“Learn, develop and move on”

Making the leap from healthcare to international pharmaceuticals

Micheline WilleWhen Micheline Wille told her boss she wanted to quit, he was shocked and warned her that she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life. How wrong he was!

In 2004, Micheline had been working as an anaesthetist for four years. She was also responsible for the operational management of the anaesthesia team in the day clinic of Gasthuisberg University Hospital in Leuven.

As a medical student she’d chosen anaesthetics because it offered an interesting combination of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, and called for both technical and soft skills. But as time went on, she felt something was missing. “I used to work from seven in the morning until seven at night. I’d put on my green surgical scrubs, go into the operating theatre, which had no windows, and spend the day without knowing what the weather was like. I felt completely isolated, cut off from the outside world - in more ways than one. And suddenly I wondered whether it was going to be like this for the rest of my life.” When this thought struck her, Micheline realised it was time for a change.

The bigger picture

Not one for half measures, she decided to leave the hospital world behind and started working in the medical department of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. “It wasn’t just about being cut off from the real world,” she recalls. “Specialist physicians are trained to be specialists. But there’s so much more to healthcare than what we doctors do. As fascinated as I am by the scientific side of medicine, I’m equally interested in the broader context. How are reimbursement policies determined? How can we keep healthcare affordable? Or ethical issues, such as why do we have access to healthcare, while people in other parts of the world are deprived of the most basic medical care?”

Today Micheline has found the perfect combination in her job as Global Medical Lead MPS, a Senior Medical Director role within Shire’s Human Genetic Therapies division in Nyon, Switzerland. Within the Global Medical Affairs Group, which is part of R&D, she’s responsible for developing and implementing the medical strategy for a specific line of products to treat rare genetic disorders. She manages a team of medical directors spread across the world to ensure strategic alignment, as well as representing the Global Medical Affairs Group in different cross-functional teams. In addition, she’s closely involved in the roll-out of Shire’s charitable access programmes.

Filling in the blanks

Her MBA was an essential prerequisite to be considered for her current job, but that wasn’t why she decided to embark on an executive MBA at Vlerick in 2008. “I did an MBA out of personal interest and because I could combine it with my job. At the time I was working at TiGenix, a biopharmaceutical company near Leuven, and the Vlerick campus was relatively close by.”

So, what has the MBA done for her? “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve often thought ‘I wish I’d known all this when I was head of the anaesthesia team at Gasthuisberg’. I’m pretty sure I’d have dealt with things differently. As a doctor you have little or no notion of the financial and practical aspects of running an organisation. I didn’t know anything about budgeting or how to manage and motivate teams, the impact of production and logistics, not to mention strategy development.”

She laughs as she recalls: “Back then the management accounting exam was a real headache, but at least I now feel a little more confident when I have to comment on accounting documents.”

Micheline feels the MBA helps you to think outside the box, not least because all the participants had different backgrounds. “I sometimes catch myself thinking about examples from the automotive industry when reflecting on one of my projects.”

Doing an MBA has also boosted her confidence: “It provides you with a solid background and makes it much easier to try and do new things. Having invested two years of study, surely you can’t hide behind the excuse that you don’t know anything about it.”

No borders

For Micheline, however, change has never been an obstacle. Saying goodbye to anaesthetics has arguably been the biggest change in her life. “My decision didn’t exactly meet with the approval of my boss. But here we are, nine years later and I’m enjoying every minute. Over the years I’ve learned so much, which has always been my driving force really – to learn, develop and move on.”

She points out that it’s not about change for the sake of it. “But if the opportunity serves a purpose and fits in with my personal life, then I’ll grab it with both hands!” Her current job at Shire is a good example. “I’ve always been open to working abroad. After all, the world doesn’t end at the border. Disease and healthcare are global issues. This job is a unique opportunity and my partner supports my choice. He’s an orthopaedic surgeon with a practice in Belgium, which means that we only see each other at weekends. It’s not an ideal situation, but we’re both comfortable with it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have accepted this post.”

Keep your cool

The combination of a medical degree and an MBA is quite unusual and it’s opened more doors than Micheline ever thought possible. And her medical training and experience aren’t lost after all. Not only can she tap into real-life patient experience, years of working in operating theatres has also helped her to stay calm and focused in even the most stressful situations. “People sometimes mistake this for a lack of a sense of urgency. But it’s my experience that if you keep calm, you’ll get better results, faster.”

Take your pick

Want to earn a top-ranked MBA without having to put your career on hold? We offer three different formats. There’s bound to be one that suits your schedule:

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