Fast forward to 2014 – Mohamed is just getting his feet wet at his new job as a project manager at the Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD).
“I love the challenge,” he says. “This new role is pushing me to use any – and all – of my skills that I’ve acquired in my education, as well as my past jobs.”
Mohamed is currently working to convert all Multnomah County health programs and providers into the new ICD-10 coding system (International Classification of Disease, Edition 10) that he says will allow for better disease tracking, better quality data and more specificity of diagnosis for quality tracking and patient safety.
It’s a system mandated by the federal government that every provider in America must start using by Oct. 1, 2014.
“MCHD already sees thousands of vulnerable patients, including homeless, uninsured and extremely poor clients,” he says. “Anything we do to help their experience and improve their health outcomes is a major plus. This new code system is set to improve public health research in the way we track disease. With the updated terminology, we will have better and more accurate data for research on injuries and accidents, as well as quality assurance and reporting. There will also be fewer chances of fraud and ‘upcoding’ for higher reimbursement.”
With a large percentage of MCHD’s nearly 1400 employees being impacted by this change, Mohamed has his work cut out for him.
“Being new, I don’t have a track record here so I will need to work extra hard to do a great job and prove myself all over again,” he says.
Born with a passion
Mohamed and his family moved to Corvallis when he was 10 so his father could complete a PhD at Oregon State.
“While my dad was going to school here, I always loved the opportunity to come to campus with him,” he says. “So I always knew that I wanted to go to OSU, too.”
“I always had it in my mind to be a person who was part of the solution and not the problem.”
After his family relocated back to Yemen, Mohamed decided to stay and continue his education.
“I’ve always had a passion to help people and wanted to be a doctor from an early age, and was involved in many public health clubs in grade and high school,” he says.
Although active, Mohamed spent many days sick in the hospital and learned a valuable life lesson.
“Growing up and throughout school, there were many instances where I saw and learned about injustices and naively thought the solutions were so simple – so I always had it in my mind to be a person who was part of the solution and not the problem,” he says.
Once in college as an Engineering and pre-med student, Mohamed realized he wasn’t able to fulfill the time commitment and expenses becoming a doctor required and quickly lost hope in his dream.
“It wasn’t until years later that I realized I could still be in the health field and help people without having to be a doctor,” he says.
Path to success
Mohamed took a chance, switched his major to Health Management and Policy and landed an internship as a financial analyst for the CFO of the Corvallis Clinic. It changed his life’s trajectory.
“That internship was one of the best experiences I had in my college years,” he says. “Working for him (Doug Bourdo) really taught me a great deal about our healthcare system, and I acquired many great skills during that internship. He allowed me to take on challenging projects, attend important meetings and really pushed me to succeed.”
Mohamed was immediately hired following the internship/graduation in 2005.
“I was really excited and relieved,” he says. “It was a tough job market back then and I had lots of peers struggling to find that first job after school. Not to mention it was a relatively new field at the time, so I had lots of people telling me it’s a dead-end career.”
But Mohamed worked to prove them wrong.
He was promoted to a senior operations analyst reporting to the COO and worked on the Electronic Health Record implementation team charged with improving the quality of patient care.
And he didn’t stop there. In order to further strengthen his skill set, he decided he needed more education.
“I saw it as a necessary step in my career,” he says. “I recommend it and always talk to students about that. It is difficult to go back to school for a graduate degree, but I believe it’s an important differentiator if you’re trying to further your career or acquire more skills for bigger roles or organizations.”
On top of working full-time at the Corvallis Clinic, Mohamed earned an MPH from the CPHHS and completed a graduate internship at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I wanted to include some of the population and preventive health aspects of the field,” he says. “The Corvallis clinic is a big promoter of education, and I had a very supportive manager who allowed me to balance my schedule to make it work.”
Mohamed credits earning an MPH as the reason he was immediately promoted to the director of Quality Improvements and Informatics – the Corvallis Clinic’s youngest director – after graduation, and says having an MPH has helped propel him into his current role.
Although juggling a job, graduate school and a family wasn’t easy, he says it was well worth the effort.
“I believe an MPH is very valuable and recognizable in the health profession,” he says. “Having been in the MPH program, I believe I have a clear sense of what the issues are and I’m happy to be in a field that can provide some of the solutions to issues affecting millions of Americans.”
Practice what you preach
Looking back on his years in the CPHHS, Mohamed says relationships with fellow students and professors helped shape who he is today.
“I think Dr. Chunhuei Chi and Dr. Nancy Seifert really had great classes that positively influenced me and I still reflect on them today,” he says. “I enjoyed my experience at OSU all those years and I think the CPHHS is doing lots of great things now and I look forward to hearing about more to come.”
His secret to success?
“I don’t think it’s a secret at all,” he says. “I think anyone can do whatever they set their mind to. Taking lots of risks helped me as well as having supportive family and friends. I almost dropped out of school at one point, and if it wasn’t for my wife’s support and motivation, I would not have carried on and ended up where I am. Also, being a Muslim, I think having a strong faith helped me overcome a lot of obstacles.”
And so did his willingness to try new things.
“Get involved and network,” Mohamed recommends to current students and recent alums. “Volunteer in the community, join boards, be active in school and within your organization. Just get your foot in the door. Starting at the bottom will more than likely lead to your dream job – you just have to take it all in learn as much as you can along the way.”