Balancing Life as a Business Consultant and Online MPH Student
Malu Foley discovered the Online MPH program while conducting health equity research alongside SPH faculty last year.
Like doctors, business consultants diagnose and treat problems so their clients can function at their best.
While Malu Foley, an Online MPH student at the School of Public Health and full-time consultant for SSI Strategy, humbly resists the comparison, she concedes it is helpful for explaining her work to people unfamiliar with the industry.
Whenever a company has a question that they cannot resolve, they may find it necessary to seek external expertise, says Foley, who, prior to joining SSI Strategy, worked as a senior consultant at industry giant Ernst and Young (EY). In such cases, a consultant will be brought in to offer specific skills the client may not have in-house; the consultant might evaluate how to best position a client’s products and services or identify operational inefficiencies, she says. “So, if a business is ‘sick’—if they have a problem and they need a team to come in and run a diagnostic—consultants can go in and help them to figure out: what’s wrong, what the solution could be, and help them get there.”
At SSI Strategy, Foley works on a team of business consultants alongside medical doctors and other healthcare leaders to provide expertise to biotechnology companies focused on developing novel therapeutics for a variety of diseases. She started the position just over a month ago, around the same time that she began the Online MPH program at SPH.
“I decided to overhaul my entire day-to-day schedule at once and do a hard reset. And so far, so good! It’s truly just been one day at a time, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of [the program],” says Foley. She made the decision to apply to SPH last year after participating in a research collaboration between EY and idea hub, the School’s innovation incubator.
The project involved reviewing language and visual content on women’s health websites to generate a set of recommendations for businesses interested in advancing health equity in online environments. Susan Garfield (SPH’11), chief public health officer for EY Americas and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, led the EY team and Allegra Gordon, an assistant professor of community health sciences at SPH; Kimberly Nelson, an associate professor of community health sciences; Jennifer Conti (SPH’18), an MPH program alum; and Vanessa Boland Edouard, the director of idea hub, rounded out the SPH team.
Foley went into the project with a design and user-experience perspective, however, throughout the process, her grasp of public health terminology and principles grew through the teachings of SPH faculty members, she says. “[The experience] reminded me how nice it is to be a student and be able to sit back and think about things in a new way. That opened my eyes to the idea of going back to classes. I have to credit our research team with reminding me how fun it is to learn!”
Convinced she should pursue a graduate degree, at first, Foley considered applying to dual MBA/MPH programs or full-time MPH programs, but she found the cost to be prohibitive and she was hesitant to quit her job. While attending the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting in Boston last spring, she learned more about SPH’s Online MPH program and although she initially had reservations that she might not make the same types of connections online as in person, she says she was quickly sold on the flexibility and affordability of the SPH program.
“That was my main reservation about doing an online program, but what ended up convincing me is the fact that everybody is so available within the program. There’s been so much engagement, even among students so far,” says Foley. “We have a Facebook page and then people have gone off and set up GroupMe’s and different study groups as well.”
Foley says that ultimately, her decision came down to shared values. “The fact that I’m doing the program in addition to my day-to-day job means that I need to really be interested in it in order to be motivated,” she says. “When I saw that there is a whole organization at the School of Public Health already focusing on the entrepreneurial aspect of public health, I was like, ‘Okay, you get it. You think similarly to how I do.’ Collaborating with idea hub made me want to get behind the mission of the school.”