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Informational Interview with Manager, Non-profit Health Services Research

  • Job Title: Manager, Data Quality & Information Management Department
  • Company: Non-profit Health Services Research
  • Department: Data Quality and Information Management
  • Division: Research and Data
  • Team: 8, including myself
  • Experience: 7 years
  • Highest level of Education: MSc

1. Describe the type of work that you do.
Our organization holds a vast array of health and health related data which are used to evaluate health care delivery and outcomes. The department that I manage is primarily responsible for creating research-ready SAS datasets, performing and documenting data quality analyses and developing tools (primarily SAS based tools, including Macros) to facilitate and standardize data use across the organization. Once these data have been prepared in SAS for research use, Analysts and Epidemiologists in a different department will further clean, manipulate and analyze these data, which are ultimately used in health services research.

2. Are you aware of any educational institutes in Toronto offering courses in health services research?
The most relevant courses to an Analyst, Analytical Epidemiologist or Methodologist in our organization would be courses in Mathematics, Statistics, Epidemiology, Public Health, Biostatistics and Health Informatics. Within Toronto, the University of Toronto would be the most common choice for formal education in these areas. Other recommended schools outside of Toronto would be Universities which also have medical schools such as McMaster, Queens, Ottawa and Western, as they have a greater health science focus and lots of expertise in the area of health services research.    
3. What software do you use?

  • SAS
    - Primary software used by analytical staff for data management, manipulation, analysis and reporting
  • R
    - Used by a small number of staff for certain analyses
  • Excel
    - Used across the organization in all departments for everyday data and information management
    - Used by Data Analysts for reporting on data in tabular and graphical format
  • Stata
    - Used by a small number of staff for certain analyses
  • SQL Server
    - Microsoft SQL server used for storing and managing more complex data holdings, such as Electronic Medical Record data

4. How are the job prospects for job seekers without (Canadian) experience?
Any candidate who meets the knowledge, skills and abilities desired for a given role has an equal opportunity for positions within our organization.  Canadian work experience or Canadian education is obviously beneficial though. Job seekers without Canadian experience also need to ensure their technical skills are complimented by strong communication skills.

5. How often do you hire analysts with no prior experience?
We do sometimes hire analysts without full-time work experience, but typically those folks are recent Master's graduates and have at least some form of co-op/practicum or other part-time/short term experience working with and analyzing data on a project outside of regular coursework.

6. What education is required? (Master? PhD?)
Master’s level education is typically a requirement for Data Analyst/Epidemiologist positions and above. A bachelor’s degree combined with a number of years of directly relevant experience is sometimes taken into consideration.

7. What advice do you have for those without experience (student, immigrant, career-changer)?

  • Students
    • Look for any and all opportunities for hands-on experience while in school. Typically this is in the form of co-op or practicum placements, which allows students to gain valuable experience while they are still studying for their degree. We often hire recent graduates, however, preference is usually given to those who have supplemented their education with some work experience, even if it is limited.
  • Immigrant
    • If English is not your first language, consider taking English/communication courses to help supplement any analytical/programing skills you have. This will not only demonstrate you are committed to improving, but the skills you gain will of course help you to be more successful in your job search and career in Canada
    • Be sure you seek out professional, local advice on how to prepare your resume and be interviewed. If your education or work background are unfamiliar to the hiring manager, make sure you clearly highlight what your company does and what experience and achievements are transferrable to the position you are applying for
  • Career-changer
    • Most importantly, consider ways in which you can showcase how you have been working towards shifting careers from one role/industry to the desired role/industry. This could be accomplished in many ways, such as attending a conference, workshop, Meetup, course, or formal degree in the industry or area you are looking to move into. This shows the hiring manager that you are not only interested but committed to making the change. Someone with a background in journalism who recently enrolled in a Master’s in Statistics program is clearly interested in a career move where they will use statistics!
    • Also be sure to highlight transferable skills and experience from other industries/jobs that you have held

8. How important is it to have the SAS certificates? Do you recommend getting the advanced or clinical SAS programming certificate on top of SAS base certificate?
We never place a ton of importance on the SAS certificate and I would say the SAS certificate is really only useful for someone who does not have any or very little work experience. When we see a candidate with two or more years of hands-on full-time work experience with SAS we typically don't concern ourselves if they have a SAS certificate or not. I'm not too familiar with the clinical trials certificate but if I had to recommend one I would say the advanced certificate would be a better option as it's more applicable to all industries and would keep more doors open for you.

9. What recruitment agency do you recommend?
I have not worked with enough recruitment agencies to make a recommendation.

10. What course(s) do you recommend taking to prepare? 
For a Data Analyst or Analytical Epidemiologist type position in the health care/health services research industry I would recommend considering courses in the following areas while completing your diploma/degree(s)

  • Introductory computer science/programming course(s)
    • These do not need to be on SAS specifically, but any course in a programming language is helpful for someone just starting out in this field, even if being a SAS programmer is your ultimate goal
  • Statistics / Mathematics
    • Valuable and applicable across all industries. A requirement for vast majority of Data Analyst type roles
  • Project Management
    • Applicable (and valuable) across all industries
  • Epidemiology / Public Health / Health Policy
    • Important if health care research is your primary focus or area of interest

11. Is an MBA preferred?
Very few people hold MBAs at our organization (and few if any Analysts do). A master’s degree in one of the aforementioned areas is more beneficial for this type of work in our industry.

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