University of Wisconsin-Superior
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Superior, WI 54880
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Date: March 13, 2012
Name: Heather Opsahl
Major, minor, and graduation year: Social Work Major, Speech Communications Minor
Job Title: Executive Director
Organization/ Place of work: Lake Superior Medical Society
-I manage a Nonprofit Association for Physicians. I am the only employee, so I do everything.
-My job is in a field nicknamed, "Organized Medicine". It is where physicians pool together to have a voice in legislation (similar to lawyers). My county association is affiliated with the American Medical Association (national) and the Minnesota Medical Association (state). I enjoy seeing the benefits of my work impact healthcare in the state of Minnesota- and also nationwide.
- The challenges I face are making sure that I wear a different hat when needed/learning something new.I never thought I would graduate with a Social Work degree, and then have to learn how to design a website from scratch (an IT department would be wonderful).
-I work 40 hours per week, primarily in my downtown office.Most board meetings are at 6:30 a.m. (when physicians are available) and some meetings/events are on weeknights.
-My background included Nonprofit Administration and Director of Social Services (Medical Social Worker).I was sought out by a close friend of the family for this position.
-Bachelor's Degree, Nonprofit Administration Background, Communications Degree
-Communication skills are crucial in politics and non-profit administration which I hold as a personal ability that contributed to my success.
-I was the UWS Student Activities Director in 1993.That position taught me how to organize an event from start-to-finish (idea, funding, marketing, decorations, meal preparation, budget, etc.).It is identical to what I do in my current profession.I was also on the Student Advisory Council (SAC) which helped me to work with nonprofit boards/community leaders.
-Business, Communications, Social Work
-I pray to be in the same job for the next 5 years or more.After that, my kids will finally be getting a little older, so I would like to pursue a job with more travel opportunities.
- I received helpful advice form Elizabeth Blue at UWS who said, "Document EVERYTHING." That piece of advice has saved my license too many times to count. Document immediately after an incident- don't wait until the next day when your memory is not as sharp, or you forget altogether.
-Social Work is a unique field that has a strong potential for burn-out.In my past work experiences, I suffered through some really tough times of major stress and burn-out.They teach you about boundaries with clients in college, but in real life it is often difficult to leave your work at the office.Often times, client hardships and internal budget concerns add huge amounts of stress to your already full case load.My advice is to familiarize yourself with the signs of burn-out now, and revisit them from time-to-time - definitely get help if you need it.Also, know that Social Work salaries can be minimal for the amount of workload.
-When I took Social Work Methods III & Political Science 101, and learned about community policy/action, I could not picture myself ever working in that field (in fact, they were my least favorite classes).Here I am 18 years later, utilizing everything I learned in those classes and wishing I could retake them.
-I disagree.I worked in the field of Vocational Rehabilitation for 7 years (finding employment for dislocated workers and people with disabilities).I discovered it is really who you know and not what you know that will get you hired.Communications skills are so important.Learning to sell yourself is an art that needs to be practiced throughout your life, even when you think your job is secure.
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