She’s only 25, but boasts the personal drive – and the CV to match – of someone much her senior, and her World Health Organization internship in January should confirm her credentials as a health-care manager.
A native Caymanian, with two brothers and a half-sister, Savannah’s Kellie McGee has already earned a master’s degree in international health management from London’s Imperial College, a bachelor’s degree in medical sciences from the University of Edinburgh and an International Baccalaureate diploma from Swaziland’s United World College of Southern Africa.
She is particularly proud of her time in Swaziland, where, while studying, she also “spent hours at a local hospital for orphans and abandoned children,” and ultimately gained her 2005-2006 diploma in biology, chemistry, geography, mathematics, English and Spanish.
Locally, she graduated from St. Ignatius High School, along the way taking a finance award from PriceWaterhouseCoopers after setting up a local company.
She was also an intern at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, evaluating inventory systems, finding budget savings of 15 percent. She also worked as a laboratory assistant, creating protocol manuals and efficiency controls.
At Edinburgh between 2007 and 2011, Ms McGee studied anatomy and pathology, physiology, pharmacology, clinical immunology and hematology, clinical biochemistry and endocrinology. Then, in 2012, realizing medicine was not her métier, she entered Imperial College’s business school.
She explored the management side of health care, sitting courses in health economics, strategic management, health informatics, organizational behavior, human resource management, accounting and marketing. She also met her mentor.
“His name is Rifat Atun, and I thought, ‘This guy is where I want to be in 30 years, 40 years.’ He is inspirational and exciting. He works with the WHO and came in weekly from Geneva, basing his course on his experiences with hospitals” around the world, she said.
Mr. Atun, in fact, is a professor of international health management at Imperial College, head of its Health Management Group, founding director of masters programs in both international health management and public health, and a bachelor’s degree in management and medical science. He is an adjunct professor of global health systems at Harvard University and an honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He has worked with the World Bank, the WHO, and the U.K. government on health-system reform in more than 20 countries, and advised governments in Europe, Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East.
“He works with the policies in each country: what they have, what is new and how it could change health systems,” Ms McGee said, “and so, with him in mind, I applied for the internship.”
WHO offers ongoing internships, lasting between six weeks and three months, enabling students to become familiar with the organization’s technical and administrative programs.
Ms McGee applied, she said, “oh, maybe three months ago,” and heard back almost immediately.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was 8 or 9. It’s an extremely rigorous process to get an internship. We did a number of virtual interviews and I wrote essays to prove my motivation.”
The agency assigned her a slot in its patient-safety program, which examines health coverage, the safety of patients and the quality of care, an increasingly widespread area of global concern.
“Patient safety,” for example, Ms McGee said, “looks at health care-related infections, and safety with blood products, needles and operating check lists. People can go into hospital and die from something that is not what they came in with.”
Often caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, hospital-acquired infections usually appear three days after a patient’s admission. Between 5 and 10 percent of patients in the U.S. develop an infection, usually pneumonia or urinary-tract and surgical-wound problems.
Experts say 25 percent of these infections can be prevented by health-care workers taking proper precautions when caring for patients.
“I’ll be working under the director of the patient-safety program, Ed Kelley, who has worked for the UN and every hospital-related NGO [non-governmental organization] there is,” Ms McGee said. “I will be part of creating the first-ever global report on patient safety and health care, so we can understand the issues and how to improve the situation.”
The report is not due until 2015, but Ms McGee has already sat in meetings with ministers of health from around the world, and a seven-member committee drawn from WHO’s five global regions.
“I’ll be in Geneva, helping create data maps for statistics and information for the report,” she said, and while she is unlikely to see the fruition of the project, for her “it’s all about personal and professional development, sharing relationships, networking every day.”
At the end of the three months, Ms McGee said, she will return to the Cayman Islands, hoping to find employment either locally or internationally.
“I’ve already been applying for jobs,” she said. “I was initially studying medicine, but decided that wasn’t for me. I’m more interested in the management side, and how we can lower costs while ensuring the quality of care.”
She is reluctant to name the companies or agencies she has approached, wishing to keep her options intact, but said she is interested in Dr. Shetty’s Health City Cayman Islands in East End and a local pharmaceutical company called Ironshore.
Internationally, she says, she is seeking management consultancy work in Europe, doing qualitative and quantitative analysis.
“I’m a British citizen so it’s a lot easier to get a job there and work for a large firm, often controlled by large pharmaceutical companies or the National Health Service.”
Ultimately, however, she would like to work in the Cayman Islands: “I’m ready to apply my expertise at home, but it’s extremely valuable to gain international experience,” watching the work of policies and practices at all levels, profoundly informing her as a medical manager, and ultimately “helping me to return” home.