The Road to Compassion
Kori D. Novak, Ph.D., admits that she followed a rather random, albeit exciting, career path to her current position as co-principle founder of the MELLIVORA GROUP, a partnership of mental health, gerontology, and counseling leaders who provide educational and support services to various groups and organizations.
And although she enjoyed her varied experiences to get to this place in her life, today she’s very happy to be working in healthcare and gerontology because that’s where her passion lies.
A native of Colorado, Novak was adopted as a child into “a wonderful family,” she said. She has three older siblings, a twin brother and sister 17 years her senior and a brother 18 years older, but she didn’t mind the age gap.
“It was great—like being raised an only child for the most part, but with all the benefits of brothers and sisters at Christmas and birthdays!” She is very close to her family, and although her father passed away 14 years ago, she still enjoys a special relationship with her mother.
It was more than 10 years ago that Novak began working in healthcare, but her beginnings were in the insurance industry with a large managed care organization.
“I started in one of those ‘new MBA’ programs where you shuffle around the company, learning the ropes,” she said.
After spending some time as a project manager in market research, the CEO of the company asked her to be his assistant chief of staff. From there, she moved into the chief of staff role, but then things took an unusual turn.
“In a rather roundabout way, I ended up doing some work with Paul Newman and his open-wheel auto racing team,” Novak recalls.
She then spent some time “meandering,” as she said, through the auto racing and sports worlds, eventually working with the U.S. Speed Skating Federation.
“After working with the U.S. team for a while, I took a position with the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, where I ran press and media for the short-track speed skating venue,” Novak said.
Exciting? Yes, but also exhausting. Novak reached a point where she was tired of the extensive travel and hectic pace of sports and decided to get back into healthcare.
She headed to the East Coast and spent some time working in renal care but decided to start her own consulting firm for gerontology, behavioral health, and healthcare—or in other words, the MELLIVORA GROUP.
“I didn’t even realize gerontology was an actual field until about 10 years ago,” she said. “I just knew I always loved working with the elderly and cognitively challenged.”
After having experiences with her father’s passing and witnessing the wonderful services a hospice program can provide, Novak decided that hospice had to be a part of her professional career—and she made it so through the MELLIVORA GROUP.
“So many folks think hospice is about dying … and get their loved ones involved too late,” she said. “But it’s about life; living it to the fullest for as long as you have it.”
A typical day for Novak might be spent at her computer, writing up strategies and suggestions for her clients, but when she gets the opportunity to go see her clients face-to-face, anything can happen.
“[That] is why I love it,” Novak said. “Generally, I like the projects where I have a nice balance of working with people on site and doing research and strategy.”
She admits that any time changes are needed, whether operational or cultural, there are challenges to be faced, but through good communication and clear explanations provided to her clients, things turn out well.
Novak also enjoys teaching and sharing her knowledge with others, having done so at various colleges and universities.
“I enjoy it mostly because I love my career so much,” she said. “As with anything in life, when you love something you want to talk about it … I just get paid to do it.”
As a woman in the healthcare system, Novak said that there are times that based solely on her gender, she is automatically trusted as a caregiver, which can be a good thing.
But that assumption can have negative consequences as well because it sometimes makes it more difficult to be taken seriously as a businesswoman.
“Because my first name is neutral and I am a doctor, many people tell me they expected a middle-aged man … They also see my last name and do not expect a 4-foot, 10-inch Asian woman,” she said. “In the end, it really doesn’t matter. People can accept me for what I can offer them. If they discount me, their loss.”
Serving on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, as well as participating in various volunteer opportunities, Novak feels that it is “critical to give back to the community I am in.” She is the president of her local Meals on Wheels board, a Junior Achievement volunteer, she gives travel lectures at the library, and facilitates a local caregiver support group.
“These are things that are near and dear to my heart. In the end, I do it because it’s part of my personal definition of community,” she said.
Her firm as a whole gives back as well, and although they aren’t large enough to be able to donate large sums of money, “we are all experts in our fields, and we can provide our time when it is appropriate.”
She loves her work, she loves that she’s a woman in a nontraditional field, and she feels that all of her experiences—working as a consultant, working in sports, and working in healthcare—have all come together to make her a stronger individual.
“I’m not perfect, but I like to think that for some people, even if just my nieces and nephews, I’m a trailblazer … letting them know it’s OK to follow their passions,” Novak said. “Success isn’t about money; in the end it’s about contentment and being good to yourself and other people.” BW