The Roses and Thorns of Being a Consultant (and Why I Love It)

February 2019

I consider myself blessed that I have a career where I can honestly say I love what I do. When you enjoy your work, it is no longer a job, but a passion.  Working with a new client or embarking on a new project gives me the chance to meet and work with some of the most interesting and influential people in the healthcare industry, while doing what I do best.  Being a consultant and project manager is always like starting a new job.  I realize that may sound scary, and that level of uncertainty is not for everyone. 

When I first started out, I remember I was in charge of the systems for a Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and Hospice, and merging the Hospice system onto the VNA’s system.  These organizations operated very differently and weren’t pleased that they had to merge.  There were challenges beyond the technical:  I was faced with personality conflicts on my team, and team members only giving me the bare minimum of what I initially asked for (teaching me to be very careful how I worded my delegations). To complicate things further, the hospice organization was on a Pick operating system and the VNA was on MUMPS that ran on a UNIX platform. 

Before we could upgrade to the platform that would support Hospice functionality, we had to upgrade the operating systems as well.  We followed all the guidelines and I even asked for an extra backup just in case.  I had the vendor available for the MUMPS upgrade, but when I tried to restore from the backup, we couldn’t get it to work.

I will spare you the details but I can tell you, it was a very long night.  I had to rebuild the UNIX kernel (which I had never done before), but before I did, I told the vendor I needed a moment and I would call him back.  I went to the portion of the building that used to be the chapel.  I sat there, alone in the dark, and thought of all the patients that needed nurses coming to their homes to care for them in a few hours.  I knew we had printouts, but I wanted them to have the best care.  I don’t know why I didn’t think about being fired.  I will admit it right here: I cried.  I didn’t want to be responsible for even one patient not getting the care they needed and deserved. 

I pulled myself together, went back into the computer room and got to work with the help of the vendor.  We rebuilt the kernel, and had to piece the data back from three backups, but we got it.  What we learned had happened was the backups weren’t being done correctly for years or perhaps they never changed the way they were being done and the kernel wasn’t the right size to handle the restore. 

We went ahead with the software upgrade and proceeded with the task of merging these two very necessary organizations.  As I worked closely with the nurses, schedulers, and IT department to learn the workflow and differences between the agencies, I noticed they were very passionate about their patients.  They went into detail as they taught me about end of life care and options.  They were tough, opinionated, precise, and would not compromise care.

It was at that point that I realized why I cried that night: even if I wasn’t a doctor or a nurse, I was part of a very special profession. Consulting, just like any other career, has its thorns along the way. If you can endure the thorns along the way, you just may find a garden of roses.

Wishing my fellow consultants a very Happy Valentine’s Day. Enjoy your roses – they are well deserved!


Karen Mingain is a hands-on project manager with more than 20 years’ experience in system implementations, customization and optimization, primarily in the healthcare industry. Karen has outstanding analytical, organizational, and interpersonal skills. She is adept at meeting the needs of technical, clinical and end users which produces results that align with senior management and overall corporate goals. Her key philosophy: Staying focused on the details, keeping an eye on the "big picture" and using effective communication strategies/tools are pivotal to project success.