Meet a health advocate - Anja Christoffersen
Awarded QLD Young Achiever of the Year Leadership Award 2020
I never thought of myself as a health advocate, but the circumstances in my life led me to a choice: to go through it alone or to make the most of my unique perspective.
I was born with a complex congenital disability called VACTERL Association. To date, I’ve undergone more than two dozen surgeries and over 150 hospital admissions, and it will have ongoing impacts on my quality of life.
It’s meant my educational journey has been far from typical. I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. The endless hours, days and weeks I spent in the hospital inspired me to pursue a career where I could use my knowledge of the healthcare system to help other patients with similar struggles.
Despite having a positive attitude and determination to succeed, my schooling was interrupted by illness. With hard work, I managed to eventually graduate with my Year 12 equivalent. However, it made the barriers to becoming a doctor all too real – the unpredictability of my health and my high susceptibility to illness – was not something that could be overcome by sheer willpower.
So, rather than progressing to university, I pursued a career in modelling to try and set an example for other people with disabilities and represent this community when working with brands. After resistance from agencies and clients because of my scars, I persisted and walked at Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival Amsterdam the day before my 18th birthday.
‘I began to see that my story had a lot of power and it brought people hope.’
Anja Christoffersen/Australian/Master of Business Administration
I soon realised however that I wanted to do more than just represent people with disabilities. I wanted to be able to disassemble ableist perceptions and frameworks in society and contribute to improved systems and treatment within the healthcare system.
I headed down this road armed with only my consumer knowledge – speaking as a keynote at medical and educational conferences nationally and internationally. I also took on consumer representative and ambassador roles with healthcare services, consumer bodies and not-for-profits.
I began to see that my story had a lot of power and it brought people hope. It also made me feel less alone and created a sense of community. I was incredibly surprised and humbled when I was recognised for this work with the QLD Young Achiever of the Year Leadership Award for 2020.
For the second time in my life, I felt inspired to do more. Through sharing my own experience and listening to others, it became clear to me that I wanted to work in a role where I could help make the health system more patient-centred for people with a disability or chronic illness.
I had dreams of implementing wide-scale changes but could see limits placed on my potential due to my lack of formal education. As a manager of an international student recruitment agency at the time, I decided to combine my practical business management experience and passion for this area of health, to gain entry to an MBA at Kaplan Business School (KBS). I had placed students at KBS before and heard their positive experiences first-hand.
What’s more, they offered a dual specialisation option in Health Services Management and Entrepreneurship. I saw this as the perfect combination to equip me in both business skills and specialised health knowledge.
My dream started to look a little different. I wanted to run a global organisation that would assist people with chronic illness and disability, so they wouldn’t have to face such inequalities.
Since starting my MBA, the course has been incredibly flexible to help balance full-time work, speaking engagements and health advocacy, while facing multiple hospital admissions.
Studying was a turning point in my career. I realised that I could help patients in other ways than being their personal doctor; I could contribute to widescale healthcare change on a management and strategic level.
I always thought that the benefits of my MBA would start after I graduated, but halfway through my MBA, I co-founded a social enterprise called Champion Health Agency. It’s a world-first business model where we connect people with a chronic illness and disability with the chance to give back through the health system via paid opportunities.
Coming up with the concept for this business wouldn’t have happened without my studies. In my lectures, I learned about the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards and that one of the standards requires health services to partner with consumers to help improve their services. This made me realise the potential of a business that could meet this need.
I was given the opportunity to pitch the idea to the Head of Strategy and Operations at KBS and one of my Health Services Management lecturers to see if it was marketable and whether it would work in the industry. During one of my Entrepreneurship subjects, ‘New Venture Capital Raising’, I was able to assess new markets and barriers to market entry, which is now helping to shape our plans for future expansion.
My vision is to contribute to a worldwide shift. I want to build a business that can change the way the health system responds to people with illness and disabilities and give them greater opportunities to socially and economically participate in society.
I’m confident that the knowledge I’ve gained from my MBA will create social change for millions of people all over the world.
Feeling inspired? With eight MBA specialisations on offer, you can choose to study up to two without adding any more time to your studies. Find out more about a Master of Business Administration at KBS.