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Need for Medical Detectives Grows in Health Care Professions

Note: This article was originally written for Braintrack.com in 2012. It is no longer available on that site, so I've provided it here with updates.

Gripping medical mystery shows like “House”, “Mystery Diagnosis”, “Mystery ER”, “Medical Detectives,” and “Diagnosis X” are increasingly capturing the interest of television viewers. “House” alone has been distributed to more than 66 countries and was the most watched television program in the world in 2008, according to the Huffington Post.

It’s easy to want to emulate these doctors who are able to solve complex puzzles with often dramatic, life-saving results, but a career as a medical detective requires tremendous tenacity, unending compassion and a lot of creative career planning.

Dedicated Diagnosticians are Desperately Needed

Even with tremendous strides in medical discovery and innovation, the medical profession still has a lot to learn about what causes many illnesses and how to treat them.

The National Institutes of Health’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program External link recently published a report on its first two years tackling complex unresolved cases. The program, which emphasizes genetic testing, sorted through 1,191 applications, accepted 326 patients, and were able to successfully diagnose 39 cases (37 of which were conditions that science had previously documented). The remaining 287 undiagnosed patients remind us how difficult it can be to identify some diseases.

Note: After a four-month period focusing on existing applications, the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program External link announced on December 1, 2011 that it is again accepting new applications from doctors on behalf of their patients.

According to the Offices of Rare Disease Research at NIH, only about 500 diseases are considered common enough for most doctors to be able to diagnose, while over 6,500 have been identified but are considered rare. (This doesn’t include diseases that don’t yet have a name, or rare presentations of more common diseases.)

Proper diagnoses assure that patients suffer for the least amount of time possible, and treatments are appropriate the first time. When the process fails, chronically undiagnosed patients are frequently denied disability coverage, but may not be able to work due to their symptoms and often lose their medical coverage. Their medical bills are extensive as they go from doctor to doctor, looking for the one passionate and experienced diagnostician with enough time, resources, access to diagnostic tools and medical facilities, team support, and personal commitment to put all the pieces together.

The need for improved diagnostic quality is a key contributor in the nation’s health care crisis. In an article External link for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Mark L. Graber, M.D., who founded the inaugural Diagnostic Errors in Medicine External link conference put on by The Society for Medical Decision Making External link, estimated that 1 out of 10 patients is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

“Diagnosis is the weak link in medicine,” says Marianne Genetti, founder of In Need of Diagnosis, Inc. (INOD), a non-profit organization promoting timeliness and accuracy of medical diagnosis and providing support to those who have yet to be properly diagnosed. In an article titled “Dr. House, Where are You?”, she wrote, “There is no category for ‘diagnosis’ under the yellow page listings for physicians, because at this time there is no such specialty. There is a great, unmet need in the medical system for a specialty in the field of medical diagnosis.”

Pioneering Diagnostic Clinics

The American Medical Association (AMA) has not yet established an official career path for a “medical diagnostician” specialty, primarily because health care practitioners are already considered to be diagnosticians. However, an increasing number of medical facilities are adding diagnostic departments, where resources are allocated so that physicians can focus more on diagnosis than treatment or preventative care. For example:

  • Washington University’s School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics’s Division of Diagnostic Medicine External link works with children from infants to adolescents with complex health conditions that pose a diagnostic dilemma - particularly those that don’t fit well into a single subspecialty area.

  • The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL has a Division of Consultative and Diagnostic Medicine External link that combines diagnosticians with disease-prevention consultants. The team sees adults who come from geographic areas around the world who have complex medical problems often involving more than one system in the body.

  • The Diagnostic Clinic of Houston External link features a multidisciplinary team where all medical subspecialties are represented, and all patients are seen by doctors (instead of physician assistants or nurse practitioners).

  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a Diagnostic Clinic External link that has become known for taking on tough cases. One of the health care practitioners, David Hall, MD, is quoted on the clinic’s site, “I think every doctor is a medical detective. But my job is to take the time to ferret out a medical mystery.”

  • St. Joseph’s Healthcare External link in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada has a Community Liaison Program that uses a multidisciplinary approach to help patients with complex and confounding mental health conditions requiring diagnostic clarification.

  • Yale and Brown University medical schools both have departments in diagnostic radiology or diagnostic imaging. The University of Maryland School of Medicine, which also has a department in Diagnostic Radiology & Nuclear Medicine External link, states on its website, “Radiologic studies now establish or verify the diagnosis in three out of four cases of organic disease.”

A study report released in April 2011 by the University of Chicago's Center for Health and the Social Sciences External link called for the creation of a new specialty: the comprehensive care physician or comprehensivist. Doctors in this role would work both in hospitals and attached clinics, caring for established patients for whom they regularly provide care and are familiar with their medical history when the patients are also at the greatest risk of needing hospitalization.

Creative Career Planning Required

As it stands today, the key to a medical detective career is to find an existing career in the industry that best suits the candidate’s qualifications. Building on that foundation, the career seeker can customize their professional path with supplementary education and participation in quality-related work.

Genetti felt compelled to create INOD when she herself went for many years with an undiagnosed, disabling illness. She attended nursing school to become more familiar with medical terms and to help find the answers she and so many others desperately needed.

Update: The undiagnosed community suffered the loss of a great ally when INOD founder Marianne Genetti passed away in May 2013, mere months after the publication of this article. She spent her entire life trying to find a diagnosis for her disabling condition, and never did. INOD continues to help people in need of diagnosis.

Graber, who started his medical career in nephrology, turned his passion for diagnostic accuracy into a platform for global impact. While working as Chief of Medicine at a VA hospital, he chaired the Medical Quality Assurance Committee where he developed a new model of peer review for medical errors that included root cause analysis.

I'm a big fan of consultation and second opinions,” said Graber. “There are many cultural things that get in the way... Doctors can be tremendously overconfident, and they don't get enough feedback - from patients’ visits to other doctors or even autopsies, which have become rare.”

He initiated a patient safety curriculum for the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine, and helped established National Patient Safety Awareness Week External link, which is recognized internationally. Graber also participated in a committee that created a voluntary and anonymous medical error reporting process for the VA health care system. .

Mark L. Graber, M.D.

It may be a long time before the AMA formally establishes a career path of “medical diagnostician”. “I've learned that medicine has a tremendous amount of inertia, “ Graber said. But new destinations on the path of medicine are emerging that allow those who are passionate for reducing diagnostic error to have a positive impact on society as well as express their interest in solving complex puzzles.

Graber provided some suggestions for those interested in crafting careers as medical detectives:

General practice - “There are diagnostic challenges in every medical specialty, but internists (who practice general medicine on adults) pride themselves on diagnostic acumen, as do pediatricians. They specialize in diagnosis more than any other doctor.“ Doctors who practice general medicine must be able to identify signs and symptoms of conditions in any system of the body.

Emergency medicine - “Emergency medicine is the laboratory for diagnostic thinking. The density for diagnostic problem solving is front and center in terms of the battle.”

Pathology - “Pathology (analyzing and testing tissues in a laboratory) allows for diagnostic work from that perspective.” Clinical research and laboratory staff also have a unique opportunity to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Software development - Participating in the development of clinical decision support products like Isabel External link and medical records / informatics can allow techies to weigh in on medical detective work.

Medical consulting companies - Best Doctors External link, for example, assigns doctors to review complex cases of employees referred by employers.

Other career paths that may appeal to aspiring medical detectives include:

  • Diagnostic teams, clinics or departments

  • Consultative medicine programs

  • Forensics and pathology

  • Epidemiology / public health

  • Diagnostic radiology or diagnostic imaging departments

  • Experimental and clinical microbiology

  • Experimental immunology

  • Nursing

  • Psychiatry

  • Hospitalist (specializing in hospital case management)

  • Generalist (focusing on primary care)

  • Comprehensivist (working both in a hospital and attached clinic)

  • Developing an expertise in differential diagnosis

  • Independent disease prevention consulting

  • Alternative, integrative, complementary and functional medicine

  • Health insurance providers

  • Patient advocacy, health care and wellness coaching

  • Online medical consultation through websites like Just Answer: Medical External link

  • Not-for-profit or social enterprise leadership

  • Technology development of medical devices and equipment

Graber is currently launching a new organization called The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine External link, which will further develop career opportunities in diagnostic science. It will sponsor the next annual meeting of "Diagnostic Error in Medicine", which will be held at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore November 2012. Trainees who attend these meetings participate firsthand in discussions on the complexities of making reliable diagnoses and how to improve the process.

The Future of Diagnosis-Oriented Careers

Personalized medicine, such as the diagnostic program at the UDP, will continue to develop as a preferred medical model. Instead of generalizations based on large cohorts, personalized medicine seeks to tailor health care decisions and practices for individual patients by gleaning genetic and other information specific to the patient.

The demand for specialized diagnosticians will continue to increase exponentially as boomers age, and their children and grandchildren seek medical care as well. Candidates with expertise in strategies and technologies that improve diagnostic accuracy, and can reduce the cost of care for health insurance companies, medical facilities, and governmental agencies that support those in need of health care, will have an advantage.


Think you’ve got what it takes to be a medical detective? Try your hand at it - check out the Think Like A Doctor blog External link of the NY Times, written by the doctor that inspired the “House” television series.

Update: Crowdmed.com External link is a new, powerful site where those struggling to find diagnosis can get help from willing members of the public. A movie called Undiagnosed: Medical Refugees External link is seeking funding in order to be completed. Please support these important projects.

Are you a professional medical detective, or do you know one? Please contact Ellen Berry who will share your contact information with the undiagnosed community via the World Undiagnosed Day Initiative External link.

10 College Courses that will Change Your Life

When it comes to choosing which courses to take each semester, most students rely on brief descriptions in course catalogs and suggestions from student advisers. There are some courses, however, that deserve a better sales pitch.

Even though many classes may be general education requirements or prerequisites, it is still up to the student to decide which courses to take first. Without a big-picture glimpse of how these courses can have a positive impact on the rest of your life, you might miss out.

The following are some course offerings, available at most colleges and universities, that deserve special emphasis. What they teach you will take you much further than just the completion of your degree. If you take these classes seriously, you’ll learn valuable information and ways of thinking that will contribute to your lifelong success in work, society and family.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on USA Today College External link


"Most-read yesterday" - usatodaycollege External link USA TODAY College (shared 250+ times)

"Have you taken any of these?" - syracuseu External linkSyracuse UniversityHighly Influential

"Interesting list to think about." - presidentwelsh External linkMarcia G. Welsh, Ph.D., president of East Stroudsburg University

"Great list!" - scholamerica External link Scholarship America

"Sounds like an awesome spring semester" - amyruberg External link Amy Ruberg

20 US Higher-Education Buildings Earn LEED Platinum in 2011

College students may still have to burn the midnight oil, but many of their classrooms, libraries, residence halls, laboratories, student centers, and stadiums are healthier, more efficient environments.

Over the last year, approximately 20 higher-education buildings in the US were certified as LEED Platinum – the highest level of green building recognized by the LEED international benchmark. In addition to being built with environmentally-responsible materials and practices, these projects are inspiring in their design, innovation, and thought leadership.

Significance of LEED Certification

Established by the US Green Building Council External link (USGBC), the Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Development (LEED) is a program for certifying new construction and renovation of residential and commercial buildings in 20 countries. There are five levels of certification: Certified, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Scientific American's Plugged In External link blog


"Awesome!" homerecycler External link Lorenz Schilling

What to Do with the Underutilized Genius on Your Staff

Have you ever worked on a project for months (or years), and one day a new employee walked in and offered a different way of doing things that was so good it rendered all your work useless? More than likely, you and the rest of your team felt like idiots for not thinking of it first.

It’s easy to be intimidated by someone who clearly outpaces you in intelligence, creativity, social influence or memory. Even if you’re a bright star yourself, there may be someone on your staff with exceptional abilities different than your own.

While having brilliant players on your team can be advantageous, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to manage. People who excel far beyond the norm in a particular talent or mental process can be unconventional, controversial, intolerant, rigid, and/or abrasive to the point that their abilities don’t get fully recognized or integrated effectively.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on TechRepublic's IT Leadership External link blog

Positive Comments

Note: This article made the top five in "Hot Discussions" on TechRepublic, with almost 60 comments.

"Thanks Ellen! That was one of the best articles on this subject I've seen on TR." said Ansu Gisalas, TechRepublic power user

"This was an excellent article, which tackles the conspiracy of silence surrounding really bright people in the organization." said mdwalls

"Interesting! Excellent article." said Madsmaddad

"Best article ever. This article and specially the comments show that there is still a small hope for mankind." said Dukhalion

"Yep, that's me..." said YepThatsMe


"Good read for insight..." r0bshaw External linkRob Shaw (gccit)

Companies: Hire social media strategists and let loose cannons fly

Marketing departments are starting to turn the tide in the latest budget battle with IT departments. The theater of war? Social media. Our best hope for peace lies in savvy social media strategists that just might possess the pioneering spirit necessary to establish a collaborative truce - as long as they know what they’re getting into, and how to stay several steps ahead of the opposition.

Finally, being unconventional and unpredictable pays off

When discussions embedded with negative comments about companies first started popping up online, most marketing departments turned to IT for help in dealing with them. The initial response was to consider any online issue as a “trouble ticket” that involved trying to “remove” negative comments from the Internet and fixing the subject of concern quietly like any other customer support issue.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as guest post on TechRepublic External link


"good grief its me !" - jaipo External linkJohn Porter

"As a community manager, there's a lot to agree with here." - aaronesilvers External link Aaron Silvers

"Long & insightful." - fanpgevangelist External link Fan Page Evangelist

Tips for writing easy-to-understand security policies

For the amount of writing required of IT professionals in leadership roles, serious writing skills are relegated to low bandwidth electives in IT degree programs surprisingly frequently. At best, an aspiring IT security professional may get some solid technical writing experience in school - and if they’re smart, some business writing training as well.

Without decent exposure to journalistic writing, adult learning styles and all-important information design, IT leaders may find themselves struggling to effectively convey important information like security policies and awareness.

Effective Infosec policy writing

A well-written security policy statement:

  • Communicates high-level ground rules and consequences thoroughly yet succinctly
  • Explains both the problem and the solution
  • Emphasizes the degree of importance and relevance
  • Is accessible to employees at all applicable levels of responsibility and reading skill
  • Engages readers through relatable wording and real-world examples
  • Persuades and motivates readers to take ownership of and apply their new knowledge

Elements of engaging technical content

It’s the job of the policy writer to do the work for the reader - keep their attention, deliver the message, and compel them to adapt their behavior. The best way to meet this responsibility is to incorporate five elements of writing:

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on TechRepublic's IT Leadership External link blog

Positive Comments

"What a great piece!" said Toni Bowers, TechRepublic editor

How to Land (and Keep) a Social Media Job

Much like computer gaming and hacking did before it, social media has evolved over the past 10 years from a pastime to an emerging career field. Companies have come to recognize that discussions about their products are happening online, and it is in their best interest to have representatives engaged in these conversations. Now considered a key component in marketing plans, social media marketing has earned its place in many a corporate budget.

For recruiters trying to fill social strategist positions, though, the process of matching qualified candidates to appropriate jobs is still in its infancy. Though salaries are competitive, with full-time jobs paying from $45,000 to six figures, truly qualified candidates are hard to find – and those that do present themselves frequently fail to give recruiters what they need to sell them up the ladder.

The following are tips for selling yourself as a qualified candidate for social media-related jobs – and justifying your job once you’re employed.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as guest post on TechMaish External link

Enhancing Your Employability for Nonprofit Jobs in 2011

Landing a wage-paying nonprofit job is becoming easier than it was during the last two years, especially with larger organizations.

A recent report from the human resources consulting firm Nonprofit HR Solutions indicated that the job market for nonprofit work may be stabilizing.Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey 2010 External link, a report in which over 500 nonprofit organizations were surveyed, said that while over 50% of respondents had to eliminate positions in 2009, only a tenth said they did in 2010. At the same time, approximately 43% expected to create new full-time positions in response to a rise in demand for their services, and most of these had a greater number of employees.

These statistics and others included in the report can help people seeking employment to formulate a job-hunting strategy for 2011:

Finding Nonprofit Employers

It may not seem like hunting down employers would necessarily enhance your employability, but nonprofits frequently have little or no formal recruiting budget; they may not even have an HR department. So you must be assertive and seek out jobs with organizations that may not be advertising or posting positions online. Here are tips for broadcasting your availability effectively:

Scope out the scene: Research news stories to identify larger nonprofit employers in your area through their press releases and events. Compare community statistics to identify trends in growth between organizations.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post for The Case Foundation External link

I was happy to stumble on this review of my guest post by About.com's Joanne Fritz!

"Ellen Berry, guest blogging for The Case Foundation External link, has some terrific tips External link for people looking for a nonprofit job this year. I really liked these tips especially..." Read Joanne's article External link

Careers that Promote Positive Change in Africa

Helping the struggling peoples of Africa can be done through donating money, food, educational supplies, medicine, or even time as a volunteer. A greater impact can be made, however, by choosing a career that empowers positive change over time and brings with it resources that otherwise might not be accessible. The following are a few of the many careers related to international development in Africa that have the power to improve the quality of life of those who do without.

Humanitarian Assistance

  • Relief workers assist families with basic food, supplies, housing, and emergency relief services. They collect, prepare, and distribute supplies, and build or help make arrangements for housing. Their roles may include providing medical assistance, administering life-saving vaccines, and helping with resettlement.

  • Social workers provide emotional support for individuals and families in crisis due to situations like poverty, violence, and illness, give them tools to cope, and connect them with programs that can give them the material and mental health assistance they need.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on SocioLingo External link

Why 2011 is the Year to Get a Nonprofit Job

If you’ve been considering working in the nonprofit sector but worried that you might not be able to find a job that would pay the bills, now’s the time to take a more serious look.

Here are 5 reasons why this year is a good year to start “lifting as you climb” in your career:

  1. More jobs - According to the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey 2010 External link published by the human resources consulting firm Nonprofit HR Solutions, hiring trends are on the upswing. Approximately 43% of the 500 surveyed organizations expected to create new full-time positions in response to a rise in demand for their services. Most of these were larger employers.
  2. More in need - The recession has created a huge increase in demand on nonprofits as they seek to serve a population of people who hadn’t needed assistance before, in addition to those they have typically served in the past. This need is not expected to wane, since aging baby boomers are likely to seek assistance in coming years. Additional aid is being granted to these organizations to help them meet the demand, and that means they are able to hire where they couldn’t in 2009 or 2010.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on PhilanthroPost External link

Making More of a Difference: Choosing Careers with Big Positive Impact

Having a heart for positive change can lead us to make unconventional career choices. Choosing generosity over making money seems contrary to the basic tenets of capitalism, and at times may feel like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. But there’s a generation of baby boomers that is transforming the landscape of business with their passion for giving back, and inspiring many of us to rethink why we work. In the past, a stable bee-line to a life of luxury was the American dream, but now more and more of us want to be part of seeing things change in big ways.

Big Picture Motivations

The four most common motives that compel us to seek careers that inspire extensive social betterment include:

  • Visionary Enthusiasm – Found in those who possess a grand plan for the potential of humanity, and seek followers to put it into action
  • Alarmist Angst – A heightened awareness to potential risks and terrible consequences, and the dire need to yell, “The house is on fire – we must do something immediately or everything will fall apart!”
  • Grassroots Generosity – A wide open caring for the plight of people, creatures and the planet, a passion for community, and the belief that change starts at home
  • Cool, Calm, and Collective – A quiet understanding of a larger, unified purpose and responsibility that inspires subtle but influential changes through innovation, mentorship, dialogue, and partnership

Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Career Bright External link
The Sick Person’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Hooplah

No matter how important the holidays are to you, it’s hard not to feel heightened emotions during the season. In response to a welling of holiday spirit among our family, friends, community and world, caring becomes the focus of our energies, and our hearts open wider as we take time to connect with and honor the people that mean the most to us. At the same time, we may be reminded of painful relationships, those we’ve lost, or financial hardship. 

Being sick can magnify these feelings even more as we compare the quality of our lives to those of others, or struggle to keep up with the holiday pace.

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Written for the Pituitary Network Association External link's monthly newsletter

Techie Seeks Non-profit Job: How to Be a Big, Misunderstood Fish in a Small Pond

Trends in social entrepreneurship and skills-based volunteering, inspired by boomers who want more from work than wages and worry, are motivating greater numbers of corporate employees - even techies - to consider careers in the non-profit sector.

If you’re a techie who has bravely tuned into your wild inner longing for social change, no longer satisfied in hunting down bugs for dollars, you may be tempted to follow the scent to freedom. But making the transition from corporate to charity can be a rough one - akin to stepping back in time 20 years.

Trackball mice, Windows ME and After Dark

Most not-for-profit organizations operate primarily on funds from grants, foundations, and contributions from corporations or individuals Because of this, even if millions of dollars pour in, spending priorities are different. A charity that helps sick children is going to place services that directly help sick children as a higher priority than upgrading Windows on workstations or developing an Intranet to increase efficiency.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post for TechRepublic's Career Management Blog External link

Positive Comments

Note: There were 61 comments made in response to this article, and 19 votes. This article was #8 in the top 10 TechRepublic discussion threads for the last two weeks of 2010:

"Really enjoyed the article and sent it to some of the staff at the Dayton (Ohio) / Miami Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, where I have volunteered for over 10 years. The Chapter cannot afford a full-time technical person but your article gave insights to the "other side" as they have a paid person they use part-time and we have had some volunteers assist as well." John Sullivan, who also has written for TechRepublic

"Excellently described and the first 3 parts also describe my experiences with for profit enterprises." - kwickset@...

"This conversation is very important to me since I'll be retiring next July from IT work at Wright-Patterson AFB and am looking to volunteer for non-profits. I admit to some trepidation anticipating this adventure. Ellen's cautions hit the mark: I intend to get involved with the entire work of the charity (the mission and even the messy politics!) and offer to do IT where the opportunity arises." - william.sibbing@...

"Great article! And exactly on target for every non-profit I have ever worked for....EXCEPT Hillsborough Kids!" - Pamela Norris

Matching Your Passion for Photography with a Promising Career
This ancient Indian elephant shared a secret with me. Look for the profile of an Indian woman facing to the right. Her head starts at his eye, and her sari-wrapped body extends to the bottom of the image by his mouth. Taken with an Olympus Camedia C-740 UltraZoom

Photographers make a living in almost any industry and location – creating art, uncovering unseen data, documenting details, or telling a story. There are so many kinds of careers in photography – from highly creative to highly technical – that it can be difficult to choose which path to follow.

Photography Careers

Industries that rely the most on skilled photographers include:

  • Commercial / Industrial – Stock image, advertising, food and restaurant, fashion and glamour, real estate, portrait and studio, and event photography
  • News and Publishing – photojournalism and editorial photography
  • Fine Arts and Craftsmanship – fine arts photography and crafts photography

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post for Memoirs on a Rainy Day External link

Take Steps Today to Become Your Own Boss

The day I walked out the door from my last job, knowing I was going into business for myself full-time from that day on, was a scary one.  I had built up in my mind that this was a major life change – a point of no return.

To further challenge my resolve, the organization I worked for really wanted me to stay – so much so that my boss created a special position for me, and the president herself asked me to stay.  But I knew that if they wanted me that much, they’d be willing to hire me as a consultant – on my own terms.

That next day, with no routine to follow, felt lonely and scary, even though I knew I was finally going to do what I love every day, my way.  My success or failure was now 100% up to me, and I had bills to pay and people counting on me.

Would I be able to attract and keep enough clients to support myself? What if I took on more work than I could handle? Who could I count on to do the things I couldn’t? What if I made a mistake so big there’d be no way to recover?

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Work Happy Now External link

Positive Comments

"Thanks for sharing your experience. This is very helpful and inspiring to recognize that taking the “leap” of self-employment isn’t often so drastic." - Joe - Shakeoffthegrind

"I like your step-through and calling out some of the key considerations that can shape your path, along with things to watch out for." - J.D. Meier

"You’ve offered some great tips and ideas here." - Sue

Is Graphic Design the Right Creative Career for You?

A lot of people ask me about my job as a graphic designer. They either don't know what it is, say "they don't have a creative bone in their body", or express a desire to be one, too. When I met my first graphic designer as a teenager, I had the same response - "What exactly is that? That sounds interesting - but I don't think I'm creative enough."

My interest was renewed in graphic design several years later while I was working as a public relations coordinator. My boss asked me to create an employee newsletter that would be sent out by email, and left it up to me to figure out how.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Mommy Doodles External link

Positive Comments

"Well researched and well structured discourse. Please we need more of this thought-pro provoking article. God bless you. Good approach with the readers also good article. Give more information of this topic. I want to subscribe it please tell me the procedure. Thank you for the sharing." - web design singapore

Create a Promising Career from Personal Passion

“All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us seek a sense of reward from our work, and get frustrated if we don’t get it. We’re driven by some form of need – whether it’s desperation to pay the bills, a desire to establish a foundation for a secure future, seeking a way to get out of the house each day, or the pursuit for success, something compels us to keep working.

Pursuing a deeper passion, though, can lead to a more lasting sense of reward. Below the motivations of the moment lie hungers for fulfilling our unique potential that can lend powerful purpose and meaning to work, but only if they are fed. The challenge is to honor them – to listen to their guidance and each day take a step closer to fulfilling them, so that eventually our work is our passion.

Whether you’re driven to contribute, create, change, curb, or conquer, here are some tips for creating a rewarding career from your personal passion.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Common Sense at Work External link

Use Social Media to Help Achieve Your Goals

It’s easy to feel like you’ve got a lot done in a day when you spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. It’s that false sense of productivity that comes from accomplishments of dubious value – like levelling up in Farmville by teaming up with friends to grow patty pan squash (11 million people play Farmville), exchanging tweets with Nathan Fillion of the TV show Castle (670,000 followers), watching clips of last night’s dancing contest, or beating the top score in Word Twist or Bejeweled.

It’s hard to justify pulling yourself away from hundreds of neighbors who want you to send them fuel or houses or pineapples so they can keep digging for buried treasure or building a civilization or slopping their pigs. The sense of urgency to win the next round, support a friend who just posted a sad status update, find out what your favorite celebrity is doing at this moment, or watch an amazing video that all your friends are excited about can easily beat out that growing sense of impending doom about not getting an assignment done.

But social media doesn’t have to be a “waste of time”. There are lots of ways these sites can be used to help with productivity, motivation, and learning.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Erica Says External link

Approach Your Career Plan Like a Project

What we think or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do.” – John Ruskin

I’ve always had a plan for my career, but after getting laid off recently, I decided it wasn’t working for me. I was frustrated with how long it was taking to reach my goals, and I felt destined to be stuck taking detours just to pay the bills. I felt overwhelmed about how to approach my career.

Then I shook myself awake and came to my own rescue. It dawned on me that my career was simply a project in my life, and I’m trained in my work to handle projects a certain way. So I applied my knowledge of project management to my career, and came up with a career project plan.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Luke Houghton External link

Don’t Burn Bridges: 10 Ways to Maximize a Job Transition

The rings of a tree reveal a lot more than its age. Not just a timeline of disease, disaster, pollution, and prosperity, they tell a story of survival and resilience.

Job transitions are like the rings in the tree of a career. They are benchmarks for the accumulated accomplishments, skills, and learning moments of an employment experience. At no other time in our lives are we more motivated to take inventory of what we’ve accomplished, what we would do differently next time, and where we’re headed next in our careers.

No matter how or when your role ends, the challenge is to be prepared mentally and materially so that you can keep perspective in a situation when you may feel an overwhelming mix of emotions.

The ability to act decisively and professionally no matter what can make the difference between a collegial parting of ways and a hurtful mess.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Monster's official blog External link


"(great post)" valueintowords External link JacPoindexter Highly Influential

Are You a Shark or a Dolphin? Two Types of Entrepreneurs

All entrepreneurs may crave the freedom to follow through on their own ideas, and the independence to succeed or fail on their own terms, but their visions of success and methods for attaining it can be dramatically different – as different as sharks and dolphins.

Entrepreneurs as Sharks

Traditional entrepreneurs are trained in business school to create businesses or invent products that continually grow to reach benchmarks like obtaining funding, mass distribution, and going public – for the sake of profit. They are strategic rebels who aren’t deeply attached to their creations or the tools they use to create them. Their career goals primarily include making the first million, gaining wealth and power, and then funding further ventures.

Because the grand objective is always rapid and ever-expanding wealth, all too frequently the success of traditional entrepreneurs comes at the expense of higher moral standards. Their ambition can be so powerful, and they can be so singularly focused on their goals, that they may readily discard their colleagues, clients, vendors, partners and even family members if they get in the way of those goals.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Seattle Post-Intelligencer's The Biz Bite External link blog

Positive Comments

"I thought the article was terrific." Whitney Keyes, editor of Seattle Post-Intelligencer's The Biz Bite

Baltimore area looks good for 'college town' rental investors

Good news for investors seeking profitable rental properties -- Baltimore ranked in the top 10 for college town real estate markets in the U.S. in a recent MarketWatch story External link. Key investor-friendly variables come together in cities like Baltimore, including:

● A high rate of housing demand that is consistent over time, primarily due to a continuous influx of students and professors seeking off-campus housing. Also, college towns are desirable retirement spots thanks to the nearby restaurants and steady stream of cultural and athletic events. Landlords can be more confident that they will be able to choose from a sizable pool of tenants and avoid long-term vacancies.

● Significant increases in tuition costs and campus living throughout the country are motivating students to choose affordable nearby housing over student housing. This allows landlords to charge more for rental properties -- often enough to cover the entire cost of the mortgages on their properties.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on The Baltimore Sun's Real Estate Wonk External link blog

Managing Social Media Marketing from Scratch

Every now and then I post a guest article and here’s a good one by Drea Prentiss of BrainTrack.com External link. In it, she offers 10 tips to get the most value from social media activities. (Whitney Keyes External link)

Driving home the importance of social media marketing to small business owners has proven to be a challenge to its champions. Although the number of small businesses that regularly market through social networks has increased over the years, only about 50% set aside any time and money, and only 12% consider it a must, according to a recent Hiscox survey External link.

You may be one of the enlightened few, however, who see the abundance of business development opportunities in the virtual social interaction frontier, especially when there’s less competition there compared to other marketplaces. If so, then you’re likely looking for ways to better manage your social media marketing activities. Like any marketing campaign, it can be a disappointing vacuum if it’s not done right. So here are 10 tips for small business owners that will help them get the most value out of social media:

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Written for BrainTrack External link under the pseudonym Drea Prentiss as guest post for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's small business blog External link

How Zendesk Can Help Turn Your Support Team Into Brand Ambassadors

When we think of brand ambassadors, what often comes to mind are commercial icons such as Progressive’s Flo or Subway’s Jared Fogel. Their quirky personalities or personal stories are often the most memorable part of an advertisement, inspiring a sense of familiarity consumers are more likely to feel with other people, rather than a flat traditional brand.

The appeal power of “normal people” over spokespeople can also be seen in Honey Bunches of Oats commercials, where hair-netted and hard-hatted employees pitch the cereal from their posts in the factory.

This trend of using actual employees as brand ambassadors has been successful for companies wanting to bring credibility, likeability and memorable interaction with potential or established customers.

Fortunately, you don’t need a giant and expensive nationally televised campaign to have a similar relationship with your customers. Believe it or not, you can get a similar experience from your Zendesk, with specific tools designed help turn support desk representatives into identifiable characters.

Zendesk as a Brand Identity Tool for Employee Ambassadors

The brand-reinforcing aspects of Zendesk and its integrations make it easy to start a customer conversation and keep it going in a whole new way. These ongoing ambassador-customer interactions can generate a self-perpetuating, ever-expanding momentum with unlimited potential for lead generation.

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Written for Myndbend External link as a guest post on Zendesk's official blog, Zengage External link

Strategic Self-employment for Career Stability

If you listen to the hype, you might think there are two kinds of people out there: entrepreneurs and career employees. Entrepreneurs are seen as risk takers while employees are thought to prefer stability. But don't be fooled into thinking in these black-and-white terms when it comes to your career. With some creative strategizing, the right combination of employment types can serve you well.

Consider Yourself Self-employed First, Employed by Others Second

You may have built up being your own boss as "the big plunge" or a "someday" dream, imagining a drastic change in lifestyle with long-sought freedom and unlimited income potential. Perhaps you are waiting for a big idea or the right partner to come along.

In actuality, anyone who gets themselves to work each day and does their best to make sure their bills are paid is acting as their own boss. There isn't much difference between working for an employer or a client. It's mostly about mindset.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on The Job Stalker External link

"Certainly, there are a lot of folks out there who, like me, have a ton of experience but still can't seem to land that full-time assignment and might well consider "formalizing" their consulting/freelance gigs into a company concept.  I know that it would be easier on my resume to be listing some corporate name under which I'd done a number of varied projects, rather than just spinning out a long list of the specifics!  Anyway, thanks to Ellen and BrainTrack for providing this interesting look at these options!" - Brendan Tripp, The Job Stalker

21 Ways To Save Big on College Expenses

The most important thing you can do to save money on college costs is to plan ahead. The more knowledgeable you are about your options, the better choices you’ll make, and the more money you’ll save. Here’s a list of strategies that will give you a head start:

  1. Create a career plan before choosing a school. College is a great place to explore your options when it comes to a career. If, however, you take some time to consider what career suits you best before going to college, you can save yourself a lot of money. Conduct your research by:
    • Taking career tests to identify your areas of interest and strength
    • Working or volunteering with different employers
    • Shadowing people at their jobs to see what their daily work is like
    • Taking continued education courses to scope out potential career tracks
    • Reading up on various career paths to prepare yourself to make a more educated decision when it comes to school

The more detailed vision you have of where you’re headed and what it takes to get there, the more money you’re likely to save by selecting a relevant degree and school.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Northern Cheapskate External link

"I really enjoyed this guest post. I wish I could have read it eight years ago before I started college!" - Broke Professionals

Smart Ways to Use Google Docs for Better Online Group Learning

Advancements in online collaboration are rapidly changing the way in which we learn, and Google is pioneering the field with Google Docs External link. The development team continually adds new features and enhancements to the free online productivity suite, similar to Microsoft Office, which now includes applications for creating and editing text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms. Students and teachers are leading the parade of enthusiastic users, finding innovative ways to enhance education using Google Docs.

Cool Tools

Whether they are sharing a presentation for class, tracking the progress of a group project, brainstorming ideas, or giving / receiving assistance with homework, Google Docs allows students and teachers to:

  • Store, share, and work together on files using their computer or smart phone from any location. All it takes is Internet access and a free Google account
  • Upload files from a desktop and share them by sending email invites to collaborators

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Schoox External link

Book Review: The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box

For the past year I was looking for a shortcut. Like most unpublished writers, I’d been determined to bypass the hoop-jumping and “get discovered” by a publishing house. I’d heard too many sagas of publishing woes, and didn’t want to end up as dejected as a cheap paperback cover.

My friend went the self-publishing External link route with modest success, and I wondered if I was being stubborn by not following in his footsteps, but it had long been my goal to be published the traditional way. That being said, I was not averse to skipping blithely past all those writers drooping in line outside publishers’ front doors. There had to be a back door, and I was going to find it. Apparently I didn’t think the rules applied to me – but I didn’t realize I had this in common with most writers newly seeking publication until I read The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box: Getting a Hook on the Publishing Industry by Lynn Price.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post for World's Strongest Librarian External link

How to Make Decent Money Working in the Non-Profit Sector

Do you wish you could walk away from your dollar-driven job and do something meaningful instead? Are you happiest when making a difference, but concerned about how you'd pay the bills if you worked for a non-profit? Well, working for charities doesn't always mean working for charity. In fact, there are many organizations that are run just like companies, and pay reasonable salaries.

The biggest difference between for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations, other than the bottom line, is where the money comes from. Fundraising for contributions from individuals and corporations is a primary means of bringing in money for non-profits, but many also rely on government and private grants. Funds awarded as a grant are usually intended for specific uses such as the purchase of technology, the construction of a building, marketing, or paid positions for staff.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Young Money External link

Landing a Nonprofit Job Starts with the Right Resume

In many ways, non-profit organizations operate just like for-profit companies. They have many similar roles, departments, and policies. But there are some important factors to consider when preparing a resume for a non-profit job. The following are tips for writing a tailored resume showcasing the skills and attributes that appeal to non-profits.Working for a nonprofit organization can change what was the daily grind into a hopeful climb. Each completed task brings forth feelings of selflessness and purpose. For career seekers looking for more rewarding work - who want to see their contributions have more meaning than simply lining the pockets of profit - finding a paid job with a charity can lead them on a whole new path of lifetime accomplishment.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post for The Case Foundation External link

Positive Comments

"The post has gotten some great traction on our site!" - Stephanie Hackman for The Case Foundation

When Cover Notes Work Better than Cover Letters

"Good things, when short, are twice as good." - Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Swamped with emails and phone calls, deadlines and program changes, staff issues and meetings, most managers these days are challenged more than ever to be efficient with their time. To them, reading a long cover letter that makes a detailed case for hiring a candidate may be as frustrating as a meeting that goes on without getting much accomplished, or a phone call with a client who just keeps talking. So when you send a carefully-crafted, succinct cover note, it can be like a breath of fresh air.

Why a Cover Note can be more Effective than a Cover Letter

  • Slingshot response - If managers read long cover letters at all, they are likely to breeze through them to see if the name of the candidate or referrer is familiar, or to look for red flags like spelling errors or tone. They know that they get the information that is most useful to them from the resume itself. Later, if there is need for further consideration, they could refer to the cover letter but most likely would just ask the candidate questions in an interview. Therefore, wordiness can render a cover letter ineffective. A quick cover note, on the other hand, acts like a slingshot - a simple, effective tool that motivates the reader to go straight to the resume.
Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Susan Ireland's Job Lounge External link

Positive Comments

"I agree 100 percent with everything you write here. It initially makes my clients incredibly nervous when I provide them 300-word-max cover letters. But then they put themselves in the hiring manager's shoes and suddenly, they see how much better a short cover note is. I'd testify under oath to how effective this can be!" - Elissa Poma

"Ellen, your idea of sending a "Cover Note" instead of a cover letter looks good and more importantly it is a welcome innovation in the field of job applications." - Cover letter format

10 Careers for the Survivalist

Are you being paid to be prepared? Smart survivalists choose careers that allow them not just to stockpile money and supplies, but to actually get paid to learn preparedness and survival skills. Here are 10 careers that will give you real-world experience in prevention, protection, rescue, and recovery:

  1. Emergency Management Training Program Coordinators are disaster management professionals that manage the details of training programs designed to improve a state or local government’s ability to respond to disasters. They may also act as advisors to political leaders about ways to reduce loss of lives or property in natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on The Survival Mom External link

Capture Your Passion in a Paycheck: Promising Careers for Photographers

It’s hard to find photographers who aren’t passionate about what they do. Perhaps it is the boundless potential of what can be done with photography – and the images that it captures – that inspires such enduring interest. Used to create art, document details or tell a story, photography is both an artistic and scientific medium – unlike any other.

But there are so many ways that photography is used – in almost any industry and location – and it can be hard to choose which career or careers are best suited for you.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Epic Edits External link

Positive Comments

"A very interesting and informative post. All new aspiring photographers should have a read." - CStGPA

"I thought in taking pictures, it’s enough that you have the write angle of your subject, but I realize it’s not only the “thing” you need to considered. Thank you for this post. Now I’m planning to take a short course in a much broad field of photography." - Photo pop art

5 Tips for Making Good Money as a Freelance Writer

The marketplace is full of opportunities for writers. There are always new messages that need to be communicated or old messages that need to be communicated in a new way. There are always people and businesses who need help looking good through the use of good writing. When economic times are challenging, the need to spread the word about products, services, and causes increases exponentially.

The following are 10 lessons I learned in the 12 or more years I've been doing work as a writer (in some capacity or another):

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Conversations with Writers External link

A Boomers’ Guide to Choosing Volunteer Opportunities

The face of volunteerism is changing. Challenging economical conditions, advances in technology, and boomers approaching retirement age are major influences on how non-profit organizations operate differently than in the past. There are many more people seeking help from service organizations, but there are also many more people who are volunteering.

These and other social trends inspired by boomers, such as the green awareness movement and flexible work schedules, are spurring the non-profit community to respond in pioneering ways. However, some boomers are finding that not all non-profits are ready for their services. The resources below can help boomers make informed choices about their encore careers as volunteers.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Boomers Next Step External link

Matching Your Personal Passion to a Promising Career

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Passion can be a powerful motivating force – one that gives us a sense of reward when we fulfill it, and a sense of frustration if we try to set it aside. That deep need – whether it’s to contribute, change, curb, create or conquer – drives not just the decisions we make at moments of big change, but the daily actions we take as well. The key is to make decisions and take actions that turn our passions into work that pays off. The goal is to spend each working moment discovering our potential and creating a foundation for its fulfillment.

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Written for BrainTrack External link as a guest post on Boomers' Next Step External link

Positive Comments

"Right on!" - said Maggie Mistal External link, who CNN dubbed "one of the nation's best known career coaches."


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