01 Mar How a Bagel Habit Turned This CPA into a Mediator
Ah, bagels…the grown up cousin of the doughnut. The ring o’bread that is nothing short of a yummy symbol of an eternal life that has no beginning or end. Warding off evil spirits and bringing good luck with every bite. What could be better?
I admit it…I love bagels, specifically bagel sandwiches. Even more specifically, a heaping ham and swiss with spicy brown mustard, tomato, and onion on a multi-grain bagel from The Bagel Maker in downtown Panama City, FL. When I get a craving for one of these, there is just no substitute and yes, I get the same thing every time. Call it fate or whatever you want, but my bagel habit actually has had a significant positive impact on my professional life.
See, one day I was at The Bagel Maker getting my usual. When I walked out the door, I saw this green pamphlet that talked about becoming a volunteer mediator in Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit. I have always been very interested in mediation so I was eager to get more information as soon as I got home. Sure enough, the deal was that the ADR program would pay for your required training, application fees, continuing education and provide the required mentorship if in return you volunteered to mediate for small claims court cases. Sounded fair to me, so I went down to the court house one day to observe a mediation. I have been in mediation in my personal life a few times as a party so it was nothing new to me. I have always admired the work of someone who was willing to put themselves in the middle of a conflict in an effort to bring people to a mutually beneficial agreement. I also think that there are many similarities between the independence rules for mediators and auditors, so I have a firm grasp of the requisite neutral mindset.
I ended up going through the class, doing all the mentorship observations and finally became a Florida Supreme Court Certified County Mediator. In Florida, a County mediator can deal with civil cases up to $15,000. To hold up my end of the bargain, several times a month I go to the courthouse to perform meditations on a variety of cases. Some common issues in small claims court involve credit cards or loans that weren’t paid and warranty problems on service work such as construction or auto repairs. Some parties are represented by an attorney and others are not. Either way, I absolutely love it. It is very challenging and creative work that I feel good about doing. To have people who come in angry at one another and walk out shaking hands, knowing that you had a part in making that happen, is very gratifying and humbling to me. I will continue to volunteer for a long time because I am thankful to have been given that opportunity. I also make it a point to get a bagel sandwich after every court session to remind myself of where it all started.
After a period of volunteering, I decided to go for the bigger certification which will allow me to perform mediations for civil cases that are above $15,000. In December, I became a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Mediator. I am very proud of this achievement. I had to go through a training class and another period of mentorship in order to get certified on the Circuit level. I appreciate very much those parties who let me observe their cases and the mediators who served as a mentor.
Now it is up to me to make a career in this field. My goal is to be mediating full time. It is as addicting to me as those bagel sandwiches. I feel strongly that this is what I am meant to be doing. As the youngest of five daughters, I can tell you that I have been mediating all my life. It is a role that I feel comfortable in and a profession that I believe serves a higher purpose…peacemaking. What could be better?
I want to concentrate myself on cases that match my background. Yes, I am a CPA with a Masters in Taxation. But, my main interest has been in the healthcare and insurance arena. In a former life I was an internal auditor for a two campus hospital system. In the last four years, I have put in thousands of hours studying and getting additional licenses/designations. I became a CHFP, which is the Certified Healthcare Financial Professional designation from the Healthcare Financial Management Association. At the time that I took the exam there were less than 2,500 people who had passed. I spent about a year and a half studying medical coding and graduated with honors. This was not easy for an accountant as it required me to learn medical terminology, anatomy, pathophysiology, and pharmacology, as well as ICD-9, ICD-10, CPT, HCPCS, and HIPPA. I am also licensed in Florida as an all-lines insurance adjuster and have a life, health, and annuity insurance license.
Like that bagel that has no beginning or end, so goes learning and expanding my knowledge. Though I am not an attorney, I have tried my best to put together a rounded skill set that may be of benefit to others. Both the healthcare and insurance worlds have an infinite range of issues that cause conflicts. My hope is to spend my future helping to resolve those. Beyond serving as a mediator, other alternative dispute resolution processes such as serving as an arbitrator, ombudsman, and facilitator are on my radar. I have recently started mediating insurance cases for the Florida Department of Financial Services. Time will tell how this all unfolds, but I am very excited to go down this path and only wish I would have started sooner.