How UBC Sauder School of Business equipped one student with tools to help remote communities during the pandemic

Rebecca Friesen

Once she completes her Master of Management degree at the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the UBC Sauder School of Business in December, Rebecca Friesen, 24, has a job lined up with B.C.'s Provincial Health Service Authority working on the Mobile Alternative Care project.

Posted 2021-05-18

First published by the Globe Content Studio.

Rebecca Friesen’s desire to help others may be hardwired into her DNA. Her father mentors music students; her mother is a cardiac nurse; and her grandfather is a family physician. It isn’t surprising then that the 24-year-old – part of a health-service team aiming to improve the quality of health care across B.C. – is pursuing a career where her compassion for others is front and centre.

Friesen enrolled in the Bachelor and Master of Management program at the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the UBC Sauder School of Business. The program enables students to complete their bachelor degree  while simultaneously working towards their master’s degree. For Friesen, this meant earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science followed by a Master of Management degree. This combination of skills was a perfect segue for Friesen’s next steps.

“My goal has always been to leverage my education to do something meaningful,” she says. She is moving closer to making that a reality as she works to complete her graduate degree in December.

She’ll then return to the Provincial Health Service Authority (PHSA), the publicly funded health-service provider for B.C., where she worked for about a year before going back to school for her master’s studies. She was initially hired as a business analyst but then moved into a senior project co-ordinator position.

Her main focus is the Mobile Alternate Care Site (ACS) Project, an initiative that prepares for urgent health challenges, such as COVID-19, forest fires and other natural disasters. It has seven medical units – each packed in shipping containers ready to deploy when needed. Units are readied with a variety of medical equipment, medicines, up to 40 hospital beds and communication equipment, like radios and walkie talkies. The units can be sent by truck to communities in need to provide health care in urgent situations.

In some vulnerable communities, where local facilities may not have the resources to cope with an emergency, mobile health care allows residents to receive treatment where they have family support. Friesen and her team of six (including a paramedic and members of the Canadian Armed Forces) are focused on being able to create temporary care sites, like a pop-up hospital, or bringing in health-care providers to treat patients.

She feels studying political science helped her gain big-picture insights into Canada – its history, policies and complex relationship with Indigenous peoples, along with a global perspective on policy development.

The role was an ideal fit for Friesen’s skills – something her colleagues recognized when they asked her to take on the job with ACS Project. They knew she understood the health-care system well through the work she had done to convert paper medical records to electronic ones. “I knew the jargon,” she says. “I knew how to work with multiple stakeholders and I was very organized. When I was hired, I was told that I am someone who can hit the ground running.”

Building on that foundation, the UBC Master of Management program taught her tangible financial and project management skills applicable to her PHSA role, like preparing and tracking budgets, including a total of $2.47-million her team is planning to use for purchasing supplies to equip the medical units that are ready to deploy. Friesen took many classes focused on how to execute large projects, map them out and execute.

“My education also instilled me with a great work ethic and an ability to produce high-quality work under a tight deadline,” she notes.

“When you implement a project like the Mobile ACS, you want it to be fiscally responsible,” she says. “Understanding the different ways to analyze the finances and seeing where the money is going have been key for me. It’s good to have gained the skills before I entered the workforce because they’ve been so integral to my job. I feel like program gave me a tool kit for the real world.”

Friesen credits her professors for shaping her ability to manage multifaceted projects, especially Justin Bull, who teaches ethics and sustainability at UBC Sauder. He emphasized the importance of incorporating sustainability into her work – not just environmentally, but also ensuring projects can be maintained moving forward.

Friesen says she appreciated Bull’s willingness to collaborate with students, thought-provoking lectures and ability to present two sides of an argument.

Whether the subject is climate change or social injustice, challenging the views of students is deliberate, says Bull. “I’ve had students say to me that the lectures were amazing but exhausting because they changed their minds four or five times over the course of two hours,” he says. “And that’s the exact point.”

Watching students evolve is another gratifying aspect of being a professor, says Bull who describes Friesen as “a quiet leader” who spoke when she had something meaningful to offer. Over the course of the program, as he talked more about the challenges of sustainability, he could see her connect the dots and increase her understanding of how to drive change in a way that is transformational for everyone.

“Success to an instructor is not whether students remember precisely how to calculate something,” he explains. “Success is whether you changed their minds or opened up their perspective to something broader. Five years down the road, they’ll remember that they were challenged to take a more progressive and responsible leadership role in their careers.”

The Master of Management program is unique in its intensity and dichotomy of instruction, blending the academic with the pragmatic. Students across a number of disciplines, from psychology to computer science, work together on team projects to explore how business can be a common ground for test ideas.

For Friesen, add to that a passion for helping others, starting with her part in ensuring emergency systems are responsive and reliable for a wide range of circumstances.

“I care about the health of the people living in our province … especially in emergency situations,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that we must be prepared.”

“I feel like I’ve discovered my niche in emergency medicine,” she adds. “My current role has been a real blessing.”

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