Kat McDavitt: “Burn out is my number one challenge”

I think we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. This is just a hard thing. There are lots of hard things in life. I do believe this is temporary. Life may not be the same as it was in February of 2020, but it will be good again. I think in many ways […]

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I think we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. This is just a hard thing. There are lots of hard things in life. I do believe this is temporary. Life may not be the same as it was in February of 2020, but it will be good again. I think in many ways it’s good now. That’s why I’m focused on surviving. The hard things get easy if you face them head on. Focus on what’s important. Doing the dishes every night is not important.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat McDavitt, chief of external affairs at Collective Medical, a high growth healthcare technology company helping care teams identify and support their most vulnerable patients. Kat has spent her career in the health tech industry and has supported more than 70 companies in the space with corporate positioning and communications strategy. Prior to joining Collective Medical, Kat founded Innsena Communications, a boutique integrated strategy and communications consultancy she founded and led to exclusively serve the healthcare technology sector.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I wish I could tell you I had a grand plan but that would be a bold-faced lie. I’ve done a lot of interesting things that have all shaped my career in some way. But when I fell into health tech a decade ago, I knew then I found an industry I’d never leave. I spent most of that time in agency and consulting work for digital health companies. Eventually, I figured I could do some amazing things if I struck out on my own. I gathered some courage and founded Innsena Communications, a boutique communications and go-to-market agency serving the health tech industry. I was terrified of failing and made multiple contingency plans in case it was a disaster, but it wasn’t. Within three days of starting my own business I had replaced my salary and within a year I had more than ten team members working for me. But, as the story goes, I fell in love with one of my clients, Collective Medical, and sold Innsena to a long-time colleague, Leslie Kirk, who still carries the torch today.

Out of the 70 odd companies with which I worked during my time as a consultant, Collective is special — it’s a truly mission-driven company that puts healthcare providers and the patients they serve first. I originally joined Collective as the company’s chief marketing officer and its first marketing leader, ever. I had a ton of fun building that team from scratch, and I think that crew is one of the best teams I’ve built.

In the spirit of doing interesting things, I’ve since transitioned into the company’s chief of external affairs overseeing our policy, advocacy and government solutions functions. We support states, Medicaid and public health agencies and health information exchanges, among other governmental and quasi-governmental groups.

While Collective has always worked with states to support high-risk and vulnerable patients through its programs — including impacting the opioid epidemic, reducing avoidable emergency department utilization, supporting homeless patients and those facing housing insecurity, among other use cases — the pandemic has really pushed public health to the forefront. It’s an incredible time to work in the industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The whole process of growing a company from the inside has been amazing. I started a consulting company and have worked with dozens of start-ups, but I didn’t realize how different it would feel to be a part of something like Collective and create a function from the ground up.

Consulting is different and awesome in its own way, but I feel like I have a “home” now. It’s not all rainbows and roses — we still need to go out and do hard things and we get scratched up. But I believe that if you don’t feel like you’re going to puke at least once a week over some new hard thing you need to do, you’re probably not stretching yourself enough.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Improving outcomes in maternal and infant health is a passion project of mine, and I’m fortunate enough to work at Collective where we can use our platform and network to make a difference for mothers and their babies.

The US has a terrible maternal mortality and morbidity rate. The rate of maternal death in our country has doubled in the past 20 years. And more than 50,000 women suffer from maternal morbidity every year. Indigenous and black women face a risk of maternal death three times that of white women.

At Collective we’re working with hospitals, clinics and health plans to identify women who are pregnant and aren’t receiving prenatal care in the best setting — or at all. Studies have shown that proper prenatal care can decrease the risk of death by three to four times. We’re also able to notify physicians and health plans with care management teams if a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with substance use disorder or opioid use disorder so that she can be supported with medication-assisted treatment or other programs — this can also reduce the possibility that her baby will be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Because racial and income disparity in maternal health outcomes can be significant, we’re in talks with organizations about rolling out our program in both high-density urban areas and rural regions without access to care. We’ve seen that through real-time identification and care coordination for at-risk pregnant women we can improve overall outcomes for both moms and their babies.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have supported me in my career. And small things have made a big impact. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to see women in leadership positions and watch them navigate the same problems I was experiencing at various points in my career.

Watching a female leader handle being interrupted in a meeting, and watching her stop the conversation and simply and directly say: “I was not finished, as I was saying…,” might seem like a small thing, but it gave me the confidence to speak up and to stand up for myself earlier in my career and helped me get where I am today. I try to return the favor as often as I can.

Miriam Paramore is one of the women leaders I met early in my career. She’s currently the president and chief strategy officer of OptimizeRx. Having the opportunity to watch her do the hard things has been a true gift.

Having exposure to other women leaders has given me a massive leg up in my career. Hearing their stories and learning by example has helped me move my own mountains.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

Burn out is my number one challenge. I live in Atlanta and we’re about to enter another semester of virtual learning due to the significant number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia. That means my two elementary school-aged boys will be at home and learning online. Camps and summer care haven’t been a thing due to the pandemic, so the kids have been free-ranging much of the day while my husband and I fit in more than full work days.

Because Collective is a healthcare technology company that delivers pertinent clinical information at the point of care, we have been working around the clock to meet the needs of our healthcare providers during the pandemic. There’s a lot of work and it has to get done. It’s hard coupled with homeschooling and limited childcare options, but it’s also exciting to see how at work we’ve been able to make a difference for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, behavioral health clinics and so many others.

My boys stay out of trouble for the most part, but the mental load of facilitating their school days in addition to getting my job done is exhausting. At the end of the school year in May, I missed an email about a school assignment for my older son that required quite a bit of work on the part of the parents. I opened it late in the evening with a due date of the next morning. I sat on the floor and cried big ugly tears.

I’d say my stress level is on par with the first six weeks with a newborn — and one of my problems is that I don’t immediately recognize that I’m under extreme stress, but my body lets me know by putting me in pain. I carry stress in my neck and back, and this can put me in so much pain that I feel nauseous. It forces me to slow down, but clearly, I need a better method to identify and address stress before it shuts me down. I’m working on it.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Well, I drink a lot more coffee. And I haven’t figured it all out.

I’ve changed my mindset — my standards are lower. I’ve decided it’s OK that my boys found last year’s Halloween candy while exploring the depths of our kitchen cabinets and ate the whole container. It’s OK that my youngest drew a picture with green sharpie on our carpet. It’s OK that the lawn wasn’t mowed and it’s tasseling. It’s OK that I knocked over our bonsai tree into the kitchen sink and then ruined the garbage disposal by assuming it could handle all of that dirt! Really those things don’t’ matter — this is all about survival.

I also try to defend some time for myself. That usually means running for an hour or more. Don’t let this impress you — I’m slower than molasses. My runs are much more about my mental health than any fitness goals.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

Capacity. There is so much to do and so much opportunity to help our clients on the front lines of this pandemic. I want to do it all and I want Collective to succeed and make it through this even stronger than before. But at some point I do have to make dinner, I do have to google how kids do math these days, I do have to make sure the kids are reading and writing. I need to listen to my sons read me books and let them show me the amazing cardboard box houses they’ve made behind my desk while I work.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I’ve become more transparent and I’ve become willing to accept help. I’m one of those people who really wants to do everything. I love doing awesome things and I love big challenges. If I’m bored, I’m notorious for starting something new and hard. I genuinely love working. It’s great fun. But I know I need to accept help and I know I need boundaries.

I’ve learned that I don’t need to do it all at home, and if I tell my husband that I need him to take over the laundry — in perpetuity — that he does it. In fact, he does the laundry way better than I ever did. I’ve learned to be open with my peers and colleagues about what I’m up against and resetting expectations.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I’ve never been great about creating a work/life balance and never thought it was worth worrying about. Though now that work and life really are all jumbled together in one place, I’ve learned I need to carve out a routine for myself. I absolutely need alone time and without it I wear out quickly. I’m one of those extroverted introverts. For you non-believers, this is a thing!

To carve out that time, I’ve shifted my east coast day to align with mountain time — our headquarters is based in Utah. So while I put my kids to bed and then regularly work until midnight or 1:00am, I sleep later and go for long runs in the morning before my day really gets started at 9:30 or 10:00am. This isn’t ideal, with the rest of my family living on east coast time, but it’s working.

If you can afford to hire a tutor to help with virtual learning, do it. It might be a financial strain in the near term, but again, this is about survival. If someone offers to help you with your kids, or randomly offers to send you dinner, say yes. Just accept the help. You’ll be better for it.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Being an extroverted introvert, having time to myself is critical to my mental health. I run a lot to get quiet time. Sometimes I cook a big dinner while listening to a podcast or music, even if my boys are playing with Legos a few feet away, because it takes me to a different mental space. I’ve talked openly with my family about my need for space — my kids know that when I’m recharged, I’m a whole lot more fun. Again, transparency is key here.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I think we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. This is just a hard thing. There are lots of hard things in life. I do believe this is temporary. Life may not be the same as it was in February of 2020, but it will be good again. I think in many ways it’s good now. That’s why I’m focused on surviving. The hard things get easy if you face them head on. Focus on what’s important. Doing the dishes every night is not important.

There’s a lot of drama out there about the US pandemic response and its inadequacy. Sure. But this IS a great country. We make mistakes, but we also do amazing things. We will get through this.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

For me, perspective is great treatment. I’m going to sound like my late grandma here, but while this is an unprecedented time, we aren’t sending our children off to war. Aside from some shortages of toilet paper, we can all eat. And we can each do our part by simply wearing a mask and following guidelines. You can’t control other people, but you can control yourself.

The other thing I tell myself during anxious times is to always be moving forward. No matter what. Figuring out how to adjust and succeed in the environment with which you’re presented makes things easier.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Basecamp’s guide to internal company communication. First of all, it’s so beautifully written that I send it to anyone who will agree to read it. But there’s a section in there about being clear in communication and also about getting people to understand new ideas. It has given me great peace:

“If you have to repeat yourself, you weren’t clear enough the first time. However, if you’re talking about something brand new, you may have to repeat yourself for years before you’re heard. Pick your repeats wisely.”

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on twitter at @katmcdavitt

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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