An Interview of Congressional Award Board Member Marc Baer: The Unconventional Professional Journey to Healthcare

Nikhil Kapoor
2020 Gold Medalist | 2020-2022 Diversity Ambassador

As you’re reading this interview, I want you to understand that not everyone’s career path is the same, and there is no single path to get you where you want to be. This interview is a lesson for anyone who is beginning their career journey, to understand that true passion is the key to personal growth and success. This may look different for everyone, so it’s important to have patience and prevent comparing yourself to others.

“There is this expectation that you have your whole life figured out and that you know what you’re going to do and that somehow the journey is clear. Point number one, you don’t have to have it all figured out…Point number two, don’t be afraid to let the journey take you where it will…and when the journey itself becomes a little more clear, get on the journey. Let it happen.” – Marc Baer, VP of Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Baer, Vice President at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Mr. Baer was first exposed to The Congressional Award in the late 70s-early 80s, when it was just a pilot program while growing up in Northern Minnesota. He received a Bronze and Silver Medal, ultimately earning his Gold Medal in 1987 and has had a diverse educational and professional background since then. Mr. Baer received his undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he met his wife of 30 years during the first week of college. He later attended University of Minnesota Law School while also practicing Taekwondo, reaching his black belt just a month before graduating. He talked about the importance of having a hobby and managing the stress that comes with pursuing a passion. Martial Arts gave Mr. Baer values that he was able to carry with him throughout his life. After law school, Mr. Baer went into private practice and worked as an attorney in a small town outside of the Twin Cities. During his practice, the true passion that was always present in his heart started to emerge: Healthcare.

“The longer I practiced law in my third and my fourth year, I just felt that tug more and more. And so I eventually decided, you know what? I just need to let myself jump into the river and let the journey take me where it will.”

Taking a chance on a career jump, he joined UnitedHealth Group in a non-legal role to learn about the industry. This was the start of his 23-year career journey into healthcare. After eight years of working at UnitedHealth and among other things creating the compliance program
for what is now a healthcare provider called Optum Inc., he moved on to working with Target Corp. Although it may appear to be an unexpected turn in his career, “about 10% of Target’s revenues at that time were actually healthcare-related” because of its pharmacies and clinics (Marc Baer). Mr. Baer was also interested in learning more about how Target’s focus on guests could translate into improved experiences for consumers of healthcare. For the next six years, until Target sold most of its healthcare business to CVS in 2015, Mr. Baer experienced remarkable growth in his career. He led Target’s clinic business operations and its pharmacy-managed care network, and negotiated third-party AR arrangements with pharmacy benefit managers.

“I learned so much about healthcare at UnitedHealth Group. And at Target, I learned about the importance of engaging and leading through a consumer-focused lens and also gained valuable leadership experience.”

Following Target, he landed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota where he has worked in multiple roles including programs focused on making healthcare more affordable, building a team around population health, and leading strategic partnerships. Before Mr. Baer knew it, the law had become a steppingstone to building his own ladder.

“I went down the law school path because I felt like it would help me develop a more generalized skillset. A little bit of foreshadowing. I didn’t know that it was going to lead to an incredibly fascinating 23-year journey in healthcare, 17 jobs, and counting! Although looking back now, I probably knew myself well enough…to know I would be most happy doing work that would allow me to continue learning, moving, and shaping a variety of different things. And my law degree has certainly been very beneficial in helping me to do that.”

Mr. Baer’s journey through the healthcare industry has been a long and varied one. He realized the only way he will learn his true passion is to be open to new experiences. Knowing when to say, “that’s fantastic, but that is never going to be for me,” regarding some opportunities that he did try was a valuable lesson he learned. Cultivating those instincts and knowing when to take a risk were important as well. Sometimes it is not only the belief in oneself but also receiving the support of others that can make an impact on career decisions. One of the most important aspects of Mr. Baer’s journey has been the support and guidance of mentors who have helped him navigate the challenges he has faced.

Throughout his journey, Mr. Baer has been fortunate to have had a wide range of mentors who have provided him with valuable insights, guidance, and support. These mentors have “come in all shapes and sizes,” taking him under their wing early on and teaching him with honest feedback. Mr. Baer credits these mentors with helping him build confidence in making the necessary changes and transitions throughout his career. Now as a Member of the Board of Directors at the Congressional Award, Baer is giving back in ways that reflect the support he
has received from others. He is passionate about the work of The Congressional Award program, which aims to support young people in achieving their own success.

“The Congressional Award taught me a lot about setting goals, working to improve the lives of others, helping other people along the way… and being part of The Congressional Award is really, in a sense, a chance for me to give back in ways that others have given to me.”

Gold Medal Class of 1988
Marc Baer with Silver & Bronze Medals, 1987

As a student, I know finding a mentor can be difficult and sometimes, under personal circumstances, may not seem possible. But I know The Congressional Award has the resources to get you in touch with leaders and mentors such as Mr. Baer to support you in your journey. Mr. Baer advises students who are currently involved in The Congressional Award or considering getting involved in the program – to take this unique opportunity to heart. He emphasizes the importance of The Congressional Award as a vehicle for developing well-rounded and transferable skills that will be useful in any career path.

As a former pre-health student turned law student, I can relate to Mr. Baer’s experience of taking a different turn in his intended career path. His pivot toward a healthcare related field piqued my interest in learning more about different careers within that industry. Mr. Baer discusses the healthcare industry and its focus on sickness rather than wellness. He notes that most of a person’s healthcare experience is determined by their choices and actions outside of the healthcare system and that healthcare costs are continuing to rise at a faster pace than wage inflation. This is a significant challenge and concern, especially for those with lower incomes. Mr. Baer suggests that one way to address these issues is through the field of population health, which aims to address the social and environmental factors that impact health and address them at a community level. He also mentions the importance of addressing the cultural needs of patients and promoting cultural competency in the healthcare system.

“The reality is that 80% of a person’s health is determined by their choices outside of the healthcare system. The food you eat, stable housing, staying active, your work, the things you do outside of work etc. … those things drive most of a person’s healthcare experience.”

Additionally, Mr. Baer highlights the growing field of telemedicine as an exciting area for those interested in healthcare, as it allows for greater access to medical care for individuals in remote or underserved areas. Overall, Mr. Baer suggests that there are many exciting opportunities for those interested in the healthcare industry and encourages students to consider working in the healthcare industry as they explore their career paths.

When asked what specific skills students should focus on developing, Mr. Baer emphasized the importance of personal drive and motivation. He advises students to hold on to the values fostered by The Congressional Award, including a commitment to making a positive impact on others and a willingness to continue learning and growing. He also advises students to be open-minded and willing to embrace all perspectives, as this will be important in the healthcare field where they will be serving and supporting the needs of everyone.

Nikhil Kapoor
2020 Gold Medalist | 2020-2022 Diversity Ambassador

It was a pleasure getting to know Mr. Baer and motivational to hear from someone who took an unconventional road in their career. It was an honor to do this interview and hear the amazing advice that will be useful to me and other folks who are considering various career opportunities.

My name is Nikhil Kapoor, a former Congressional Award Diversity Ambassador. If you have any questions, please feel free to DM me @posh_heat on my Instagram, connect with me on LinkedIn, or email me at!