After surviving an abusive childhood in foster care, Veronica McBride now travels the world as an international policy conference assistant and senior program associate for AdvaMed. She tells Convene how she overcame her past and found the inner strength to succeed.
My very first full-time position was with the Department of Defense. I worked [as a secretary] for the Department of Defense [for six years], and then moved on to the Children's National Medical Center in D.C. I don't really have a whole lot of college background. I went to the University of D.C. for a couple of semesters, and then before that, I went to the Washington School for Secretaries. I started out [at Children's] as an administrative assistant. I was there for almost 10 years, and by the time I left, I was the clinical coordinator, the office manager, and the surgical coordinator.
You have to start someplace. I'm really good at organizing and I have a thing about detail and I like having control over certain things. To me, being a secretary is being able to take care of someone. My childhood was definitely not ideal. Coming out of that, it made me a very strong-willed person. Not having someone to care about me and to really look after me when I was growing up, secretarial work gave me an opportunity to give something to another person that I did not have. I'm very good at reading people, and I like to observe what they like and what they don't like. I think in that position that is something really, really important to know.
I left the children's hospital because I was continually overlooked for a head position for general surgery. I felt I had all of the qualifications, but I just constantly kept being overlooked for the position. It was just not going anywhere. And when I left, I really learned how much knowledge I didn't have when it came to Microsoft Office, because hospitals have their own system. I didn't even know anything about the Internet. [At AdvaMed,] I learned about working in the payment department. I was learning about the medical-device industry. I had no idea how big this industry was and all that it entailed.
It all started at AdvaMed. Before AdvaMed, I wasn't doing any meeting planning — at least, not to the point where [I was] going and doing site visits and dealing with room blocks, there was never anything like that. When I came to AdvaMed, they used to have an annual payment and reimbursement meeting. This is where they would have various speakers from CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] come to avenue in Baltimore and speak regarding Medicaid and Medicare services. I would arrange those conferences for them. I did that for three years, and then I left AdvaMed for six months, and came back to [AdvaMed's global strategy and analysis department] as a senior program associate.
The legal department at AdvaMed wanted to start doing these compliance conferences, and initially they were using an outside source to do these events for them. [The freelancer] was able to do one for them in Paris, but somehow things didn't go as the legal department would have liked. Then the executive vice president came to me, because I had meeting-planning experience locally, domestically not internationally, and asked me if I would be willing to do these conferences for him. That's pretty much how it all came about.
I love meeting planning. I mean, where to start? For me, it's like I have this total autonomy, this control over this entity. And it's like nothing happens or works unless I see to it that it does work right. And I really like organizing and I'm very, very detailed. My only downside is I need for everything to be perfect, and that's just not possible. And that's one thing that I've got to learn, that nothing is ever perfect. I've grown to gather patience. My background made me a very strong-minded person, and I think that definitely has a lot to do with how I'm able to cope with a lot of things in the meeting-planning industry.
The best part about [my job] is the fact that the people who I arrange these events for, they have total trust in my judgment when it comes to choosing avenue. I don't have to sit there and explain to them why I'm doing this venue over this venue. Whatever I choose, they're always fine with it and they've never been disappointed. Traveling is also one of the best attributes of doing this job. I get to go to these countries twice! Every country I've been to, I've developed friends within that industry.
It's important to never doubt yourself and never fear. Don't ever be afraid. There are times that I maybe afraid and I may doubt a meeting space that I've chosen or maybe I didn't look at something clearly. Trust your judgment. Because I'm so strong-willed and so strong-minded, I don't really let a lot of things scare me. For some people, it's just not that easy, but you just have to have confidence in yourself, confidence in your judgment. If there's something that you don't know, ask.