Laura Ng

Alumni Designation

Nu’18, GNu’21

Major: Nursing w/ minor in Healthcare Management; Women’s Health and Gender-Related Studies Nurse Practitioner Program

 

Where are you currently working?

I currently work in management consulting as an Associate with McKinsey & Company. The path to where I am now is a bit winding and began in earnest after completing my BSN from Penn Nursing in 2018. After graduation, I moved to New York City and began working with the Mount Sinai Hospital in the inpatient antepartum/high-risk postpartum maternal fetal medicine unit. After a year, I transitioned to the Emergency Department in 2019. Shortly before the first wave of COVID-19 hit NYC, I began MSN classes at Penn while continuing my work full-time in the ED. I continued this schedule commuting between Philly and New York for work and school for the remainder of my MSN. Somewhere in this time I realized I wanted to return to the healthcare management roots of my undergraduate minor and learn more about the systems and action levers responding to the pandemic. During my MSN, I applied to MPH programs with a concentration in health management and was accepted into the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

I graduated from Penn’s Women’s Health and Gender-Related Studies nurse practitioner program in August 2021, and moved to Boston the following month to begin my MPH. During that program, I accepted a job offer from McKinsey & Company to put my nursing and public health background to use in a management consulting setting based out of my old “stomping grounds” in New York and New Jersey. I now work with health systems to find solutions to pressing issues like workforce retention, improving care models, and optimizing patient experience. My current role enables me to take my learnings from the micro, and highly significant, context of bedside nursing and apply them to macro, system-level settings.

 

Did you always want to pursue a career in nursing, particularly in your current field? How did your passion develop?

“Winding” is the word I used to describe my career path, and it holds true. Even though every time I’ve made a plan, I’ve ended up in a different place, I’ve loved every minute of the journey. Nursing first occurred to me as a career choice in high school. My great-grandmother, great aunt and aunt were/are nurses, and while I was aware of their profession growing up, nursing never was never really front of mind for me personally. As a high school student though, I knew I loved working with people and I knew I loved biology—so nursing seemed like a good match, particularly because of the job security and opportunities for graduate studies.

One of the first lessons we learned in Penn Nursing’s BSN program is that nurses are primarily patient advocates, and that really resonated with me. I worked three jobs throughout college, and all three—particularly my work as a home health aide—continually drove that point home while emphasizing the impact of the social determinants of health. Keeping a social determinants framework in mind planted the seeds of systems-level thinking and public health for me. This led me to add a minor in healthcare management to my degree because I saw a real role for nurses in acting as a bridge between patients, clinicians, and businesses. The joint foci on social determinants, advocacy, and systems-level impact also led me to sub-matriculate into Penn’s Women’s Health and Gender-Related studies nurse practitioner program because I saw women’s health as a massive opportunity for empowerment of intersectional populations.

I wanted inpatient, bedside experience after graduating with my BSN, and so before re-starting my MSN coursework, I took a position as an RN at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on their inpatient antepartum/high-risk postpartum maternal fetal medicine unit. After about a year on this unit though, I wanted to hone other skills I had learned in the BSN program outside the specialized nature of obstetrics, and much to my own surprise, I ended up taking a position in the Emergency Department. That is where I really fell in love.

ED nursing anywhere, maybe particularly in New York, is a challenge. Staffing ratios are tough, and like any part of nursing, the work can be high-pressure. You’re with patients in a very ambiguous, often emotionally trying, moment of their health care experience. The ED also holds a unique position as a junction between inpatient and outpatient care. You get to know the community intimately while alternatingly working with the acuity of inpatient care and the politics of public health. Every day was new, and I’ll never be able to overstate how incredible my fellow techs, nurses, doctors, and PAs were. But after a while—especially during and after the first few waves of COVID in New York—it was increasingly difficult to ignore the “revolving door” dynamics that were bringing our patients in to the hospital with increasing inequity, morbidity, and mortality. It gets back to a nurse’s role as an advocate.

At this point I had re-started my MSN program. Working in the intersectional nature of women’s health again, combined with some frustration at the tertiary level of intervention I was providing at the ED bedside, led me to apply to Master of Public Health programs, specifically concentrating in my old interest area of health management. I loved learning to be a WHNP, but it felt like I was in a phase where I had momentum and a responsibility to more deeply study the system in which I was working. I was accepted in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where I met some of the kindest, most driven, and accomplished people. My work during COVID influences me to this day, and I want to continue understanding how to apply my learnings as a bedside nurse to a macro, health systems level to try and prevent the next pandemic from causing such a tragic, disruptive, and highly inequitable impact. I cherish every moment of my bedside nursing experience, and I do miss it dearly, but right now that experience makes me a better consultant, a role that is helping me actuate, in my way, on being an advocate for my patients.

 

What is the most satisfying part of your work?

From an ED perspective, the most satisfying part of my work was simply the near-immediate gratification of seeing your interventions in critical situations make a tangible, quantifiable difference in health. To take a patient from grossly unstable to at least more stable was always a thrill, a learning experience, and a bonding moment between patients, families, and colleagues. As a nurse in inpatient maternal fetal medicine, as well as an NP student during my WHNP clinical rotations, the most satisfying part of the work was getting to see someone’s face when a part of the education you delivered “clicked.” We learn at Penn that tailoring your care to the patient is paramount, and so I always did my best to deliver information in a way that would make sense and be acceptable to patients. It was always so gratifying to hear a patient say, “I never knew that! No one ever explained it to me like that.” You could see how the information empowered them in their own bodies and decision-making, and it was wonderful to see people really buy into their own health and take charge of it.


How did Penn Nursing help you achieve your personal and professional goals? What is next for you?

I would not be where I am today without Penn Nursing. Penn’s programs go so far beyond that which is clinical. It teaches us to be clinicians, advocates, researchers, strategists, activists, and implementers. Penn Nursing instilled in me the importance of systems-level thinking—and in many ways opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and potential as a nurse that not many people in the profession get to see. “Nurse” is an identity, a profession, and a responsibility for me, and that framing is due largely in part to the education I received through Penn. I hope I can be a part of showing the broader community what nurses do.


Nearly every person in the field of nursing has had at least one or two A-ha moments that that changed the way they think about healthcare, nursing, or their career—or just generally had a massive impact on you. What are yours?

There are countless moments across the last almost-five years that have informed the way I view nursing, my career, and health care. It was a true privilege to participate in each of my patients’ lives—even in small part—and the resilience of both my patients and my coworkers serve as a constant source of inspiration for me in what I’m doing today.

That said, my “turning point” in nursing was a product of my experiences during COVID. To put it generally, we saw far too many patients die in the EDs in New York in 2020, especially in March and April, and those memories have significant impact on how I view many parts of my life now. My defining moment came in October of 2020, though, about six months after the first wave. I was in my MSN program in Philly by that point and was continuing to work as an RN in the Mount Sinai Hospital ED in New York. COVID cases had been trending down, and we were somewhat regaining a sense of “new normalcy.” On one shift, however, one of the now-standard COVID tests from one of my patients came back positive. I remember seeing a little red icon popping up on my computer screen signifying the positive, and my heart just dropped. It was the first unexpected positive I had seen in weeks and the patient was sitting in the middle of the hallway, surrounded by others. All the memories from the first and second waves of COVID came rushing back, and I just thought to myself, “This cannot happen again. I can’t do this again.” Without thinking, I intercom-broadcasted a message to all the patients in the department to pull up their masks and stay vigilant. In my head I was envisioning all of them sick with COVID again, and I felt this horrible, desperate sense of dread. In that moment, I knew I needed to embody my role as a patient advocate on as broad a platform as I could, so on the train back to Philly that same night, I started writing my statement of purpose for applications to Master of Public Health programs. In some ways, that singular positive test served as a catalyst to change the course of my career and to trying to more broadly live out the Penn Nursing motto of “caring to change the world.” I may not be working clinically at this time, but my identity as a nurse is the driving force behind what I do.

 

What is something most people would find surprising about you?

Something I was notorious for at my job was my uncanny and unfortunate ability to trip over my own feet and get my stethoscope hooked on things. I wore Dansko clogs because I found them to be super supportive, but in almost four years I never quite mastered the “clog shuffle” to hustle to codes and other critical situations. It got to a point where my coworkers jokingly attached a “Fall Risk” bracelet to my lanyard!

 

What is one piece of advice you would offer to current Penn Nursing students or young alumni?

I would tell current students and young alumni, “Never say never.” Like I mentioned before, I think almost every time I’ve made a plan for myself, I’ve ended up going in a direction that I couldn’t have predicted at the time. I think it’s extremely important to stay open and reflective to your interests. The Penn Nursing curricula are (necessarily) rather rigid because of the sheer amount of content we need to get through, but don’t be afraid to pursue your adjacent or emerging interests too, especially once you’re out of school. The nursing skill set is so much more transferrable than people give it credit for, and it will take you far. Penn equips you with a comprehensive, broad definition of what it means to be a nurse—lean into that!

Penn Nursing instilled in me the importance of systems-level thinking—and in many ways opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and potential as a nurse that not many people in the profession get to see.