More than Just Crunching Numbers: Chat with Rachael Foust, Senior Data Analyst at Kaiser Permanente

Rachael Foust

Sure, it makes sense for accounting majors to become accountants, but what if they’d rather look at the big picture? After pursuing a career in accounting for a few years, Rachael Foust, Senior Data Analyst at Kaiser Permanente realized that she wanted to be more involved with strategy, so she went back to school for a Masters in Public Health and scored a summer internship at Kaiser Permanente that led to her current position. She shares her story below.

What is your current company name and job title? How did you get this position?

I am a Senior Data Analyst in the California Market Strategy and Analysis department (CAMSA) at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. I started as an intern in the summer of 2012 between semesters at grad school. After I graduated, I returned here to work full-time.

What is a typical day on the job like for you?

It really differs each day. Some days I have meetings, some days I’m working on my parts of projects.

Half my team is in Southern California, so I’m often on conference calls doing updates with my team and getting feedback. I’d say I spend about 30–40% of my time in meetings and the rest of the time, I’m working on projects.

For me, that involves pulling data to help support why we’re doing a particular strategy. For example we might look at membership for the local markets team in California to see if it’s increasing or decreasing and trying to figure out why. We try to identify different patterns or trends that will be put together in presentations to the upper management. I’m not normally involved in presenting, but if it’s an informal meeting I’ll sometimes go along so I can answer questions about the methodology and how we went about collecting data.

We usually start with a hypothesis or question we’re trying to answer and I’ll pull data from one of our membership databases or use online sources to supplement it. For example we might look at something like membership growth compared to job growth in a specific area.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?

My favorite part is my team. Everyone is very nice, smart, and supportive of each other. Sometimes only three of us are working on a project and everyone else isn’t, but we can always get someone else to look at it and offer their feedback or advice.

My manager tries to create different opportunities to help me get on different projects. From a standpoint of growth in your career, the management is very supportive.

I also like the fact that the projects are always different and every few months we get to work on something new.

The only thing I would really change is the fact that there are a lot of times when it’s really busy and other times when it’s really slow when we’re waiting on approval, so the workflow goes in cycles. It would be nice if it were more consistent.

What is the company culture like at Kaiser Permanente?

There’s a definite emphasis on work/life balance, trying to decrease your stress level, and having things to do outside of work.

The company also offers KP Fit classes. It’s really cheap to sign up for monthly membership and they offer classes during the day so you can go during lunch break or right after work.

We also try to promote fitness, so for example when I was an intern and now, whenever I have a one-on-one meeting with my manager, we’ll go for a walk around the lake so we’ll get some exercise while we’re talking.

We also have tons of different online programs that you can use. One of them is called “Mix it up” and you can use it to log how many servings of vegetables and fruit you eat each day and you can form a team with your coworkers so it becomes kind of a fun competition. I do one where you log the number of miles you walk each day and when you reach certain milestones, you get a little present like a Kaiser Permanente water bottle.

What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?

I have a B.S. in Accounting from SJSU and a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University. My job is fairly analytical and data based, so having a degree in accounting does help me with understanding and analyzing data. However, my job does not involve any work specific to accounting. I worked in public accounting prior to graduate school and my degree was very relevant to my job. However, I wanted to work in the health care field and I wanted to be involved with the strategy side of it, e.g. how can we improve this hospital performance metric, how will HCR affect membership, etc.

I found that when I looked for careers in health care, I kept getting nudged into accounting/finance roles. So that is when I decided to get my MPH so I would have a stronger health care background. My MPH gives me a solid understanding of the health care industry and how it operates. In my current role, we analyze CA membership, perform market research and competitive assessments, etc. so it’s vital to have an understanding of the various health care delivery systems.

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?

Try to get as much experience as you can while you’re still in school, whether it’s summer internships or during the school year, having a part-time role in that industry, or even if it’s unpaid, it’ll give you an idea about whether you’d really like it.

Try to get exposure while you’re still in school, so you’ll be able to meet people and grow your network.

And try to talk with people who are currently in the industry to hear more about their experience.

You did an internship at Kaiser Permanente. What was that experience like?

I found out about it through a friend who told me about KP’s University Relations website. My position was a Health Works intern. I worked on the employer wellness program (something we offer to clients like Marriott and Costco).

There were two main aspects of my internship. The first was building an online database with up-to-date articles on wellness programs (on topics like eating healthy at the workplace, stress reduction, etc.). I’d find the articles and summarize them so the product managers could access the research easily when they went to develop new programs.

The second part was to perform metrics for an actual program to see how effective it was. Before a wellness program started they would do lab testing (measuring people’s weight, blood pressure, etc.) and after it was implemented they would test them again. We’d look at those metrics to analyze their effectiveness.

Homework time! Rachael talks about some of the aspects of the company culture at Kaiser Permanente that she enjoys. Think about your ideal work environment and make a list of what’s most important to you. For example, do you want to be able to work from home? Is making time for fitness throughout the day a priority for you? Would you like your company to pay for or support your continued education? Having an idea of what you’re looking for makes it much easier to find a company that’s a good fit for you!

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