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All great MBA journeys start with the awareness that something’s missing from your life. Growing up in Hong Kong, where the sciences and math are emphasized in education, Dr. Winnie Nelson (EMBA ’12) knew she had an aptitude for those disciplines. She just didn’t know how she might apply it. When she came to the United States for college, Dr. Nelson discovered pharmaceutical science. She also discovered the many career choices it offered. She could become a pharmacist. Conduct research. Develop specialty medications. Even work in the veterinary field. Today, Dr. Nelson is the director of health economics and outcomes research for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, an arm of Johnson & Johnson. Her job straddles the space between drug research and development and the sales and marketing of medication after its approval by the FDA.
Dr. Nelson tracks medications after they’ve gone to market to make sure they have the right effects. She uses data collected from doctors, patients, insurance companies and hospitals to determine whether drugs work. “When evaluating the drug in a real-world setting, we have a much broader population, which provides more practical insight than an artificial environment of a clinical trial,” she explains. So far, she says, she has not come across ineffective medications. “Drug research is very, very expensive and there’s no guarantee that the decision made many years ago to develop a compound is still correct many years later,” she says. “I have the good fortune to work with a company that has foresight.”
Dr. Nelson’s education provided a solid foundation for achieving her current position. She earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Minnesota as well as a master’s degree in health services research, policy, and administration from the same school. But Dr. Nelson says even with those two degrees, she felt something was missing, especially in her current job where many of her colleagues have economics backgrounds. Moving to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Nelson needed to add another specialty to her resume: business acumen. Maybe she needed an MBA. “We were always being told to work closely with our marketing counterparts, but often I didn’t understand why they wanted certain things or requested a certain type of information,” she says. “Sometimes there were misunderstandings because I couldn’t grasp their time frame or urgency.”
For that type of perspective, Dr. Nelson turned to the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University and earned an executive MBA. She says the online program allowed her to continue working while earning the degree. The writing required by the courses vastly improved her own ability to communicate effectively in the workplace. But it was the MBA program’s messages about the necessity of making difficult decisions—tough in the moment but beneficial in the long run—that resonated. “Jack Welch added a certain ‘grit’ in the teaching and I’m very thankful for that,” she says. “Business can be a gritty place and in my geeky perspective for the scientific work, there was a certain naiveté. Today, I know that in order to get things moving, certain decisions have to be made about people and strategy. Those big decisions sometimes require the courage and candor described in the program.”
Now, with her executive MBA, Dr. Nelson says she is better able to note and predict trends in the pharmaceutical industry. “There are diseases for which there are existing drugs, but those drugs might not be as good as they could be,” she says. “Taking on those challenges is good for the company but also good for the human race,” says Dr. Nelson. “That’s why I have always been interested in science. What is good is not always easy. We are fighting the hard battles.” Learn more about Strayer University and how you can achieve your educational goals.