It’s no surprise Wes Gonzales thoroughly enjoys being a leader. He’s a proven multitasker.
Gonzales holds the University of Louisiana at Lafayette school record in the decathlon with a total of 7,033 points in 2014. His prowess in competing in 10 separate track and field events also led him to graduate school.
He had a fifth year of NCAA eligibility, which meant he could start graduate school free.
After completing a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Management in 2013, Gonzales graduated with a Master of Business Administration in Health Care Administration (HCA) two years later. He said he became interested in his future career during his junior year of college.
“What made the health care track in the MBA program so appealing to me is it gave me the chance to specialize, coming from undergrad with a degree that wasn’t necessarily specialized,” Gonzales said. “It gave me the chance to focus on one industry. I liked that.”
However, he wanted to make sure not to jump the gun.
“Before making the decision, I thought about health care and shadowed some people who worked in administration at a few different health care systems throughout Louisiana,” Gonzales said. “I just really enjoyed their interactions with nurses and physicians. It’s an ever-changing industry so there are always challenges. It keeps you on your toes. And there’s always room for improvement.”
Gonzales said he initially considered a biology degree to lead into a career in physical therapy.
“I decided that the clinical route wasn’t for me,” he said. “I didn’t feel like that was going to put my skill set to best use, so I decided to explore the administrative path. Health care was appealing to me because it is a constantly evolving industry and challenges are always present. Health care also provides a certain degree of job security. There are always going to be sick people. There are always going to be jobs in health care.”
Gonzales said one of his favorite courses in the MBA in Health Care Administration on-campus program was Health Care Economics, taught by Dr. Wes Austin.
“It was right around the time where we were kind of settling into the Affordable Care Act and able to take a look back and see the effect it had on health care nationally,” Gonzales said. “At such a pivotal time in the industry, it was really interesting to be able to talk through some of the issues and challenges that we were facing at that time, and also to hear about everyone’s experiences with health care and health insurance in the class.”
In addition to learning from other students, Gonzales said he benefited greatly from the vast experience of the faculty.
“I had a Quality in Health Care course taught by an adjunct professor [Dr. Lani Smith],” he said. “She held a number of different roles at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and had several years of nursing experience and nursing administration experience. She worked with infection control and clinical quality improvement, so she was able to speak a lot from experience, which I really thought was valuable.”
Out of the Starting Blocks
Gonzales took his initial experience in the health care field and ran with it. His two required internships — a project internship and an administration internship — were both at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, where he landed his first job after graduation.
“That requirement for the program really sets the graduates up for success, because you’re finishing these two required internships hopefully with a health care system or a hospital in Louisiana, so you’re getting your foot in the door,” he said. “You’re getting the chance to do some hands-on work with experienced people in the industry. It’s what ultimately set me up for where I am now.”
Partly so he would no longer have to commute from Lafayette to Baton Rouge, Gonzales took a job as a system-level management engineer at Lafayette General Health. He became a Physician Service Leader at the company in August 2016, working as the leader over Family Medicine services for Lafayette General medical doctors.
“It gave me experience with acute care operations and the residency program at UHC that I didn’t have earlier because I was dealing more specifically with outpatient settings at Ochsner,” he said of the management engineer job. “After doing that for a year and a half, I wanted to get back into clinic operations administration in which I didn’t have much experience — but I had experience with probably the most nationally recognized health system in the Southeast. Just having that short year of experience with Ochsner on my resume made my application appealing to the employed position group at Lafayette General.”
Gonzales said he hopes to eventually move into a senior leadership role such as vice president or chief operating officer.
“My favorite part about my current job is taking the leaders under me right now and coaching them and developing them to the point they’re ready for the next step in administration when the opportunity presents itself,” he said.
Gonzales, whose father is a deputy clerk in the Louisiana Supreme Court and mother is a teacher, said he attended his MBA graduation ceremony because he was the first of his siblings to earn a master’s degree. He finished before his older brother, who was earning his MBA at the University of New Orleans (UNO) at the time. His mother also holds a master’s degree from UNO in special education.
“I started running track when I was six,” he said. “It was fun because I was good at it, whereas, in some of the other sports I was just okay. Track was definitely, from day one, where I knew I had the most potential. I had scholarship offers to a few different universities and decided to come to UL.
“Track and field may have also made my application stand out, because in my last year I broke our school record in the decathlon. I also got awarded Academic All-American for NCAA Division I. Those were two nice awards to have on my resume.”
Gonzales said he might consider returning to the sport he loves once his health care career comes to a close.
“Having participated in athletics my entire life up until three years ago, I really have a passion for track and field,” he said. “It’s something I could always see myself going back to. At this point, I’ve become even more passionate about health care. The whole coaching thing may be something I do in retirement.”
Until then, Gonzales is happy to follow his passion, attend the occasional UL track and field meet and hang out with his 110-pound half poodle, half golden retriever, Bacchus. He’s sure glad he got on the perfect track for his career.
“If you look at the MBA HCA graduates, we have all taken different paths,” he added. “My advice to someone who is going into the program would be to be do whatever you have to do to get a great internship with a great health care system that’s going to expose you to a lot of different experiences.”
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online MBA in Health Care Administration program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.