predicted to occur further in the future, the need for accessible digital services has accelerated it. Adapting to meet this need may potentially be a focus for healthcare services and consultants alike. 

So, what can we learn from Dr. Bidzinski’s advice? Perhaps, we cannot leap into another career field right this instant. However, we should not discredit our current experiences in academia and the option to learn about alternative careers. It is crucial to network and take advantage of programs like the GMCA! This advice can help you start building the skills needed to transition from academia to a consulting role well in advance. The opportunity to explore various industry careers and develop meaningful skills is something we can all pursue now.