Laura Ward

consultant, McLean Hospital

Having a business and public health degree provided a joint lens to look at the complexity of a problem, and actually solve the problem creatively and with more depth.

By Rachel Levin

Laura Ward T’89, MPH’18, forged a career journey de-fined by creating positive change. Upon graduating from Tuck in 1989, she entered the world of strategic planning with American Express in New York City. From there, Laura moved to Boston where she entered consulting—sharpening her focus on change in health care reform. With this new lens, Laura earned a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) at The Dartmouth Institute (TDI) for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Now, applying what she learned in both her MBA and MPH, she works as a researcher and consultant to health-care providers and research staff at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. Ward’s current work focuses on developing and supporting a more patient-centric and trauma-informed health care model for individuals with histories of trauma and abuse.

Over 25 years after graduating from Tuck, what inspired you to return to the Dartmouth campus?

While I was in consulting living in Boston, I worked with a number of pharmaceutical and health-related companies. I was intrigued by how quickly the health care world was changing and how much work was needed to fix it. The shift for me to go back to health care came after taking time off after my second child was born.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, a fellow Tuck grad told me about Community Consulting Teams (CCT) of Boston, an organization that provides consulting to Boston nonprofits. My first project with CCT was with an all Tuck alumni team, 15 years after graduation. I loved the work and stayed involved with CCT from 2007-2012, working with clients in the health care space and serving as director of client development. The more I learned about the needs of community health organizations and child and adolescent mental health, the more I realized that this was a career path I wanted to follow. I began to see how broken health care was on the front lines. I began consulting with a research team at McLean Hospital that was focused on the study of PTSD. I was very interested in the lack of attention paid to effects of childhood trauma in medical settings. Trauma and abuse are rarely discussed or treated in medical care, yet known to be highly correlated with one’s physical health.

While the ability to frame and analyze problems—typical MBA skills—provided me with a great platform to bring to the world of health care, I knew there was so much about health care that I didn’t fully understand. I needed deeper knowledge of what health care looked like.

Did you apply your business degree and experience in consulting to your MPH?

I brought a specific structured way of thinking—I knew how to frame and solve a problem. I knew how important communication was in getting people to enact real change, and I knew it was imperative to deeply understand people’s motivation. I was able to apply the analytical skills I learned at Tuck to a new set of problems in health care and found the organizational skills we learned at Tuck were still useful 25+ years later. I can’t think of one thing I learned at Tuck that was not applicable to tackling a new degree.

Tell me more about using business for good in health care reform.

There’s so much in health care that involves change. Having a business and public health degree provided a joint lens to look at the complexity of a problem, and actually solve the problem creatively and with more depth. With a business degree, you look at operations, the people component, the data—and if you’re not attending to all of them, you’re not going to reach the goals you’re looking for. There’s so much need for change in health care, but it’s a challenging shift to correct, being such a complicated industry with such ingrained behaviors and incentives. I spent a lot of time trying to understand how to overcome problems and improve care in heavily silo-based organizations.

What problems are you solving in your work at McLean?

We have lost many important values related to health as we have moved towards decentralized and high-tech care. While there are certainly benefits, we have also moved away from patient-centric care. One area I’m very interested in is how to move closer to a health care system where the patient is at the center of the process and treated as a whole person rather than as distinct conditions or parts of the body. I am hopeful that one day mental health and physical health will be treated in more integrated ways and with greater parity. A large part of my public health focus has been to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health in any way I can.

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