Dr Viktoria Stein talks about her career path and the importance of embracing challenges and opportunities

IFIC’s Director of Education and Training is our third career panellist. Here she talks about her career path, the importance of embracing challenges and opportunities, and how being tenacious really does pay dividends.

What lead to your current role in integrated care research/practice?

For me it was always clear that I wanted to work internationally, I wanted to work with a wide variety of people and make a difference. This first lead me to aspire to a career in development cooperation with one of the leading international organisations. After an internship with GIZ in Ghana, I realized that my focus needed to shift towards health and education, if I really wanted to effect any changes and by coincidence the project, which supported my PhD position at the Centre for Public Health of the Medical University of Vienna, was to define the priorities for integrated care in the Austrian statutory health insurance system. As I had no idea of what integrated care meant, I googled the term and came across the International Network for Integrated Care, the predecessor of IFIC. And within weeks of contacting them, I was part of the network, organising their next international conference, and since then have been actively involved in developing the network and IJIC further. Among other things, I started organising and chairing a pre-conference for the ICICs called Integrated Care Academy. One of those sessions lead to a job offer from WHO Europe to coordinate the development of a policy, which finally became the European Framework for Action on integrated health services delivery (published in 2016). But with the creation of the International Foundation for Integrated Care as a professional organization, with staff and an office, it was clear to me that this was my chance to create my dream job, and so I approached Nick Goodwin with the suggestion of taking on the education and training portfolio as part of his team.

In my current role as Director of Education and Training for IFIC, I profit from my diverse background as researcher, teacher, consultant, policy maker and manager, working across sectors, levels and disciplines.

What helped get you there?

I always thought myself lucky in that my career developed naturally: whenever I felt the need for a change and a new challenge, a new opportunity presented itself to me. But of course, there is a bit more to that. To actually land an internship with GIZ, I wrote approximately 500 emails to every country office of every development organization I was interested in – I got 2 positive answers. Neither health economics nor integrated care were relevant research topics in Austria when I started with my PhD, so I went out and found myself international networks and opportunities to learn from and connect with. And I was never shy in moving somewhere else to take advantage of these opportunities.

But there is another key element to this story, and this is mentorship and supportive supervisors. I was very, very lucky in finding mentors very early on in my career, who have supported me throughout and who I still go to, when I need advice and guidance. And I have had supervisors and professors, who enabled me to go out and do my thing, and gave me permission to go my own way. I am hugely indebted to all of them.

So, the short answer is tenacity, taking advantage of the opportunities, which presented themselves to me, and having mentors, who supported me throughout.

How do you continue to advance policy and research on integrated care in your current role?

As the Director of Education and Training for IFIC, my focus is on teaching the current and future workforce, policy makers and researchers to advance integrated care in their respective roles. As a member of various advisory groups and committees, I support the formulation of regional, national and international strategies, standards and accreditation guidelines, etc. And as a co-editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Integrated Care, I help to ensure the continuous quality improvement of our research and evidence.

What is your ‘Take home’ messages for young professionals/ junior researchers?

Integrated care is an interdisciplinary field, so you need to work in an interdisciplinary team:
• Find a variety of different networks and become an active member in them.
• Use every opportunity to build your own network.
• Find yourself mentors in your own organization and outside.
• Keep pushing and asking – yourself and others.
• Follow the opportunities wherever they lead you.
• Always make sure that you can be proud of who you are and what you achieve.
• Never regret anything.

Was there a decision you made when you were starting out in your career that you believe set your trajectory in the right/desired path (for you)?

Yes, deciding to take a Master’s in International Business, with majors in development economics and organisational development, trained me to understand systems thinking and this basis still stands me in good stead.

In your scope of work, what do jobs in integrated care research/policy look like? Where should a young professional or junior researcher interested in integrated care look for such jobs? E.g. Industry, hospitals, government, research institutes?

The job market very much depends on the country you are looking at. In the Netherlands, UK or Australia, there are a lot of opportunities in research and practice. In others, research is more advanced than practice. But we see a lot more opportunities arising around the world as the interest and investment in integrated care is growing. Also, don’t be shy to create your own job profile.

How do you stay relevant/up to date in integrated care research/practice? What types of techniques do you recommend for staying relevant?

Sign up to the IFIC and IJIC newsletters and come to our conferences!

Is there something you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in the field of integrated care?

No, not really. It sounds corny, but I do not believe in avoiding bad choices or experiences. If I had known something back then, that I know now, I would not have arrived where I am now after all.

Dr Viktoria Stein is the Editor in Chief for the International Foundation for Integrated Care (IFIC)