Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Elizabeth Wolff

MPA-Health - 2011

Executive Director, Quality Improvement and Health Outcomes, Primary Care Information Project, NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene

What do you do in your current role?

I oversee the Quality Improvement, Billing, Training/Workforce Development, and Panel Management teams. The overarching goal is to improve population health, particularly in NYC’s underserved areas, by using electronic health records.

Tell us about the career path that led you to this point?

Shortly after graduating from my family medicine residency, I joined the faculty of the Beth Israel Residency in Urban Family Practice. A few years into that position, I was promoted to Medical Director of the residency training site. After being in that position for nearly five years, I wanted to take my career in a new direction and focus more on public health and health policy. With that as my motivation, I started to work at the NYU Student Health Center and shortly thereafter started my coursework at Wagner.

What impact did your Wagner experience have on your career path?

Wagner provided several new lenses through which I see health care. I have a far greater understanding of health economics and incentives, health policy, and statistical analysis. The Wagner faculty and alumni are also an amazing networking community. Through them, I had 1:1 meetings with leaders in the field.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The diversity of responsibilities—both the skill sets required and the subject matter. I love working with a group of bright, dynamic team that is doing cutting edge public health work.

What are some of the challenges you or your organization faces, and how do you overcome them?

Health IT is a booming field, and it’s hard to keep strong talent in the public sector, when they can earn more money elsewhere. We frequently start our meetings by discussing the mission of our bureau and how it fits in with the NYC DOHMH overall. When we’re in the weeds with the minutia of a particular issue, we sometimes forget to look at the sky. We encourage professional growth, both in supporting development of skills and in promotions within the bureau.

Also, we work with outside electronic health record vendors and our "customers" are physician practices, so it can be challenging to work with a diverse group of stakeholders.

Were there any skills you gained at Wagner that have been particularly useful in your career?

Thinking on the margin and about opportunity costs has helped in my critical thinking. Learning Excel and basics of financial management has been critical as I use and review spreadsheets. Program evaluation and the quantitative analysis coursework have been key in critiquing our work and in better understanding the literature.

Complementing these, I regularly draw upon my experience in Reflective Practices, the course taught by Ellen Schall and Angela Hendrix Terry, on a regular basis, as I lead a team of 30.

What are your future goals for your career?

I enjoy addressing health from a higher perspective, as opposed to individual patient encounters or managing a practice, so I want to continue along that trajectory. The NYC DOHMH is world-renowned organization, so I'm excited to see what I can learn and do with them, and I'll take it from there. I’ve only been at this position for a short time, so I’m still trying to master this knowledge and field that is new to me.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for Wagner students / alumni interested in your field?

Get to know your professors, do very well in their classes, and speak with them about your career goals. One professor forwarded my resume to the woman who is now my boss. Others got me informational interviews with the NYS Health Commissioner and the president of the major NYS foundation. Oh yes, and thank them profusely. As a practicing physician, I had so few patients go out of their way to thank me. When they did, I was more likely to go above and beyond for them in the future.

Network with classmates. In my present position, two Wagner alumni--one whom I met during an information session before I applied and another whom I connected with in LinkedIn--put in good words for me.

Take the most challenging, skills-based classes that you can. In my interviews, people didn't care about specific knowledge; they cared about my skills (knowing SAS got major points) and my problem-solving and leadership abilities.

Use WAG-NET and other services through Career Services. So many wonderful alumni gave me advice, helped me revise my resume, and connected me with key people.