Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Charlotte Lawson, Harvard Business School

Charlotte Lawson

Harvard Business School

Highly caffeinated ER doc juggling MBA and clinical work with baby on the way!”

Hometown: Washington, DC

Fun Fact About Yourself: I once delivered a baby by myself in the front seat of a car.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Undergrad: University of Pennsylvania – Neuroscience

Medical School: University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Prisma Health (largest non-profit health organization in South Carolina) – Emergency Medicine Attending Physician and Physician Champion for Innovation

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? For me, the case method is attractive because I have seen it work in other contexts. In medicine, we teach our students and residents to practice making tough calls in advance by drilling hypothetical scenarios, simulating patient encounters, and debriefing about the patients we take care of each day (what would you have done if [insert new data point]?). At HBS, we not only get to practice decision-making, but we also get to do it in a relatively safe space (our section) which provides a consistent group of diverse perspectives.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? “Deliberately optimistic” is the phrase that comes to mind. The 720 of us in the “COVID Class” of 2022 all chose to matriculate despite a universal option to defer. In doing so, we signaled to each other: I believe this can still be a great year. I think that team spirit and hopeful outlook has been crucial to getting us off on the right foot and will continue to be something we lean on throughout the next two years.

The group did not wait for the school to organize events for us (although that happened too). All summer prior to matriculation, our Slack was blowing up with student organized virtual small group social events (board game nights, poker games, book club, movie club, virtual happy hour, etc) and professional events (industry-specific Zoom meetings, new venture brainstorming sessions, student-invited speakers, etc). Seeing how excited everyone was to meet each other no matter what the format made me confident that we would make the most of our time together despite the massive uncertainty.

Aside from the case method and classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? This decision really came down to the wire for me and my wife. We considered a ton of factors but the key piece that tipped the scale for us was the programming for families and partners through clubs like Crimson Parents and MoMBAs (club for student moms). We are relatively newly married and are expecting our first child (a girl!), so it was really important that we go to a school where we felt our partnership and growing family would thrive. When we saw how much infrastructure HBS has in place to support student moms, partners, and families during Admitted Students Weekend, we knew this would be the best fit for us.

A few examples of the resources I’m referring to: large community of families living on campus, formal parental leave policy, culture of partner inclusion (ex: section leadership includes a Partner Rep and a Family Rep), and preference in the housing lottery for students with children (all the families we know got first round pick for apartments next to the school).

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Professionally, the Health Care Initiative (HCI) is the group I’m most excited to be involved with right now. In addition to all sorts of programming, HCI does a great job connecting the assorted stakeholders in health care both with resources and with each other. During the pre-matriculation period, Cara Sterling (HCI Director) helped me connect with half a dozen alumni and faculty, including several fellow MD-MBAs who are both actively practicing clinically and holding leadership positions in industry. Getting early access to these informal advisors has already proven very helpful for my career discovery.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: No question, my board certification in emergency medicine took the most time and effort.

After completing college, medical school, and residency, candidates for board certification sit for an eight-hour written exam followed six to twelve months later by an in-person oral examination. The oral exam is only offered twice each year at a single hotel in Chicago. There, senior emergency physicians set up mock exam rooms to test the clinical knowledge of candidates through simulated cases. Without knowing the cases in advance and with no access to reference materials (drug doses, practice guidelines, etc), candidates must demonstrate how they would handle a variety of patient situations in real time. It’s pretty much the ultimate cold call.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? During medical school, I did not think I would need an MBA. I imagined graduating residency, treating patients, and perhaps working on a few “side hustles” in either medical education or clinical operations. But as I progressed in my career, I began to get frustrated with the process of introducing new technologies to the clinical environment. Since I started med school in 2009, the way I book transportation, order groceries, or find vacation lodging has evolved tremendously. But the way we deliver care in the ER looks and feels unchanged.

I began to have all these ideas about how the technology that already exists could improve the experience of delivering and receiving care. But it quickly became clear that the process of turning ideas into reality in the healthcare ecosystem is really challenging. I decided that if I were going to lead in this arena, I would need to close several skill and network gaps. Ultimately it was the desire to close those gaps that led me to HBS.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford GSB (admitted).

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? With two minutes left: Give me your take on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When I was a medical student, I took an extra year to pursue a health services research project investigating access to primary care before and after ACA implementation, so I was not surprised to be asked about this. That said, the ACA is a HUGE piece of legislation and the question was very open-ended. It forced me to think quickly about what I could communicate that would be both substantive and concise – not too dissimilar from forming a comment for class.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Prior to applying, I spoke with recent graduates of the schools on our list to get a sense of the student social/residential experience. I used the school websites to research each curriculum and knew that I would enjoy being at either place from an academic perspective. After being admitted, I leaned heavily on each school’s admissions office to gain access to current students, faculty, and alumni to better understand what being at the school might be like and how I might be positioned professionally afterwards. I felt like HBS did a great job seeking to understand my career goals early on and connecting me with folks from the community who could speak to my specific situation.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? During residency, I came out and went through a divorce. It was a painful process for a lot of people. But now that I am on the other side, I notice that I now bring my whole self everywhere. In coming out, I gave myself permission to speak aloud what I wanted and needed. The impact of this authenticity can be felt beyond my personal life. I can also now say more fully what I want professionally. I see myself taking more (calculated) risks. I’ve realized it is ok if not everyone likes me. I’ve become more comfortable pivoting. And I am beginning to think even more audaciously about my potential for impact.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? While I am committed to supporting local coffee shops, I am going to have to name Starbucks here. In college and med school, my friends at Penn used to refer to the Starbucks on 34th and Spruce Streets as “Char-bucks” because I was there so often. I think I used the space as much as I did because I was so productive in that environment. The lesson here is two-fold: (1) consistent customer experience improves retention;  (2) sometimes you might be selling co-working space, not just coffee.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? I am hoping to find an employer post-MBA that seeks to fix how we solve problems in health care. If we share that goal, I think the rest is negotiable.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.