How a Veterinarian Applied Her Skills in Business School
What is the difference between diagnosing a dog’s health issue and offering a strategic solution in an MBA class?
How can a former veterinarian doctor leverage her previous medical skills and knowledge as strong foundations to thrive in business?
Those questions may seem odd.
Nonetheless, they struck me when I started my INSEAD MBA journey in January. Before business school, I was working in a referral center, which means the other veterinarians would refer me to patients when they didn’t have the time to handle their cases or the ability to find lasting solutions.
Thus, I had to start again from a different angle, offering new complementary exams or treatments to identify new solutions. At the time, I was working mostly in diagnostic imaging, neurology, and oncology, all specialties not usually addressed in general practice. Nevertheless, I felt that my time and my energy could be devoted to have a bigger impact on the planet that encompasses both humans and animals. This path drove me directly towards the amphitheater of the INSEAD MBA, a force for good.
The Life of a Vet
The first shock wave hit me in our Introduction to Strategy class.
Here, we were offered a thorough methodology to approach any strategic issue in a company – and it looked exactly like the clinical methodology and diagnostic approach. As a veterinary doctor, I receive clients who want me to deliver a solution with a lot of uncertainties, all under pressure and time limits. For example, I sometimes encounter an animal who is dying, and I need to make a decision within five seconds of collecting relevant clinical signs without a lot of information.
As a veterinarian, I was often suffering from sleep deprivation, while being required to be compassionate and energetic for 48 hours straight. I am expected to be professional at all times, trained to be resilient and able to overcome despite life’s vicissitudes. That resonated with what is expected from a professional who wants to deliver impactful and lasting solutions whenever a problem arises.
As a consultant veterinarian, I needed to be able to translate our knowledge from one system to another, as I learned seven animals in every speciality. My daily job is to improvise, encompass the whole system with a thorough analysis of external factors and internal factors. At the same time, I am expected to be data-driven, while also using intuition and complying with restricted financial requirements.
As a result, I would often think out-of-the- box and consider uncommon hypotheses, never neglecting a potential path and always diving into scarcity. Obviously, our clients have huge stakes, either emotionally or financially, and they expect us to emphasise every single detail that could change the course of events. We are required to accompany them through difficult situations and bring them with us on the path of success.
From talking with my consulting peers at INSEAD, my job looked very similar in many ways to their daily work.
They have to solve issues on topics where they are not specifically specialists – and expected to quickly become highly proficient in that area. Like me, these consultants don’t always have access to all of the data, so they have to work under some underlying assumptions, not to mention high uncertainty and pressure, to deliver a final product. Their clients are highly demanding, and need to understand all of the stakes related to a subject.
Same Process as Consultants Follow
Even during the case preparation for consulting, which prepares us for what a consultant will do on a daily basis, we need to take a clinical approach. For instance, we have to think about all of the external conditions (Politics? Climate? Psychological?) that could impact a performance and alleviate uncertainty using facts and data.
Always thorough, we surgically dissect all the internal factors that can impact an issue. To be effective consultants, we need to be eloquent, able to clearly describe our reasoning process in order to convince our clients of the right path forward. Everything is a subtle balance between being highly efficient and rigorous through the analysis, encompassing all of the potential reasons behind the issues. To communicate this, we must simplify the reasoning process for our clients. The power of convincing relies on the ability to explain distinctly the diagnosis and the potential solutions, to make our clients embrace the decision-making tree as if it was also obvious for them.
That’s exactly what a consultant veterinarian does day-after-day for thousands of clients.
During a Financial Market and Valuation class, we had to deliver a four-page report that included intensive financial and market analysis around a potential merger. It seemed intimidating at first, like I was climbing a mountain on my hands while holding an egg on my feet. Suddenly, I thought about those hours I spent writing biology essays about the life cycle of a tree or reproductive systems. I just took a step back and started to consider the problem as a biological entity with multiple unknowns, variables, constraints, and internal dynamics. The whole framework appeared spontaneously.
Rather than think you’ll be lost in an MBA because you have an unusual background, acknowledge that your previous path has drafted a whole unconscious methodology you can translate in business issues.
As a veterinary doctor, I cannot talk to my patients; I have to develop an ability to use non-verbal clues to communicate peacefully. I need to feel, listen to my intuitions, read the low signals in every situation, and adapt my behaviour in response so I can understand another living being.
Diversity is Key
Those basic physiological interpretations helped me to feel some of the tension, stress, and suspicion so I could help others with different beliefs, origins, or stakes in their pets.
Fact is, veterinarians need to develop strong interpersonal skills to be able to work with every kind of client, from every social background and in every condition.
If I want my client to follow me, I need to put my feet in their shoes. That includes being able to understand the unsaid meaning beyond their words and the emotions they share silently, so we can communicate clear messages. If I cannot adapt my communication style to outline my hypothesis, they will never follow or trust me. As veterinarians, we need to give them the keys to understand the roots of the problem and how to solve it – no different than a client in retail or technology.
The same applies to what you learn in an MBA.
You will encounter several ways of thinking, sharing, and communicating; being able to match this flexibility will be a powerful strength. At INSEAD, we have the tremendous opportunity to be surrounded by more than 80 different nationalities and as much different past experiences. During the programme, there is a huge emphasis on teamwork and leadership development, and the groups are made to embrace those different horizons. You will need to outline your arguments, defend your hypothesis, and convince your peers that your idea is THE one.
We also need to be flexible, understanding drastically different ways of solving problems or transmitting ideas, in order to deliver an original perspective. The most diverse teams (nationality, gender, socioeconomic background, age) generally have the best solutions even if it takes longer to deliver a result.
I felt a little bit peculiar before applying to an MBA; my background seemingly made me an outsider. Admittedly, I was a little excited the first time I gave my veterinary perspective in class. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath, knowing all of the soft and hard skills I’d acquired through past experiences could be leveraged in this new environment. Companies are looking to recruit different profiles – and hopefully they understand the opportunities available through students with non-traditional backgrounds. We are poised to help them boost their performance and impact through our diverse experiences and ability to think out-of-the-box.
This blog was originally published in Poets&Quants