How Jessica Erwin Dealt With Loss: From Social Worker to Data Analyst

When she was a hospice social worker at Rush University Medical Center, Jessica Erwin thought she had found her purpose—a rewarding job that made a real difference in people’s lives.

Then one day, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Suddenly, her world began to unravel. The work that was once so meaningful to her became a painful daily reminder of what she was going through.

“The struggle for me was trying to stay in two worlds: the world of the daughter and the world of the professional. I couldn’t separate my experience from the experience of my patients,” she said.

Jessica continued working in her job for another two years after her mother passed, but she slowly realized it wasn’t sustainable. She searched for another way forward and came across the Northwestern Data Science Boot Camp, powered by Trilogy.

Leveraging old strengths

Jessica saw the program as a way to change her circumstances—her chance to find a more suitable, long-term career trajectory. The added benefit? She was already interested in data science.

“In hospice social work, it’s hard to quantify your outcomes. It’s very qualitative—relationship building, rapport, learning how to sit with a person and engage them,” she said.

Despite paving a new way forward, Jessica clearly wasn’t starting from scratch. She saw an opportunity to learn from years of working with EHRs, or electronic health records. “How can I use my experience as leverage to get a foot in the door for a new career?” she recalled thinking.

Crucially, Jessica saw that she didn’t have to throw her previous career out the window. “That’s your strength and what sets you apart as a candidate,” she said.

Learning fresh new skills—and keeping busy

Jessica says the program jump-started her healing because she had a place to be and something great to work toward. “There was a goal in sight. It felt really re-energizing and refreshing to be learning something new,” she said, adding that working full-time and going to the six-month, part-time program kept her plenty busy.

For one of her group projects, Jessica and her team built a rating system for hospitals. “We wanted to figure out what the most frequently occurring complaints were, the most common procedures and costs associated with those procedures, and the average income of patients living in that zip code,” she said, adding that they would compare their data with other sources like U.S. News & World Report and Medicare to see how their app would stack up.

Someone had suggested building an app with cancer data, and one of her group mates stepped up and suggested they do something else, knowing Jessica’s personal circumstances. “It was cool to be protected in that way,” she said.

Blazing her path

It was only a month into the program when Jessica discovered an opening for a data analyst position in the hospital she was working in. “So I reached out to a colleague in that department,” she said.

When she got a phone screening for the role, Jessica contacted Trilogy Education.

“I connected with Michelle from Trilogy—she was just so positive and supportive. She coached me through interviewing tips, helped me embrace the fact that I was only a month into this program, and how to leverage my background in social work and administration,” she said.

As a result of her go-getter attitude and proactiveness with Trilogy’s career support, Jessica landed the job.

“Although my new role doesn’t use SQL or Python on a day-to-day basis, having the basic ground level understanding of how SQL works has been helpful,” she said, adding that the program really helped her get a foundational understanding of the world of data mining, querying, and data visualization.

“The best thing I learned from the whole program was how to ask the right questions and where to look. Sometimes when I work with physicians, they’ll know what they want to know but they’re unsure about what to ask or how to get there—or if it’s even possible,” she said.

Forging new friendships

Transitioning into a new job while attending the boot camp was a struggle, said Jessica. It dawned on her that she was leaving a role with colleagues who had been with her through her mother’s cancer and after her death. “I was scared that I was making the wrong decision,” she said.

“My classmates were so understanding. Katy and Shelby, two of my closest friends in the program, reassured me and even brought me M&M’s and La Croix,” she said, adding that it was stressful and overwhelming at times but it was nice to have her fellow classmates know what she was struggling with.

Jessica shares that the program and her new friendships have changed her life in so many ways. “I signed up thinking I would get a certificate that would help me with some job prospects. But it really helped me with living a better life,” she said.

“I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself,” she added.

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