Eyes Set on Being COO in Healthcare

Dylan Blackburn’s science courses helped set the stage for this aspiring healthcare administrator

When Dylan Blackburn was 7, he was diagnosed with having a tumor growing on his pituitary gland (Cushing’s syndrome). He underwent brain surgery and was thought to have a life expectancy of 12.

Twenty years later, Dylan is on the other side of a Zoom call, telling me, “I had an amazing care team; I still remember them to this day. They taught me how to walk again after the surgery. There was a group of healthcare administrators who showed up one night, and said, ‘You don’t want to eat hospital food, you’re 7 years old. We brought you a pizza.’ And they ate pizza with me.

“It’s those things that I vividly remember from that experience. And it was that care I got that drove me to wanting to give back.”

And so began Dylan’s healthcare educational journey, which started with graduating from UC Berkeley in 2011 with a double-major in Molecular Cell Biology and Integrative Biology—and a minor in Japanese!

Dylan’s plan was to immediately attend medical school—that desire to give back to the healthcare community never wavering— but his undergraduate science GPA was lacking.

So he turned to our science courses to get a GPA boost. This turned into an acceptance letter from University of Washington to attend its Master of Health Administration program. Upon receiving this degree in June 2019, Dylan is now ensconced in healthcare administration at Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane with Dylan.

Tell me about your experience with us.

I remember it was fun because there were a bunch of courses that I didn’t have the opportunity to take at Berkeley. And then studying with folks who were at very different areas of their career: Most of them were doing the post-bacc, looking to get the certificate and move forward in that direction. I enjoyed sharing those experiences and building that network; I’m still friends with a couple of my classmates from back then.

The biggest advantage was building connections with the instructors. They became letter-writers for me when I applied to medical school and my graduate program at the University of Washington. That was really helpful because they saw me at another level, as opposed to letter-writers from my undergraduate who knew me as a sophomore or junior.



Dylan’s GPA-Boosting Courses Roster


And then you got accepted into a master’s program.

I think one of the benefits of my Extension experience was taking the Genomic Medicine course when CRISPR was very new. The implications of the ethics side of genomic medicine and moving into healthcare administration are things that I have to think about every day.

Throughout my master’s, I competed in case competitions, which have a lot of business-end aspects to them. So having those Extension classes pushed me to think outside of that standard box and apply it to a business scenario that’s going to create a new product—better care for patients or a new model of access to care.

One of the competitions that my team won was utilizing an app, and it was some of the experiences that I had at Extension that helped me think about how we use technology to improve access to care. How do we take a fertility app and implement it across healthcare systems? What’s the incentive for a healthcare system to want to purchase the app and integrate it in their electronic medical records?

Another case competition that we did—which goes back to that genomic class—was we were asked to think about who owns that genetic information. That course directly impacted my presentation at this competition, because the real ethical question is when you look at genomic medicine and you look at precision medicine, who owns that information? Is it the healthcare system? Is it the insurer? Is it the patient? It’s a big ethical discussion that is going on today.



The experiences that I had at Extension helped me think about how we use technology to improve access to care.



And now you’re working at Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Prior to completing my master’s, I started as a project manager for the vice president of patient care services. I did a lot of business modeling for the operational leaders around outpatient care. We have seven regional medical centers and a downtown campus and our goal is to ensure we have the right providers at the right places.

In December, I was moved over to supply chain—again doing project management. Being in the middle of an outbreak and getting to problem-solve from a supply-chain side while having the operational background has been a good challenge. It’s given me access to the in-patient portion of health care that I didn’t have before.

I have been on COVID-19 projects, as well as navigating a joint-venture between CHI Franciscan and Virginia Mason to build a brand-new labor and delivery unit. That was an experience that I wouldn’t have had if I weren’t in this role early in my career.

I am currently transitioning back to a role with patient-care services as a project manager on that team.

When I think back to taking my science courses and juggling that with studying for the MCAT, the Extension courses taught me how to manage high-stress situations. My master’s program taught me resiliency techniques and I’m using those tools to recharge myself. And the combination of those experiences has helped me navigate a challenging year in the industry.



I’d like to move into a clinic manager role on the outpatient side and then move into a director role overseeing multiple clinics.



How do you see yourself continuing to improve and give back to the healthcare community?

I’d like to move into a clinic manager role on the outpatient side and then move into a director role overseeing multiple clinics.

From there, move into a senior director role overseeing directors in a region. And then move into a VP of operations role. Long term, I’d like to be COO in ambulatory care.

I don’t see us staying in hospitals long term; they’re expensive. You don’t want to be in a hospital unless you’re really, really sick. I’d rather have you come into a primary care facility and we’ll check for anything you might be susceptible to. If you have the potential of coming down with X, Y, Z disease, what are some things we can do to coach you from getting that? Or if you do have an injury, do we send you to the inpatient side or can we treat it in the outpatient side with visits to an outpatient provider and come up with less-invasive methods to keep people healthy?

All questions we’re sure you’ll find the answers to as you continue on your exciting career!