NephCure Open Access: Spotlight On Jessica Martin, Chief Operating Officer
This March, we celebrated Jessica’s five-year anniversary with NephCure Kidney International. During her tenure, Jessica has been involved with NephCure at all levels and knows the nuts and bolts of everything we do. In fact, in response to her wealth of knowledge, we thought it apt to bestow upon Jess her very own hashtag: #JessKnows, which we use around the office often!
We chatted with Jessica recently to commemorate her five years with NephCure. Below, we offer a closer look at who Jess is and what her role at NephCure entails.
NephCure Kidney International: You’ve been at NephCure for five years. What’s your favorite part about your current job?
Jessica Martin: It’s different every day. I don’t know what any given day is going to look like until I walk through the door. There’s always a surprise waiting for me in my inbox!
NephCure: What are all the different things that you do?
Jessica: Finance, HR, Admin, Legal, Facilities, IT. Though we outsource some of that.
NephCure: In 60 seconds or less name all the positions you’ve held at NephCure.
Jessica: Oh my gosh! Office Administrator, Grassroots Operations Manager, Director of Operations, National Director of Program Operations, and now Chief Operating Officer. And I think that’s in order!
NephCure: In your five years here, what has surprised you most?
Jessica: Probably the lengths that people will go, specifically caregivers and family members, to get something done for their patient. We know people who have flown across the country for a second opinion, or tried to obtain foreign currency to trade in for donations, and all kinds of different fundraisers. The ideas that people come up with to try to raise money or find a cure always surprise me.
NephCure: What event do you look forward to the most?
Jessica: All In for a Cure. Because of the candy bar!
NephCure: Describe the candy bar.
Jessica: When I say candy bar, it’s not like *a* candy bar. It’s a table full of candy—a “candy kiosk,” we call it. The first time I saw it I was like, “Oh my gosh, these are my people!”
NephCure: What has been your favorite memory of an event?
Jessica: Probably Advocacy Days, and also our Volunteer Leadership Summits. At both of those, you get to see all these patients and family members get together. I think we could have an event where we just put everybody in the same place and let them talk and tell their stories to each other. That’s what Advocacy Day used to be—it was the only time that we could get patient families from around the country together. We used to have Advocacy Days where people would tell us, “This is the first time I’ve ever met another patient.” We bring strangers into a room and they leave hugging and crying, and they all have each other’s phone numbers, and they’re saying, “When am I going to see you again?” It’s amazing. Sometimes later, I’ll see on Facebook two people that I know didn’t know each other before the event, and now they’re all over each other’s Facebook pages and cheering each other on.
NephCure: Is there something that makes you realize, this is why we’re here?
Jessica: May was very tough. We lost three patients, two of whom we knew really well. We were all really upset. When something like that happens, obviously there’s a part of me that feels like, yes, that’s why we do this. But we also can’t get mired down in it. We have to be able to come back up and keep working.
There’s a lot of nights or weekends where a staff member will see an article or Facebook post that references FSGS or something related to our work, and we’ll text each other, “Oh my gosh, did you see this?” It’s a part of our lives now. When I get a text at night—and I have a different ringtone for work people—I might think, “Oh someone is going to be out sick tomorrow or something.” Then I’ll look and see that it’s something good that happened that we’re sharing with each other! I like that, because it’s not just a job. It’s a part of our lives and what we do.
I will say—I had been working here for about 3 months when I was at a jewelry party and happened to overhear someone say, “He didn’t feel well. We took him to the emergency room, and they said he was spilling protein.” I said “Wait! Tell that story again!?” I was like, “Call me at work tomorrow, we’re going to get you to the right doctor.” I listen for that—I listen for people saying kidney disease, or protein spilling. I think I always will.
NephCure: How did you end up with NephCure?
Jessica: I had cancer 13 years ago. During that time, I started volunteering with a cancer-oriented nonprofit. I knew nothing about nonprofits, I had never done charity work or anything before, and I loved it. I said to my husband, “If I’m going to go back to work, this is what I want to do.” His famous line is, “Why would you work for a nonprofit, it says right in the title you’re not going to make any money!” But I had worked in software before and thought, “I’m not going back to software. If I’m going to put the kids in daycare, then I have to do work that I care about.”
I started looking for admin work because I’d never worked in nonprofits before. I found NephCure and had no idea what it was. At the time, it was run by a management company who ran 3 other nonprofits. When I interviewed, they asked if I wanted to work for NephCure or one of the other nonprofits, a community fund. I was like, “Ah, I’ll go with the healthcare one.” Then with people leaving and roles moving around… As it turns out, I did have some skills that I had kept to myself for a while. I was like, “Yeah, I could probably take on some other roles.” I call it the perfect storm—the way things evolved, this being where I landed.
NephCure: Last year was a pretty momentous year for you. What happened?
Jessica: Last year, our CEO resigned, and our board asked me to take on those duties with the help of some board members. I did and learned a lot—the biggest of which is that I don’t want that job! It was invigorating, it was an adrenaline rush, and my kids didn’t talk to me for periods of time because I was traveling so much and they were mad. I know that I don’t want to do that—I don’t want to travel or work those hours anymore. But I learned a lot, not just about NephCure, and not just about the responsibilities necessarily, but about being that person where “the buck stops here.” It’s very stressful. I am ridiculously proud of how we all handled things though—everybody stepped up to do more. We got through. I learned to delegate, I learned to outsource, I learned to interview CEOs. My proudest moment was the day that Josh started! Because I finally knew that we did it, we got through that year, and we had who we needed to be able to continue. That year will go down in history, certainly in my life, as one of the craziest ever.
NephCure: What excites you for the future of NephCure?
Jessica: I feel like we’re more stable than ever because of the people we have here now. We know what we’re doing, and we have this singular purpose with clinical trial awareness. We have a ton of work to do, but just the fact that we have all these pharmaceutical companies talking to us still blows my mind!
We have an end goal. We’ve always talked about finding cures or treatments, but there was not necessarily always a tangible plan in place for accomplishing that. There was a little bit of throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. We’re done with that now. We know what sticks, we know what works, and we know what we need to do. That makes it feel a little bit easier—there’s all these smaller milestones that make it tangible and easier to get to. I don’t know that we’ve ever fleshed it out in that way before.
NephCure: Anything you want to add?
Jessica: I’ve worked at a lot of places, but I’ve never worked anywhere for longer than two years. That I’m still here is a testament to the fact that I’m not bored—we’re doing some really exciting stuff and moving the needle forward.
The group of people we have working here—and this is not an accident, this is on purpose—are the most hardworking, ethical, passionate, smart, funny, compassionate people I think I’ve ever met. The group that’s here has seen some things, they’ve been through heartache, they’ve been through change, they’ve been through you-name-it. And they continue to do a great job. I certainly couldn’t have gone through last year without these people. There’s no question.
We’re honored to work alongside Jessica in our fight to find a cure for FSGS and Nephrotic Syndrome. Help us wish her a happy anniversary by leaving her a note below!