After graduating from college in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature, Katharine Vanden Broek worked in marketing for an engineered-lumber firm in Boise, Idaho. It was an interesting job, she says, but she felt there had to be more.
"I come from a long line of healthcare people," says Vanden Broek, 28, now a third-generation employee of the Novi, Mich.-based Trinity Health system. "To me, the hospital was a natural place to look for more meaning in my career than I had been getting working in marketing for a for-profit company."
In 2001, Vanden Broek landed a position at Trinity Health's St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
After the previous person left, the 348-bed not-for-profit hospital immediately needed a director to lead a state planning grant through its final months.
Sandra Bruce, president and chief executive officer of St. Alphonsus, chose Vanden Broek. "Kate is very bright," Bruce says. "She has a background in communications and good project management skills. She did not have health policy experience at the time, but she is a very fast learner and exceeded our expectations."
Vanden Broek worked to extend the Idaho State Planning Grant on the Uninsured from one year to three, and the project resulted in a strategic plan to provide insurance access to all Idahoans. Vanden Broek was able to garner enough political support to get a bill passed expanding the state's Children's Health Insurance Program and creating the Idaho Health Insurance Access Card, a premium assistance plan for children and working adults who are uninsured.
The experience as grant director helped her find the professional purpose for which she had been searching. "What was meant to be a three-month stopgap job turned into a bit of a calling and a professional obsession really," she says. "I just fell in love with health policy and want more all the time."
Vanden Broek's passion for health policy already had lured her back to school for an MBA. When her work on the grant project was over, she accepted a fellowship with the Australian Department of Health and Ageing. The experience, she says, taught her as much about the U.S. health system as it did about Australia's. "What I took from it was really that health systems are products of culture and evolution and decades of sometimes reactive policy development," she says.
As a policy specialist for St. Alphonsus, Vanden Broek advocates to improve healthcare financing and insurance coverage on both state and national levels. "Every day I have a bit of a drive to educate myself more on what other states and countries are doing," she says. "I like being able to work on this macro level that has the potential to affect the quality of life of people in my state and country."