The field of health care incorporates disciplines as varied as medicine, nutrition, and counseling, and extends into the realms of business and management. It’s the rare individual who has experience in each of those areas, but Helene Fuchs is unique in many ways. Having majored in nutrition at Brooklyn College in the early 1970s, Fuchs knew early on that her future lay in health care. In particular she was passionate about the science of nutritional well-being—and about conveying its importance to others.
She did not, however, want to follow the traditional route toward establishing herself in the field, which at the time required a dietetic internship with a focus on inpatient care and food service. “I wanted experience working with the community,” Fuchs says. “When I found out about the Frances Stern Nutrition Center program, I said, ‘That’s for me.’ It was appealing because it combined a master’s degree with an internship that focused on outpatient care and featured rotations at various community-based settings.” She enrolled, completing the program in 1975, and soon found a job as an outpatient nutrition counselor at what is now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It was a great fit,” she says.
She went on to become the educational director of Brigham and Women’s dietetic internship program, which included teaching dietetic interns at the hospital, medical students at Harvard Medical School, and students from around the world pursing degrees at the Harvard School of Public Health. Then Fuchs realized her interests were shifting. “In working with the internship, I realized I was enjoying the management side of health care and started contemplating moving toward that field,” she explains. “So, as often happens to people in Boston, I thought, ‘Maybe I need to go back to school.’” After a couple years of research and consideration, she decided to apply to business school. “I wanted to create options. I thought I could combine an M.B.A. with what I already had, or I could go off in a different direction.”
As it happens, she did both. First, she found a job with Fidelity, developing products for its real estate development division. “I enjoyed my experiences in the corporate world,” she says, “but I realized that I needed to get back into health and human services. I started doing volunteer work with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, and that led me back to the field of health care. I knew that was where I could best serve people.” For a number of years, Fuchs worked for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Finally, she decided to strike out on her own. “I thought I could create something that would incorporate all my experiences,” she explains. Now she runs Helene Fuchs Associates, a consulting firm that helps a range of healthcare organizations improve existing programs, products, and services and bring new ones to the public.
Even though she never technically graduated from the Friedman School—she earned her degree before Frances Stern became a part of the school, and, indeed, before the Friedman School even existed—Fuchs considers herself an alum. Recently, her connection to the school was reinforced in a direct way. A couple of years ago, she attended a lecture given at Tufts by food writer Michael Pollan. At a subsequent Friedman School event, Fuchs was pleased to hear Friedman Dean Eileen Kennedy explaining that the school’s mission—engaging in rigorous research about health issues, and translating and disseminating the findings—overlapped with her work. “I sat there thinking: That’s what I do!” says Fuchs. She introduced herself to Kennedy, and since then has been involved with Friedman in a number of ways, from teaching a management course at Frances Stern, to exploring collaborations with faculty, to supporting the school financially.
This last point of connection is a crucial one for Fuchs. “My reconnection with Frances Stern and new connection with the Friedman School has been so professionally satisfying for me,” she says, “that it seems only natural for me to give back. I’ve hired a recent Friedman alum, given my time, and offered financial support. It’s gratifying to be able to do all this for Friedman and the Frances Stern Program.”