Michelle Gaskill wanted to be a nurse. But after earning a nursing degree in 1995, she went back to school for her master's degree in health services administration.
`There was a side to me that missed the financial and the strategic planning," says Gaskill, 27, who worked as a nurse at two Detroit hospitals while going to graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
That's why her job as manager of ambulatory-care departments at Prentice Women's Hospital at 492-bed Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago suits her well.
"I'm close to the patient and I still get the business aspect of things," says Gaskill, who started working at Northwestern in April 1999.
The position at Northwestern is Gaskill's first full-time job in healthcare administration.
The job followed a nine-month administrative fellowship Gaskill did at Northwestern, reporting directly to Gary Mecklenburg, Northwestern's president and chief executive officer.
"Our organization places a high premium on young talent, and Michelle is exactly the kind of young talent that we value in this organization," Mecklenburg says.
He says Gaskill's nursing background is a big plus because she understands the clinical side of hospital administration.
Gaskill is responsible for the daily administrative and financial operations of six outpatient departments at Northwestern's women's hospital.
Her biggest challenge is "balancing the day-to-day operations and trying to think of the bigger picture," she says.
Over the course of her career, Gaskill wants to cultivate two main skill sets: the operational side of healthcare and the strategic planning and development side.
To others, the attributes that make Gaskill a promising young healthcare leader are that "she asks good questions, she is smart and she takes good advice," says Rupert Evans, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Institute for Diversity in Health Management.
Evans says the Northwestern job is a testament to Gaskill's talent. "It takes a very special person to be as young as she is to be able to deal with the kind of personality and politics that go on at a major medical center."
To help her navigate the hospital business, Gaskill relies on mentors in the field, including Mecklenburg. It's a favor she returns by mentoring students involved with the Institute for Diversity that Evans leads.
The Institute was founded six years ago by the major healthcare associations to increase the number of minorities in healthcare management and expand opportunities for them.
"Her being a mentor to some of the younger people is a very positive thing because it shows a very real case of where a person who is young in age . . . is able to succeed in the field," Evans says.