An evening full of insight and inspiration, the panel held by the Worksite Wellness Council of MA and the Massachusetts Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics had a clear theme: networking is everything. Panelists included Valerie Machinist, MS, RD, LDN, Deborah (“Deb”) Gorhan, MS, MCHES, Philip Swayze, MS, CWPD, and Catherine (“Cathy”) Theodore, RN, BS, CWPC. Each panelist spent some time talking about what they do in their current role and the path they took to get there. Though the panelists all work in different areas of worksite wellness, they shared a similar message about persistence, passion, and getting involved.
“Follow your heart, follow your dreams.” Catherine (“Cathy”) Theodore, Regional Director of Health Strategies for UnitedHealthcare of New England, shared these words of wisdom with the group. Cathy first entered the health and wellness field as an oncology nurse, knowing from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career helping others. She credits her success to have a passion for wellness, keeping an open mind, and never closing a door on any opportunity. Cathy also told the attendees to believe in themselves, encouraging them to apply for jobs even if they don’t feel they meet the qualifications. She emphasized making a connection with those in charge of hiring to separate yourself from other candidates.
Deb Gorhan, Wellness & Health Promotion Manager for Johnson & Johnson – Americas, says, “Don’t let other people tell you that you can’t do something.” When she first started at J&J, Deb had a vision for the job she ultimately wanted and took it upon herself to write out a description for the role. Over two years, that exact role finally became her job. She feels that both culture and environment are key to building a successful worksite wellness program. Leaders should represent wellness, and the built environment should be constructed to encourage healthy habits such as walking and taking the stairs. Deb’s career advice is to, “go for it,” and to stay connected with people and groups in the industry to ensure success.
As the sole Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) on the panel, Valerie Machinist spoke to the role of an RDN in worksite wellness and noted that opportunities for RDNs are growing in the field. Valerie is currently the Product Director for Optum’s On-Site RDN Services and the President of the Massachusetts Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, previously working as a health educator and a consultant. Her path to her role at Optum began with a realization that she did not want a career in clinical dietetics, but rather a career where she could help others make the changes to stay out of the hospital in the first place. Valerie said that the importance of volunteering and being connected cannot be understated, and to “never burn bridges.” She also encouraged attendees not to feel “boxed in” by job descriptions, referencing a previous experience in which she crafted a new program assessing environmental factors and breast cancer risk. Finally, Valerie urged current and hopeful wellness professionals to do everything possible to meet people and learn.
A “meandering path” is how Philip Swayze, Director of Health and Performance for HUB International New England, describes his eventual entry into the world of worksite wellness. He credits that path for making him a better consultant and encouraged attendees to parlay their skills and interests into jobs as he did. Like Deb Gorhan, Philip also once created a new role for himself based on both his strengths and the needs of the company. He says, “it’s about being open to suggesting ideas and solving problems,” and encouraged attendees to not be afraid to speak up and raise their hand. Another recommendation was to volunteer to get access to more opportunities. Philip credited his personal and professional connections as being directly responsible for helping him secure at least three jobs in his career.
The panel, though made up of professionals from varied backgrounds, clearly had a consistent theme of networking for success. Each participant credited networking and volunteering as being integral to their success and noted their continued involvement in volunteer roles. Success in the world of worksite wellness, it seems, is about having a passion for the subject, the persistence to pursue your goals, and the personal connections to foster opportunities.