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Vivyn Zhou

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business

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After this work term, I developed a deeper interest in databases, analytics, business systems, the health industry, and the use of metrics to improve operations.

For my third co-op term, I was fortunate to work at Vancouver Coastal Health’s Decision Support department. This was the first MIS (Management Information Systems) position that I had taken on, and I was both nervous and excited going into this placement. I ended up staying with the System Improvement team, where I got a glimpse into BC’s strategic healthcare initiatives and had a chance to contribute my own efforts. Ultimately, the four months passed by quickly and I am glad to say that I have acquired many new skills and valuable experiences from this work term.

About the Organization

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is one of British Columbia’s six publicly funded health authorities. It serves over one million people with facilities in Vancouver, Richmond, and Coastal regions. VCH offers a wide range of healthcare services including primary care, community care, mental health services, preventative health and addictions services.

The department of Decision Support is made up of approximately seventy individuals who provide clinical information and data analytics to managers and executives at VCH to support planning and policymaking for operational efficiency. The two primary functional areas in the department are Data Management & Reporting and System Improvement.

I was hired to be a part of System Improvement, a team who focuses on proposing practical solutions for current processes. Our work consists of a balance between both technical and operational aspects of business. Advisors and analysts on the team deliver regular reports, respond to data-requests, perform analytical work, maintain systems and databases, implement new performance indicators and dashboards, and work with hospital directors to look for opportunities to improve operations. Although each team member has a unique role and specific responsibilities, we also often pitch our ideas to each other and collaborate on projects together. Each week, the team gathers for a “huddle” meeting to share kudos, general status updates, current progresses, and individual priorities for the upcoming week.

Overview of My Responsibilities

Right on the first day, I was handed my first major task – creating an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for a community dashboard. The dashboard is made up of 21 indicators that aim to evaluate the performance of a certain community program. Because it is relatively new, no steps had been documented yet on how it should be generated. I spent the next three days learning from the two people who had constructed the dashboard, taking notes and asking questions along the way. I then compiled my notes and drafted an SOP, which greatly increased my own understanding of the required procedures. In addition, I was encouraged to look for ways to streamline the current process of generating the report. Thus, I designed formulas, tables and macros in Excel, and modified SQL (Structured Query Language) scripts to make the report-preparation steps as efficient as possible.

Afterwards, I was responsible for updating and distributing the community dashboard, along with a few other periodical reports. I also had the opportunity to help develop three newly introduced reports, as well as create SOPs for them. During the process, I partook in meetings with stakeholders of the reports, which not only allowed me to better understand the specific requirements of the reports, but also made me realize the purpose behind these reports and how they fit in with the broader strategic vision at VCH. This made the work a whole lot more meaningful to me. Furthermore, I was introduced to CapPlan, a capacity planning system that helps managers make staffing decisions based on forecasted demands. I participated in CapPlan discussions and aided with reconciling daily errors in the data feed.

Besides ongoing reporting, I also had the opportunity to assist with various one-time projects. Some examples of the types of work I completed are QA (Quality Assurance) testing to confirm the validity of beta versions of newly launched reports and databases, using queries and spreadsheets to fulfill external data requests, comparisons of sets of data to find discrepancies, and automating reports through the use of macros, formulas and links. In addition to these tasks, I also performed some interesting administrative duties such as ordering team T-shirts for our department for the VCH Pink Shirt day campaign, coordinating equipment at our new office space, and researching, compiling, and entering data. Overall, you could say that my tasks were extremely diverse and enabled me to be creative in searching for the most optimal solutions.

Skills Obtained

As this was my first time being an employee in the health sector, I did not have a clue what many industry-specific words and acronyms meant at first. Fortunately, my manager and co-workers were always happy to clarify when I had questions. I was also assigned a “buddy” – a co-worker who is more knowledgeable in the role and who acted as a mentor. She enthusiastically explained terminology to me and showed me how VCH runs internally.

I also gained useful technical skills, including the powerful querying language of SQL. During my first week on the job, I was told that SQL is useful for extracting relevant data from our internally maintained data warehouse. Therefore, I took some time to watch online tutorials and learn from my coworkers. After studying existing scripts and practicing coding myself, I was able to improve considerably. Besides SQL, I also enhanced my Excel and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) skills and acquired a better understanding of how databases and reporting systems function.

Additionally, this co-op term allowed me to practice communication and time-management. Unlike my previous work terms, the nature of this role involves a less structured workflow, with many spontaneous requests and competing priorities. I learned to keep track of my tasks and schedule each day effectively by using to-do lists and setting calendar reminders. Through the multiple coordination projects I successfully completed, as well as the meetings I attended, I learned how to interact professionally with people from various areas and levels of the organization. My ability to write clearly has also improved through working on SOPs.

Concluding Reflections

Just like my previous co-op terms, this work term has been an enriching and rewarding experience. Although I stayed at Decision Support for only four months, my manager kindly made the effort to expose me to as many different types of tasks and software as possible. The work is challenging and engaging, and is most suitable for people who like to continuously learn, improve, tackle obstacles and produce significant results. I greatly enjoyed the wide spectrum of tasks, the skills involved, and the autonomy that was given to me to make my ideas become realities. Each day spent working with data and solving problems has been intriguing and thought-provoking.

After this work term, I developed a deeper interest in databases, analytics, business systems, the health industry, and the use of metrics to improve operations. These few months have successfully solidified my desire to pursue the MIS concentration, and also convinced me to study for the Business Analytics and Decision Making certificate at Beedie. I am grateful to have worked with knowledgeable people and received a positive and well-rounded experience at Vancouver Coastal Health.

  • Vivyn Zhou Feb 6, 2017
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About the Author

Vivyn Zhou

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business
Connect with Vivyn on LinkedIn.

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