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Helping guide an institution

Taylor Foster

Taylor Foster (MBA ’19) was driven to pursue an MBA by her desire to find her place at the heart of healthcare. After completing an undergraduate degree in health policy and management at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health, she went into healthcare consulting for Huron Consulting Group.

She was traveling around the country with a team of fellow consultants helping hospitals reduce the length of inpatients’ stays. But despite loving the work, she knew this wouldn’t be her path long-term.

Taylor Foster“I knew the lifestyle wasn’t going to be a forever thing for me,” she says. “I really wanted to be able to invest in an institution or a system on a long-term basis rather than these short-term engagements through consulting. I wanted to work towards continuous improvement with my own team.”

Now, Foster has succeeded in her goal. She works as director of cardiovascular programs at Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, which entails leading Sanger’s subspecialty programs including heart transplant, structural heart, atrial fibrillation and women’s cardiology.

She says that she owes much of her success to the Full-Time MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Listening to students’ voices

Before she could pursue her dream of investing more deeply in a healthcare system, Foster knew she needed to build her business acumen, and an MBA was an attractive route.

It made sense to return to her alma mater to get the skills she needed, and not just because she was already based in Charlotte.

“I had an amazing experience as an undergraduate there; it’s a phenomenal school and it continues to be a fantastic business school for healthcare leaders given the healthcare environment that surrounds UNC Kenan-Flagler,” she says.

Indeed, UNC Kenan-Flagler offers a dedicated Healthcare Concentration in the Full-Time MBA Program supported by the UNC Center for the Business of Health (CBOH).

In 2022, the center launched the MBA Healthcare Academy, a learning community which connects students with academic and networking opportunities to explore the sector, and hosts numerous annual events such as the UNC Business of Healthcare Conference and interdisciplinary case competition. The events are hosted in conjunction with the student-run Healthcare Club.

In addition to the strong healthcare-specific opportunities at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Foster was struck by the sense of collaboration she saw between business students and faculty.

“UNC does a really good job of listening to the voices of the students,” she says. “I got that impression from talking to students who had graduated – not only did they have an amazing academic experience, but students could be seen as partners in shaping the direction of the School.”

This was perhaps the deciding factor. Given the goals that had brought her to business school – finding an opportunity to invest deeply in a single institution and work towards continuous improvement – UNC Kenan-Flagler offered an opportunity to hit the ground running. And hit the ground running she did.

A voice for institutional change

Foster was part of the Vetter Dean’s Fellow Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler, and as part of this was invited to offer her insights and perspective on the program, as well as take part in work and projects to help propel the School further towards excellence.

Taylor FosterNot only that, but she was able to guide the institution from within by getting involved in student clubs.

In her first year she was part of the largest student-run healthcare conference ever hosted by the Healthcare Club, including a case competition involving every professional school at UNC.

In her second year, she was elected Healthcare Club president, helped host a case competition that drew competitors from many other universities, and helped the School launch what is now the UNC Center for the Business of Health at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

The latter achievement is one she is particularly proud of and which she hopes has elevated the club and the School’s broader healthcare ecosystem.

“I found working with Professor Brad Staats and Zoey Kernodle, the center’s director, was just phenomenal,” she says. “They really saw me as a partner in establishing that, so I was able to fulfil what I was looking for when I went to business school.”

Foster’s commitment continues. She now serves on the CBOH Leadership Board, a group of dedicated alumni, parents and industry experts who ensure that the center continues to offer innovative and thoughtful programs for students and the wider healthcare community.

A broader view of the healthcare industry

As well as helping to guide the Business School towards greater success, Foster found the student clubs to be instrumental in expanding her education.

“I loved the club model because it was a way to really dive deeper into the area that you’re interested in beyond coursework,” she says.

As well as pursuing core and elective modules on healthcare topics, Foster attended extracurricular events and sparked discussion with her classmates. Even having come from a healthcare delivery background, the experience expanded her view of the industry and gave her a better idea of where her career could take her.

“I don’t think I’d appreciated how robust the industry is outside of the vantage point from which I saw it,” she says. “In any industry it’s easy to stay in your silo, but working with my colleagues in the Healthcare Club who had the same passion about healthcare – but came from different sectors of the industry – opened my perspective to better appreciate different factors.”

This broader knowledge served Foster well when it came time to re-enter the world of work.

Becoming a voice for clinicians

Post-graduation, Foster took a fellowship with Atrium Health, an opportunity available to her thanks to the MBA.

“Out of that, I took a job as director of heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support at Atrium Health and my role has since evolved over the last two and a half years to now lead all our cardiovascular sub-specialty programs,” she says.

Taylor FosterWhat she loves most about her role is that it has given her what she was searching for at the outset of her MBA degree: the opportunity to grow within a single institution and be a voice for the people within it, helping them make a greater and more meaningful impact on people’s lives.

“What I love about working in healthcare is working with clinicians,” she says. “What they do every day to save and improve lives is truly astounding and the fact that I am in a position to help them do that work is the most gratifying part of my day.”

Asking the right questions

As well as a deeper understanding of the industry in which she operates and the confidence to step up and change systems for the better, the number one thing that Foster says that her MBA provided her with is the ability to ask the right questions.

“I definitely walked away with technical skills, but I think so much of business school is learning how to think differently about the business problems in front of you,” she says.

“Someone once told me that an MBA doesn’t necessarily give you all the answers, but it gives you the right questions,” Foster says. “I’ve found that to be true post-MBA as I have a more robust perspective on the factors at play when making business decisions.”

Foster encourages students to focus on bringing this flexible problem-solving attitude to bear on their own careers as well as the business problems they work on in the classroom. Don’t worry about making the “right” decision or having all the answers. Instead, stay open to opportunities and let your passions lead the way.

“Don’t stress too much about what the future looks like: When I started in my role as director of heart transplant, my current role didn’t exist,” she says.

“And be true to yourself – you’re presented with so many opportunities at business school and it can be easy to get lost in the chaos,” Foster says. “Reflect on what motivates you, what you’re good at and what your strengths are.”

Read more about Foster in this Poets & Quants profile.