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Growing at Northwestern Medicine: Tara Carlson’s Story

In 2011, Tara Carlson joined a community hospital — which eventually became part of Northwestern Medicine — to help coordinate events and fundraising. Now, after a decade of growth and education with different teams, she is thriving in a leadership role.

“There are so many opportunities here to move around, have different experiences and learn,” she says. “People here are invested in you as a professional and a person. Growth and development really are part of who we are.”

In her current role as program director of Philanthropy, Carlson helps lead strategy related to raising funds that support the patient-centered, high-quality care here at Northwestern Medicine. To get to this point, she’s made the most of every role she’s had with different teams.

Finding Opportunities

After that community hospital integrated with Northwestern Medicine, Carlson continued her work in event and fundraising coordination. She organized events like galas, golf outings and other prominent events. She then progressed to a manager role, where she oversaw events in the suburbs and communities west of Chicago.

Her next opportunity was another role on the Events team at Northwestern Medicine. This one, though, would cover events spanning the entire health system.

“I really felt that it was a great opportunity to continue growing,” Carlson says. “Partnering with physicians, leaders and the Northwestern Memorial Foundation was going to be invaluable for me and my team.”

Her next opportunity was her current director role, which she has held since June 2022. This year, Carlson’s team have exceeded their fundraising goal months ahead of schedule.

Receiving Support

Carlson credits a few Northwestern Medicine initiatives in helping her grow within the organization, including tuition assistance and leadership trainings.

As she progressed through Northwestern Medicine, Carlson went back to school to get her MBA, and Northwestern Medicine helped pay for about half of her tuition.

Northwestern Medicine also recently improved the tuition assistance benefit program to help people like Carlson who want to grow their education.

“NM Benefits also support financial wellbeing of the employee,” explains Gaurav Monga, director, Human Resources, who helps evaluate and implement benefits at Northwestern Medicine. “So, we recently implemented direct billing to minimize upfront costs. Additionally, we recently increased our tuition assistance benefit allotment to invest in our employee’s professional development goals.” Direct billing means that Northwestern Medicine pays tuition directly to the participating school or program, meaning employees don’t have to pay out of pocket for tuition and wait for reimbursement.

Carlson also enrolled in an internal program that helps develop upcoming leaders here at Northwestern Medicine, and found the training to be invaluable.

“I was really able to understand our processes better and to improve strategy with my teams,” she explains. 

Now, Carlson is comfortable and excited to be in a leadership role. For both existing and prospective team members at Northwestern Medicine, Carlson advises that people engage with programming, spend time with leaders and always be open to learning from your peers.

“My mentors here have pushed me to go out of my comfort zone and do projects that have expanded my scope, grown my skills and helped develop my career,” she explains. “I’m in a good place, and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing. I’m at where I’ve always wanted to be.”