Nicole Paliotti ’19 (M) recently left a six-figure job in marketing and sales and completely changed her career path to work in health care at South County Health in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. It’s a decision that has ultimately been one of the most rewarding journeys she’s ever taken both personally and professionally – and one that Salve Regina helped her achieve through its graduate program in health care administration.
After earning a bachelor's degree and MBA from Johnson & Wales University, Paliotti climbed the ranks at Schneider Electric for 10 years, starting out as a field marketing specialist and making her way into a sales position responsible for driving new business growth within New England.
She had made it. She was successful, she had a great paycheck and she was providing for her family. So what made Paliotti pivot? And why did she choose health care?
Seven years ago, Paliotti's mother received an abrupt cancer diagnosis and died within two years in a large health care system where Paliotti and her sister felt they had to constantly remind the hospital that their mother needed attention. Not long after her mother's death, Paliotti's father passed away in his sleep after visiting the emergency room because his feet started to turn blue – only to be dismissed by an understaffed ER and told to follow up with a cardiologist.
Through her mother's journey with cancer, Paliotti has seen firsthand how often individuals get lost within larger hospital networks. When her father died, she also witnessed how hospitals can make faulty decisions when emergency rooms are overcrowded and understaffed.
"[My parents] were both young," Paliotti said. "I was an orphan at 35 years old."
These painful experiences were the catalyst for Paliotti to realize that unless more people were willing to work in health care to change and improve the system, more patients would inadvertently fall through the cracks like her parents. And even though she came from a non-clinical background, Paliotti realized with her marketing and business background that she could still make a difference.
"Hospitals … need business people to help sustain [them], especially in the health care climate today," she said.
As Paliotti began looking at master's programs for health care administration, she fell in love with Salve Regina because of the flexibility of the program. "When I started the program online, I was still working, so just having the online classes was very beneficial," she said. "But I also wanted to take some classes on campus, because I think you get a lot more [from] getting to know your professors."
As she dove into the master's program, Paliotti was impressed with how well-rounded it was in its scope of education, especially since she’d already gotten an MBA. The classes were both enlightening and engaging, and she also loved the small faculty-to-student ratio.
"In most of the classes I took, I was the only person not currently working in health care, and it was very interesting to hear their perspective," she said. "I learned even more than the average student being brand new to health care, because I would hear their stories and their experiences."
During her last semester in the program, Paliotti landed an internship at South County Healthcare. Through this internship, she procured an interim position as an analyst of infection control, employee health and professional development. She left her job in marketing and sales, and has never looked back.
"I'm basically rebuilding my career, but it's something I feel passionate about," she said. "And I actually love getting up and going to work every day."
While an interim analyst, she ran the entire flu clinic for the hospital and offered invaluable marketing and business advice. And her hard work paid off. Paliotti was recently offered her dream job at South County Healthcare as the facilitator of performance excellence and strategy. Her intention was always to get into leadership, and in this position she can truly speak to the systems that she wants to improve.
"I can leverage my business development, program management and relationship-building skills to improve the delivery of health care to our community," she said. "I will be responsible for the day-to-day operational management of South County Health's continuous process improvement and strategy deployment initiatives designed to enhance service to the community and achieve continued financial sustainability of the health care system through transformational efficiency."
On looking back on her journey into health care administration, Paliotti doesn't have any regrets. She feels like she is making a positive impact on people's lives and health – which is even more meaningful when she thinks about honoring her parents' legacy through her career choices.
"It's a very scary thing to have this established career, be doing well and supporting your family financially [and then to leave it]," she said. "But I've told people, 'It's never too late, right? It's never too late to reinvent yourself.'"