Medicine is in her blood and in her heart
Graduating from high school two years early at the age of 16, Cosima Suter (MBA 2019) was influenced by her family and surroundings when choosing medicine as a career.
“Almost everyone in our family is a physician; my dad’s practice was in our house and our family is involved in a medical laboratory business. Medicine was constantly around me, so it was almost impossible to know of any other career,” said Suter, who today is an attending physician at the Division of Hematology at the University Hospital, Zurich.
After graduating as a medical doctor from the University of Bern medical school, Suter followed what she refers to as a classical career path in medicine.
Her first placement was as a resident physician in the Division of Internal Medicine at Kantonsspital Baselland, a mid-sized teaching hospital. Here she gained basic postgraduate training in internal medicine.
Suter completed her postgraduate training in internal medicine and hematology at University Hospital Zurich. The 980-bed hospital, one of the largest in Switzerland, provides fundamental medical care and cutting-edge medicine. Suter spent six years at the university hospital gaining invaluable experience in the divisions of hematology and oncology, before settling in hematology.
“Hematology offers more of a variety of patients in that you don’t only see malignant diseases, but you also have diagnostics and non-malignant diseases,” explained Suter.
She completed her fellowship in hematology and was promoted to attending physician at the age of 31, having spent nine years in medicine.
A crossroad in her career
“I was at a crossing point in my career, because at a university hospital a career trajectory can be challenging. I was personally never really drawn to experimental research and, in the academic setting, if you don’t do [experimental] research your chances as an attending physician or further climbing the career ladder are limited,” Suter said.
The decision to do an MBA was serendipitous, she explained.
A chance conversation with her friend and IMD alum Jonas Schnider spurred Suter into action. Hearing firsthand from Schnider about IMD’s MBA program and the opportunities for personal development, she was eager to discover more about the business world and possibly a career outside of medicine.
With a notice period of six months and the next MBA starting in January 2019, Suter didn’t have the luxury of time. She took a leap of faith, handed in her notice at the hospital, and applied for the IMD MBA.
By this time, she had already decided to enroll in the one-year program. “Having already worked for nine years I knew that I didn’t want to study for longer. What was equally important is that I wanted to enroll in an MBA where my colleagues would not be graduates straight out of school. My research showed that IMD was the best option for me.”
Into the deep end
Suter said that although she had been working for almost a decade it was immediately apparent that business and medicine are worlds apart.
“I have always loved math, but in my first finance class I opened my laptop and opened Excel and I had never used it before. All the engineers next to me were typing furiously, whereas I was trying to figure out how to add one cell to another,” recalled Suter. “I am the type of person who wants to deliver, so starting at the bottom was difficult. However, mine was a journey of perseverance, I immersed myself in my MBA and succeeded.”
A dual career path beckons
While a straightforward path into the business world for medical professionals with an MBA is often consulting, this was not an option for Suter. “I knew that consulting was not for me, but I still wanted to consider a career outside of clinical medicine,” she said. Once again, serendipity played a role in shaping Suter’s career path.
“I believe that my MBA helped me get the role”
“I successfully applied as an associate medical director at Molecular Partners, a clinical-stage biotech company. While I had no research or industry experience, I believe that my MBA helped me get the role,” she said.
“I started working at Molecular Partners on 1 March 2020 – two weeks before Switzerland went into lockdown. I experienced flexible working for the first time in my life, which was fantastic. However, the challenge of settling into a new role without knowing people and where everything was virtual was difficult.”
A dual career beckons
Within weeks of starting her new role and the COVID-19 pandemic escalating, Suter became increasingly aware of her former colleagues fighting a pandemic, while she was sitting at her desk. She started thinking about whether there was a way to combine both roles. Her request to reduce her hours at the company to 80% was fortunately met, as was her request to return to the hospital one day a week.
“For two years, I did this double role,” she recalled. “It was incredibly challenging, and it only worked because my bosses and colleagues were supportive of my dual role. Virtual meetings gave me a lot of flexibility, the topics were often overlapping, and I was willing to put in the extra hours.”
In her third year at Molecular Partners, Suter had her first child and once again knew she needed to make a decision about her career. “I knew that my double role had a shelf time because while I was able to keep up with the work and I didn’t feel that I was able to develop at the level that I wanted to. It was a difficult decision to leave Molecular Partners, especially because of my colleagues in research and development from whom I learned a great deal,” she said.
“I am the type of person who wants to deliver, so starting at the bottom was difficult. However, mine was a journey of perseverance, I immersed myself in my MBA and succeeded.”
Suter believes that while the dual career had been difficult to navigate, it had given her the opportunity to look at problems from both angles – industry and clinical – and further develop in dual roles. Living in both worlds for three years gave her time to reflect on where her passion lies, which is clinical medicine, and that she is happiest working with patients.
Suter has since returned to the university hospital full-time. She is now focused on developing a specialized outpatient clinic for pregnant women with hematological problems, a project that she conceptualized and where the knowledge and tools she had gained in her MBA came in very handy.
“The experiences I gained during the MBA were key to fostering new ideas and presenting them to my boss,” she said. “Stepping out of the medical world really helps you understand how you can solve problems and consider things from a different angle.”