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The 6,994 mile trip that changed my life

Written by: Shawn Chacko

My Northwell Health story is really a culmination of a journey that started years ago. My family emigrated from a third world country where poverty and disease were pervasive. Traveling to my native land created this burden in me to help solve these issues. By 2007 I was riding the wave of believing in our own capabilities and I came to the realization that my efforts needed to be focused on a very specific mission. I then became determined to build hospitals and clinics in under privileged areas around the world.

In 2009 I decided to attend Stony Brook University where I enrolled as a pre-medical student. I believed my passion for medicine and my affinity for sciences would provide the means to fulfill my mission. During my sophomore year of college there was an opportunity to assist on a medical mission’s trip to Ethiopia. I traveled 6,994 miles away from all the comforts I had to help the people of this country in any way I could. The experience really exposed me to suffering once again, but something within me changed. The country and the people were beautiful, but the sheer neglect for life, health and opportunity were appalling. Images of children on their last hope were seared into my brain, and I knew I needed to take action.


After returning from the trip, I decided to study the science behind healthcare delivery. I was fascinated by the magnitude of complexity involved. I would spend all of my free time reading books on anyone remotely related to building healthcare systems from Otto Von Bismarck to Patch Adams. The irony of my fascination was that our country was dealing with healthcare reform at the time which only furthered my interest, and shifted my focus away from the clinical aspect of care. I decided then to leave the pre-med track and enter a healthcare management program.

After making this difficult decision I formed a club with like-minded individuals who had a passion for the underserved communities of the world called Free the Children. The purpose of our club was to build a school in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We found that education decreased disease prevalence within communities, and so for a country that had been torn by civil war for decades we focused our efforts in this particular area. After three years of giving lectures, motivational speeches, and fundraising we were able to give a significant portion to the school. The experience provided some relief for the burden I was carrying, but I still felt an overwhelming desire to do more.

During my final year of undergraduate studies I entered my concentration of healthcare management where I was exposed to the many different aspects of care delivery. Having a teaching hospital so connected to the university provided opportunities I would otherwise not have. I volunteered in one of the healthcare management departments at the hospital where I met key individuals who encouraged my dreams and gave me guidance on what I should do next.

Ultimately I was advised to apply to business schools in New York.  Hofstra’s Zarb School of Business, and during my first year in graduate school I went to an alumni event where I would meet Dganit Raviv (Dee), the Director of HR Analytics at Northwell Health. Dee and I really hit it off, and she provided great advice on how I would be able to penetrate the healthcare job market.

Six months later I began applying to internships for the summer and eventually found an opportunity for an operations internship with CVS Health. I spent my time working on a project to implement Medication Therapy Management within the region, and met many great people, but ultimately I really wanted a role within healthcare.

I mentioned to Barbara, my manager at the Zarb Career Center, that I was having trouble finding a suitable internship.  My manager then reached out to a friend at Northwell Health to see if there was any availability without my knowledge. A few days later I got a call from Dee, the woman I had met at the alumni event six months earlier. I came in for an interview and was offered a temporary full-time position as a strategy analyst. I was able to get my feet into health care while also completing my degree by joining Northwell Health’s internal temporary staffing agency, Flexstaff. A few weeks after I started Dee told me she would love to have me join her team permanently, and I have really enjoyed the experience. I’ve had so many opportunities to meet great people and attain valuable skills during my time here. I’ve worked on projects to increase revenue growth through people strategies concentrated on attaining and retaining talent through quality of hire initiatives, to implementing five year plans for merger and acquisition integration efforts. Perhaps my proudest accomplishment was creating a departmental Think Tank focused on capturing innovative ideas and driving the business forward. This started with three people and grew to over 40 dedicated individuals. I’ve been afforded many opportunities in my role, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to develop essential skills and tool kits for the future.

Northwell Health has provided me a great platform to learn new aspects of healthcare, and I hope to use these experiences to fulfill my dreams of building my own hospitals and clinics around the world.

Thank you to all of you who have played a role in shaping and guiding my future and special thanks to Northwell Health.

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