Career Spotlight: Lori Mihalich-Levin (L'05)

Lori Levin (L'05)

Founder, Mindful Return

Describe your current position and what led you to take your job.

By day, I am the director of hospital and graduate medical education payment policies at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), where I do health care regulatory work on Medicare payment policies. I spent several years in private practice helping hospitals with their Medicare reimbursement challenges. I went to the AAMC out of a love for policy work and a desire to push for positive change in our healthcare system.

Outside of my day job, though, I recently founded Mindful Return, a blog and e-course designed to create a supportive community of new moms returning to work after maternity leave. Being overwhelmed by the logistics, exhaustion, and emotion of having two children and returning to work inspired me to find a way to help other new moms who were going through the same thing.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

As a healthcare regulatory advocate, some of my most rewarding moments are when the government issues final regulations that take into account changes my association has advocated for. Not only do I feel grateful and listened to by the government, but I love knowing the changes an agency makes to its rules will help patients and teaching hospitals throughout the country.

With Mindful Return, my most rewarding moments are when I receive notes from new moms who say, "Yes, you get me, and I so needed these resources." I admit it was also incredibly rewarding to see my blog go live!

What was the most useful advice you have received?

Yes, you can do it all…just not all at the same time. Which pairs nicely with: "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I deeply love the things I do in life, but I have a tendency to want to learn, explore, mother, play, write, create, sleep and accomplish all at the same time, which doesn't work out so well! Starting my own business while working full time with two small children has taught me a good dose of patience and how much one actually can accomplish in bite sized pieces over a long period of time. It's really all about baby steps.

Describe the most challenging moment in your professional development.

One of the most challenging moments was when one of my old bosses left for another position, and I didn't feel ready for the promotion I was being offered. I had the technical skills to do the job, but I needed to have more confidence in myself and in my capabilities as a leader. Fortunately, the head of our division supported me in huge ways as I transitioned to the more senior role, even providing me with leadership coaching opportunities as I got my sea legs.

What education or skills prepared you the most for your career?

Writing and relationship-building skills are at the top of my list. Both my regulatory work and my blogging and e-course creation require an ability to communicate ideas clearly and persuasively. I love to write and feel lucky to have had some great teachers throughout the course of my life, who have helped me learn to do it well.

And the ability to build relationships is critical to both of these roles, too. To be an effective advocate for teaching hospitals, I need to be able to connect with people on a personal level and build trust with those on my own team, throughout my association, with the government and with other advocacy partners. And to get Mindful Return off the ground (a blog can't launch alone!), I needed to build and strengthen my relationships with everyone willing to support me.

Describe why you started Mindful Return and what you see for it in the future.

I'm a planner by nature, so when I got pregnant it was only natural I would give some thought to my maternity leave and my ultimate return to the office. During my first pregnancy, I had a vague notion of how long I wanted to be out, a boss who was flexible about my return, and a few thoughts about not wanting to check my work email until I came back. But I really didn't think much about going back to work—how my return would go, how I wanted it to look and feel or how I could plan a meaningful return. I did some web searching for advice on returning to work after a maternity leave, and I didn't turn up much that I found helpful. Some practical advice? (Bring extra breast pads because you might leak) Yes.  Funny stories about inabilities to carry on adult conversation? Yes. Snarky advice I couldn't relate to? (Don't show your baby pictures to anyone lest they never take you seriously…really?!) Absolutely. But nothing that truly spoke to me. 

I concluded from this dearth of intel on what it's really like to go back to work and how to make it go more smoothly that (a) this must be something people don't think too much about; (b) it can't possibly be all that bad; and (c) I'll just figure something out. And for the most part, I muddled through. The first time my return had its challenges, but enter second child, and I was in for a shock. Perhaps it was that by baby number two, I had a more demanding job; perhaps it was trying to juggle a toddler and a baby on even less sleep than before. Perhaps it was a lot of internal pressure and unrealistic expectations. Perhaps it was feeling isolated and not talking to other moms who were going through the same thing at the same time. But my most recent return was a real low point for me, full or more mommy meltdowns than I'd care to admit.

Since my last return in the summer of 2013, I've given a lot of thought to how to make the experience of returning to work less stressful, less anxiety-ridden and less exhausting. And I started a community at my office where I’ve heard the stories and picked the brains of women who, like me, had gone through the same transitions. In creating Mindful Return, I decided to engage an online community to support moms who are all returning to work after maternity leave. 

I truly believe that returning from leave shouldn't be something you have to get through but something you get to create.  A new mother will return to work a different person than when she left, with new skills that are—yes indeed—useful at the office. She'll have different priorities and different goals. And will likely be sleep deprived those first few months and just trying to figure things out. But it's a new, exciting phase of life worth being thoughtful, intentional and not terrified about. 

My dreams for Mindful Return are to teach, through my e-course and blog, a generation of women how to approach maternity leave from a calm, mindful and empowered perspective. As a result, they can be healthier moms and employees and be viewed as leaders in their communities.

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

Two ways come to mind: (1) through its curriculum, the Law Center taught me some amazing persuasive writing and analytical skills that I use day-in and day-out in all aspects of my life (day job, new business, being a parent); and (2) Georgetown Law provided me with many important outlets for channeling my passion for empowering women and for getting leadership experience. I had the good fortune to co-chair the Women's Legal Alliance on campus, be on the staff of the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law and represent women in the Domestic Violence Clinic. Creating Mindful Return is really the next step in a journey that took hold at Georgetown.