Online MBA sets graduates up for success
Athabasca University MBA: online program provides path to career advancement
When diagnosed with cancer, Laurel Gillespie had roughly an 80 per cent chance of dying within five years. Despite the uncertainty she faced, Gillespie did not want to give up on her future. She decided to go back to school. While it was going to take her several years to finish her studies, she focused on how her education could be used to help people in hospice and palliative care in Canada—patients facing a brush with mortality, to which she could relate.
Gillespie searched for a program that would set her on the path to achieving her goals, while fitting with her professional and personal priorities. That’s when she found the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Athabasca University (AU) that could work around her schedule. She began her studies there in early 2016.
She had experience in a range of fields through both professional and volunteer work. She had been an entrepreneur and business owner, a hospital administrator, a political candidate, and an advocate for autism and disability rights.
Her goal was to move to a higher-level position in the health sector and to take on a role designed to significantly improve people’s lives in Canada.
“Although I had years of experience, including in advocacy, I realized that if I wanted to be a truly effective change-maker in Canada, I needed to have the formal education to complement my years of professional and lived experience,” says Gillespie.
AU offers fully accredited online programs and courses to students across Canada and around the world. In 1994, the institution launched the world’s first online MBA program, and AU continues to innovate online business education, while offering students open, flexible educational opportunities that fit around their lives and commitments.
The right fit
Gillespie chose AU because of its strong reputation and the flexibility it offered—the ability to move through courses at her own pace and to participate online from her home base of Ottawa, all while raising children, working full time, and studying at night.
“Getting an MBA fed my entrepreneurial spirit, but another attraction to this program was AU’s partnership with the Canadian College of Health Leaders. I could earn both an MBA and my designation as a certified health executive—a perfect fit with my career plans,” she says.
As she moved through the program, Gillespie appreciated the value of what she was learning and the networks she was building. One highlight was an international in-residence program in Greece in 2017. She was part of a group of 15 students working with Greek companies and attending classes at the Graduate School of Business in Athens to learn about doing business in a recovering economy.
“My team supported an award-winning, organic food company called AGRIFARM,” she says. “It was very rewarding. I was able to focus on my non-profit learning and experience, and it helped direct me to where I was headed in the health-care profession.”
It took discipline and organizational skills to balance her studies with her job as administrator at the Ottawa Hospital Division of Medical Oncology, she says. “I was very fortunate to have a supportive employer to help me make it all work.”
Powering forward with new knowledge and skills
As she completed her MBA program in 2019, Gillespie started her new job at the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) as director of the Advance Care Planning in Canada initiative.
She had a strong interest in creating progress in the area of advance care planning, which is making decisions in advance about what happens if you become seriously ill or experience a disability. “It’s such an important part of life planning, and I had insights from my own lived experience as a cancer survivor,” she says.
After completing her certified health executive designation to round off her MBA, Gillespie found herself in a place she says she couldn’t have imagined just a few years earlier. In January 2021, she became the inaugural CEO of CHPCA.
“I would never have been in the position that I’m in as the CEO of a national organization impacting every single Canadian if it weren’t for the skills I acquired in the AU MBA program as well as the self-discipline, confidence, and the motivation to make proactive change,” she says.
“It prepared me to think at a much higher level, and I’m energized to continue to help CHPCA realize its vision for a compassionate future where a palliative approach to care is the standard for everyone facing a life-limiting illness. It should be a human right.
“Being able to be passionate and love what you do is very much a privilege. And this MBA has afforded me the opportunity to truly live my purpose.”
This article originally appeared on February 16, 2022, in a Globe and Mail sponsor content feature called The MBA Difference, produced by Randall Anthony Communications. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.