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Home Away From Home

  • February 23, 2024

In just five and a half years, Sr. Vice President, Clinical Trial Management, Jen Gehlhar went from having no knowledge of clinical research to moving to Germany to help bridge process as Medpace started operations in Europe. 

A Life-Altering Newspaper Ad

After Jen completed her degree in biology, she had been working in temporary full-time roles while looking for a long-term career. During her job hunt after graduation, Jen’s mother mailed over a newspaper clipping that would change the course of her career. Jen opened the clipping for a role at a central laboratory that would become her introduction to the industry. From there, Jen transitioned to Medpace for a role as a Clinical Research Associate (CRA).

Jen instantly fell in love with her CRA role, and before she knew it she was a lead CRA sitting in a team meeting volunteering to move to Germany. At the time, Medpace was just starting to expand in Europe and needed assistance to bridge process. Jen hadn’t considered moving abroad before, but in that moment the only thought crossing her mind was why not? “You can do anything for a year,” she told herself.

Before long, Jen landed in Munich. Along with a new passport stamp, Jen also brought with her a new title: Clinical Trial Manager (CTM). This combination presented a great deal of unknowns and a bit of nerves. She considers nerves a sign of investment and dedication, so rather than entertaining the anxieties she casted them aside and got to work.

An American in Germany

“I absolutely just fell in love with it,” Jen laughs, remembering her early days in Germany. “I liked the differences in the cultures. I liked that everything was different. There was nothing that was routine or mundane.” While culture shock can drive some away, Jen embraced all of the differences from language to food to cultural norms and more. She wanted nothing more than to simply learn and absorb everything she could.

Before the year was up, Jen already knew that she would be back. She returned back to the U.S., but she didn’t stay long. Within a year, Jen was touching back down in Munich for what would become a 12-year stay. She made Germany her home, and while she was growing her career, she was also growing as a person.

During her time in Germany, Jen’s career progressed greatly; from Manager to Director and then Executive Director. Throughout each career move, Jen’s excitement was unwavering for what laid ahead.  To invest in the future, Jen made the decision to return to the United States and stepped into her role as Vice President, Clinical Trial Management. After living in Germany for nearly 14 years, the prospect of adapting to a country she’d been so far removed from was slightly nerve wracking.  “I had been out of the country for so long that I was worried about reverse culture shock,” Jen explains. However, the prospect of another new challenge was exciting, and Jen looked forward to contributing at higher level.

Leading the Way

If there’s one thing Jen wishes she could tell her younger self, it would be to not take things too personally. She describes having an epiphany in her career; it’s about my work, not about me personally. Even though it is sound advice, Jen knows better than most that it’s one of the phrases young professionals hear but don’t really listen to. It’s something that only sinks in, Jen muses, with time and experience as it did for her. “You just laugh about it [later].”

“When I started [at Medpace], I could have never envisioned I would spend more than half my career in Europe,” Jen says. “Those years were formative.” Upon joining the industry, Jen didn’t have a prescribed career path, nor did she implement one. Looking back, she realizes she would’ve missed a great deal of opportunities, namely the chance to live in Germany, had she followed a strict plan. For many people, remaining open allows integral personal and professional development. 

Jen’s time in Germany shaped not only her career but her understanding of leadership. Throughout her time as a leader, Jen has learned how to bring out the best in her teams through appreciating and understanding differences. She has adopted an approach of serving as a buffer for her team while also knowing when it’s time to “push them out of the nest.” Jen explains that it’s a delicate balance, but watching her team work together and reach their goals is one of the most rewarding aspects of her role. “It’s quite selfish actually,” Jen says. “Seeing your team succeed. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Throughout her career, Jen has focused on mentoring and developing her team into a group of strong and reliable colleagues. The group’s harmonious back-and-forth allows her to utilize their strengths and support one another through weaknesses which enables them to bring Medpace’s mission to life.

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Clinical Trial Management