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  • Alejandra Garza

How to Put Together a Career Roadmap, According to CEO Suzet McKinney

Updated: Jul 17



Dr. Suzet McKinney has always been an organized and strategic planner. As the CEO and Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District, McKinney is no stranger to putting a plan in place and successfully executing it. However, she’s learned that even the best-laid plans can pivot at any given time.


“I wanted to be a neonatal doctor,” McKinney tells Color Us Women. After graduating from Brandeis University, with a BA in Biology, McKinney had plans to attend Harvard Medical School, but her intuition told her otherwise. “I wanted to do something else first,” she continues, which led her to take on an internship in public health.

Little did she know that this would lead her to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Benedictine University and that the historic terrorist attacks of 9/11 would propel her to accepting a job at the City of Chicago with overseeing the responsibilities for bioterrorism plans.


“At that stage of my career, I did not have any leadership skills. I depended on studying hard, reading, and attending workshops further my knowledge. I used that knowledge to contribute and grow,” McKinney explains. Through continuous hard work, dedication, and professional studying, McKinney earned a reputation for being an informative and experienced public speaker about her industry.


Although McKinney takes her leadership and increasing responsibilities very seriously, she recounts how her professionalism was always challenged. “As a woman of color, I was always doubted. It forced me to always have to prepare more. And the more prepared I became, the easier work became. Obtaining my doctorate degree opened doors that even I didn’t know were there.”


Indeed, the seeds of McKinney’s hard work have paid off extremely well, as she has served in organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Lurie Children’s Hospital, among others. More recently, McKinney led operations for the State of Illinois’ COVID-19 alternative care facilities and is a leading voice addressing all aspects of COVID-19’s impact locally and globally.


McKinney shares that she always writes a list for everything she is doing; it serves as a type of roadmap to help her achieve short-term and long-term goals. Anyone with goals of professional advancement can easily put this type of roadmap together with these five actionable tips from McKinney:



1. Develop a strategy but be comfortable with change


McKinney’s love for medicine took many pivots over the years. Instead of becoming a neonatal doctor working with newborns, she now leads one of the largest medical districts in the United States and has extensive insight into the emergency preparedness efforts for the general public. Her passion for healthcare has always stayed true, however, now her impact is more diversified and has a greater reach.



2. Don’t just talk about it, be about it


McKinney advises against only talking about what you’re going to do but actually doing it. “You need to produce results and show leadership skills to move to the next level,” she stresses. “I would always ask my bosses, how can I help? It positioned me to get more projects.” In fact, when McKinney’s boss left his position with the City of Chicago, she took over his job and served as interim for nine months. She was later appointed to that same position.



3. Never stop learning


Not only does McKinney place a high value on education, but she also advises to never stop learning how to be the best version of yourself. This can be accomplished through reading, attending workshops, or surrounding yourself with trusted advisors who you can access for advice or serve as a sounding board.


She encourages young professionals to refine their communication skills, something she learned early on. Because her job requires a lot of communication with public media, McKinney learned how to communicate more effectively, to exude confidence, and to never use the interjection “um” when speaking.



4. Let go of negativity


McKinney notes that sometimes you have to “fire friends” who may not have the best intentions for you. Negativity in your personal and professional life can hinder growth and dim your strategic goals, so be mindful of who you surround yourself with.



5. Position yourself for your next role


“As women of color, career goals are important, so make sure to always position yourself for your next role, which may be 2-3 years down the line,” McKinney shares. As the mantra goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. McKinney shares this same sentiment. She advises young professionals to put in place a clear strategy and vision for career growth and to produce results that align with them, “You need to produce results and show leadership to move to the next level.”


By following her passions and thinking strategically, Dr. Suzet McKinney created a successful roadmap to a highly coveted and impactful career. She serves as a great example that you are the author of your own life and how your story unfolds is entirely up to you.


Learn more about McKinney by following her on Linkedin.


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