By Peter Rousmaniere
Remember that chance work encounter or task that turned out to be formative for your career? For seasoned professionals, their memory directs them back to these unplanned for experiences that, as Robert Frost wrote in "The Road Not Taken", "made all the difference."
For three whose stories are recounted below, these decisive moments engaged not only their minds but also their personal values.
These days, Tom Lynch, CEO of Wellesley, Mass.-based Lynch, Ryan & Associates, consults to employers on work-injury risk management. But he entered the workers' compensation field entirely by happenstance after returning from service with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Looking for work in the midst of a recession, he found employment in a non-descript safety office for civilian workers at a military base in Massachusetts. He rose to direct civilian safety and health programs for all Army installations in New England.
Then in the early 1980s, two "wow" moments happened to him. First, a personal friend who was an insurance broker told him that employers were paying a fortune in worker' compensation premiums, and that soft tissue injuries were driving up claims costs.
At about that time, a leading orthopedic expert, Alf Nachemson, came from Sweden to speak at a Boston teaching hospital about soft tissue injuries. After the lecture, Lynch approached Nachemson. He learned that the right duration of disability for many soft tissue injuries was a fraction of what workers were taking in Massachusetts.
That "light going on moment" led him to found Lynch Ryan in 1984. The firm has been a pioneering advocate of employer initiatives to speed recovery from injuries.
Theresa Muir directs workers' compensation programs for Southern California Edison, recognized in that state for its proactive approaches to worker care and safety. In the early 1970s, Muir held an entry-level position at Bekins Van Lines, where she analyzed the company's in-house workers' compensation program. She sought a transfer to the program to pick up a variety of professional skills. From a file clerk job, she moved on to every job in the program, ending with director.
As a claims adjuster at Bekins, she felt that she could be most effective by meeting with injured workers -- and sometimes their families -- face-to-face.
She recalls she was "always amazed that the most helpful information surfaced during casual conversations compared to the guarded responses I received when I was taking written or recorded statements." She learned how personal contact led to showing respect for injured workers and assuring them that they are needed back at work.
"In every claims position I have served," Muir said, "I have required my staff to initiate and maintain regular contact with injured workers, even those represented by legal counsel."
Driving a Career of Research
Les Boden is a professor in the Department of Environmental Health in the Boston University School of Public Health. Much of his research over the past decade has focused on worker injuries and illnesses. One of Boden's turning points came in 1969 when he was working on his doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and fell into a conversation with the president of a local union. Boden advised the union boss on safety and health, and went on to write his doctoral thesis on a federal mine safety agency and its impact on workplace injuries. After receiving his doctorate, Boden joined the faculty at Boston University.
Another turning point came years later, in 1996 when a personal friend of Boden, who was a law school professor at West Virginia University and former director of the state's workers compensation fund, broke her arm in a flooded corridor at work. She had to work assiduously to make sure the cost of care was paid by the workers' compensation insurer.
This otherwise forgettable incident struck Boden as a sign of a major problem for injured workers. He recalls thinking, "What would this experience have been for a more typical injured worker who doesn't understand the system, who doesn't know the rules, who may be easily intimidated, who has little or no savings, and who has incurred substantial lost earnings and medical costs?"
Since then, Boden has devoted much of his research to documenting the economic impact of work injuries on American workers, including those who are injured but do not file claims.
For these three professionals, one instance in time helped define their careers, and reminds us that any moment can be a learning moment.
November 15, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications