Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Lynn Garvin

USA • Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health

PhD '14

Crafting an encore career pairing deep experience with new skills

Lynn Garvin's focus moves from the corporation to the health care consumer

After a 25-year career in healthcare and technology, how would you advance into a health policy research career and also invest in a mission? You’d come to the Heller School and reach out to Veterans Affairs for your dissertation research as Lynn Garvin did.

Bridging related industries and organizations has been a career theme from the start for Garvin. Undergraduate studies at Wellesley College brought her from Ohio to Massachusetts in the mid-70’s. During college summers, Garvin got a taste of both union and management roles as a UAW air gun machinist with Ford Motor Company, and as an AFL-CIO forklift driver on the loading docks of Ralston Purina.

Soon after graduation, she received her MBA from Harvard Business School and continued to build a strategic marketing career that mirrored Boston’s trajectory in the fields of technology, healthcare and higher education. Garvin assumed challenging executive roles at IBM/Lotus Software, Children’s Hospital Boston, and P&G/Gillette. She most recently served as VP of Corporate Communications for EMD Millipore, a division of Merck KGaA.

It was in 2008 when Garvin reflected on her career of delivering communication and IT services to a spectrum of healthcare stakeholders – from patients and clinicians to researchers, biopharma engineers and employers. “We’ve seen the Internet and ‘voice of the consumer’ as emergent forces within healthcare. I wanted to leverage my management experience to benefit social enterprises that support patients, such as the VA and its commitment to veterans’ health through patient-facing technology.” But she realized that policy training and research skills were key to making the case effectively, thus pointing her to Heller’s door.

Meeting with Dean Lisa Lynch and Professors Stuart Altman and Stan Wallack galvanized Garvin’s resolve to attend Heller. “The Heller faculty’s rich policy expertise and experience on both the federal and state levels is really unparalleled. And what stood out was the encouragement for students to explore and work independently.”

The opportunities to work alongside well known faculty on exciting projects are abundant at Heller and Garvin had the opportunity to help launch the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative, the brainchild of management professor Jody Hoffer Gittell.

As an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Fellow and fourth-year student, Garvin’s dissertation explores how healthcare systems and clinicians can build “patient activation” – that is, helping patients to become active participants in treatment decisions through the best use of health information technology. Her AHRQ Fellowship supported her tuition and a stipend and the VA funding was for her dissertation research. Her work will be used to develop measures of veterans’ meaningful use of their personal health records and secure messaging with clinicians through the VA’s MyHealtheVet Web portal.

Brushing up on statistics and data analysis to be a researcher, and learning the necessary software, such as SAS and STATA, can be challenging, especially for students returning to school after several decades. But now having mastered these statistical skills, Garvin is confident about completing her mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) study.

“A big plus in all aspects of learning is the cohort of Heller doctoral students who lend a helping hand to each other and create a wonderfully collaborative environment,” she says.

“The study groups allow students to bring diverse skills from their past experience as lawyers, physicians, nurses, IT professionals and social workers,” she says. “They opened windows for me on the world of government and created an understanding about how government serves different goals and audiences with different resources than the corporate world I was more familiar with.”

Garvin anticipates a research career that spans both policy and management. Her crystal ball suggests electronic health records are moving to mobile health platforms. “Even now,” she says, “the VA sees the value of providing cell phones to homeless veterans, increasing the effectiveness of communication about their health and accessibility to appointments, information and compliance with medical necessities for their well-being.”

And where does Garvin’s inspiration for consumer participation come from after a long stretch of corporate jobs? “From the powerful intersection of social justice, applied research and innovation that defines and differentiates Heller and Brandeis,” she says.

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