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The Many Roads to Healthcare

Cal alumni at Kaiser Permanente talk about their nontraditional paths to careers.

March 22, 2022
Zoom screenshot of professional meeting

When considering possible career paths in healthcare, it’s essential to prioritize continued growth. “The key point to remember as you go through life is to seek to learn from people. I always have a growth mindset. Look at any and every interaction as an opportunity to learn,” explained Marsha Roberts ’90.

Last month, Cal alumni at Kaiser Permanente met with students to discuss different career paths in healthcare. Hosted in partnership with the Cal Alumni Association (CAA), the Kaiser Permanente Cal Alumni Panel: Career Trajectories featured Siranush Manukyan ’12, Strategy and Operations Senior Consultant, Lean Adviser; Alfonse Upshaw ’94, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Northern California; and Philip Chuang ’90, Senior Vice President, Clinical Services, Northern California. Marsha Roberts ’90, Chief of Radiology, Diablo Service Area, Elected Director-Walnut Creek, TPMG Board of Directors served as moderator.

Roberts led the conversation, challenging the students to build connections beyond the typical chat at a networking event. Roberts and the panelists explained the meaning of networking by stressing the importance of making connections and seizing opportunities. They emphasized that sometimes the next opportunity isn’t from a supervisor, but from a colleague in another department.

I always have a growth mindset. Look at any and every interaction as an opportunity to learn.

Marsha Roberts ’90

Roberts shared a pivotal moment in her own journey. During her second year as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Roberts attended a career fair at the student union. She was waved over to the Harvard University table by a representative recruiting for its pre-med summer program. “I’d never thought about leaving California to do anything,” she recalled. She completed the program and met one of her mentors, a cardiologist who attended Yale School of Medicine. “He convinced me to apply to [Yale] and I got in—the rest is history.”

Siranush Manukyan intended to pursue a career in ophthalmology, but after a few major life changes, she decided to reassess her goals. “I didn’t know what that new goal or path to get there looked like. But what I knew was that it was still important for me to improve quality of lives through my work while also being a present mother for my children,” Manukyan said. “Believe in yourself, see beyond self, and surround yourself with people with missions bigger than themselves. You’ll find the journey meaningful and exciting.” She graduated with a degree in public health, a field with a wide range of potential roles and professions. By interning with an assortment of companies and nonprofits, she found her way to Kaiser Permanente’s physician group.

Zoom meeting of the 2022 Kaiser Panel
2022 Kaiser Permanente Panel speakers and participants

In the stories each of the panelists shared, it was evident that networking isn’t just about climbing the metaphorical ladder—organic human connections paved the way for opportunities. And most importantly, when opportunities arise, one must be ready to take them. “I’ll use a sports analogy; you may sit on the bench, but at some point, you’ll have your moment in the game,” says Chuang. Despite your own doubts and insecurities, you need to be ready to step up, stretch yourself, and learn on the fly.

“My career has had a number of turns and twists,” says Alfonse Upshaw. After graduation, he began working at Deloitte, a professional services company, and eventually found his way to Kaiser Permanente. Although he’s not a clinician or physician, Upshaw values his role at Kaiser Permanente because it is still in service of healthcare equity. “I don’t deliver care to patients, but making the right investments to drive health equity is a huge reason why I wanted to take this job.”

While the tried-and-true paths to healthcare are well-known, the fresh perspectives and advice from panelists demonstrated that there are many ways to provide the best possible care for patients.

“I felt like I got to hear a unique story from every panelist that I wouldn’t normally receive from my personal networking circle,” says student Azeen Keihani, an Achievement Award Program (TAAP) scholar, double majoring in molecular and cell biology and integrative biology and minoring in disability studies. She wants to pursue a career in healthcare and didn’t consider other paths in the field until attending this panel. “I’m so inspired by the Kaiser Permanente alumni and I want them to know that they made us feel heard and safe and like there is a place for us in the workforce—that our background can only strengthen us, rather than define us.”

“Overall, I think the event was super intuitive and inspiring,” says Maya Singh, Leadership Award scholar and first-year student majoring in molecular and cell biology. “It was so amazing being able to hear from a variety of speakers who achieved their academic accomplishments in different stages of their lives and learning about the personalized challenges they faced.”