Top 25 Women in Healthcare Honorees Offer Perspectives on Leadership
By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
April 15, 2013 - From service delivery and insurance to quality improvement and government, Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare shape health policy, patient care and the next generation of leaders. Their successes reflect that healthcare remains a field open to caring, compassionate and confident women who want to make a difference in the lives of others.
“The changes going on now are so crucial for healthcare, for our patients, all physicians, and women are in the right place at the right time to make good things happen,” said Ardis Hoven, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, and president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA), Chicago. She added that leadership at the local level and implementing needed changes are tough, but for those willing to take that “swim upstream,” it’s what leadership is all about.
Margaret "Peggy" O'Kane
Opportunities are unfolding at a rapid pace, added Margaret “Peggy” O’Kane, president of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), Washington, D.C.
“Part of leadership in healthcare in the next 20 years is trying to get more affordability that doesn’t compromise quality,” O’Kane said. “People should embrace this agenda and not be afraid.”
Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, Washington, D.C., said the possibilities for women to lead are greater than ever.
“Rising to challenges such as providing better healthcare at lower costs to the communities we serve will require leaders who bring a solid knowledge base and a commitment to lifelong learning to their positions,” added Deborah Bowen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), Chicago. “In addition, the field will require a diverse talent pool--including women and ethnic minorities.”
The more diversity of opinion, such as those of women, the stronger the healthcare transformation will be, added Irene Thompson, president and CEO of the University HealthSystem Consortium (UHC), Chicago.
Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Cambridge, Mass., agreed, saying, “Women in healthcare, especially in leadership positions, is a good thing. It's good for the same reasons why diversity in general is good--engaging more people with diverse backgrounds leads to more diverse thinking, and leads to more creative thinking. This is exactly what healthcare urgently needs. But I also think that more women in healthcare is good because so many women have well-developed, often profound gifts in things like empathy.”
“Healthcare offers something for anyone who wants to make a difference,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Washington, D.C., adding that everyone, from the part-time nurse attending to an elderly patient to the sterile supply technician to the leader developing policy, changes the world for individual families.
“Healthcare is a wide-open field, and there are opportunities for women and people in general,” agreed Shirley Weis, chief administrative officer and vice president of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Weis remarked about how many of the women on this year’s list, including herself, began in nursing and have branched into a multiple facets of the industry, all contributing in their own ways to improve quality, safety and service to patients.
Readers submitted 555 nominations. Modern Healthcare selected the top 25 women based on several criteria: success as a leader in an organization or company and in the industry outside of the company, an ability to effect change in the industry, and a willingness to share expertise and mentor other female executives.
Quality and safety connection
Many of the recipients lead organizations committed to quality improvement and felt their abilities to move the needle on safer, better care helped earn them a spot on the list.
“I was lucky to get the right job,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group, Washington, D.C. “Leapfrog is driving disruptive change in healthcare and that is critically needed. And I have the passion to see us through to a better healthcare system.”
O’Kane said she’s proud of how her organization takes ideas and rhetoric; sets standards, such as those for patient-centered medical homes; and turns those ideas into a way to hold people accountable.
Susan DeVore, president and CEO of the Premier healthcare alliance, Charlotte, N.C., cited her organization’s performance improvement collaboratives, which engage cross-industry partners in constructive ways to define measures, collect and report data transparently, identify top performance and share the practices, with contributing to her receiving the recognition.
“Our collaborative model, coupled with our vast footprint of health systems, makes the possibility of transformation a reality to ultimately change and improve the entire healthcare industry,” DeVore said.
Karen Daley, president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), Silver Spring, Md., credited her work improving workplace safety, including needlestick prevention, as a contributor to the Modern Healthcare recognition. In addition, she said the Affordable Care Act, which the ANA supported, has set a high bar for changing healthcare and focusing on quality and illness prevention, which are closely aligned with nurses’ practice.
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J., also mentioned health promotion and quality improvement efforts by her organization.
“Our sole purpose is to help Americans live healthier lives and get the healthcare they need, and to do so in our lifetime,” Lavizzo-Mourey said. “I see myself as a businesswoman, a doctor and as a philanthropist. Not just a grant-maker, but an agent of positive change in entire systems of health and healthcare. I still think like a physician, but now my clinic consists of entire populations and communities.”
As president and CEO of the UHC, Thompson focuses on quality improvements and reducing costs at academic medical centers, advancing analytics and facilitating innovation.
“When you are CEO you get recognized for the work of the team,” Thompson said.
Bisognano also deflected some of the attention off of herself, saying, “The accomplishments that I'm being recognized for are truly the accomplishments of a large group of people that I’m privileged and thrilled to get to work with.”
Sr. Keenan shared the spotlight as well, indicating that the healthcare providers who do so much every day in communities around the country earned the honor for her.
“The credibility Catholic Healthcare has is because of the work people get up and do every day,” Sr. Keenan said.
Up-and-comers need mentoring
Today’s healthcare leaders offered aspiring leaders much advice. From sharing with others and mentoring, which were Modern Healthcare criteria, to playing well with others, learning, taking risks and being bold.
“Find mentors and be a mentor,” Daley advised. “Both experiences are of great value.”
Daley recalled how her mentors have helped her recognize opportunities and things about herself.
Binder credits her mentors with helping her spot opportunities and guiding her in making good decisions. She recommends aspiring leaders find mentors.
Thompson said she considers mentoring a natural process, helping people reach their full potential--within her organization and within the member community.
Several women have established more formal leadership programs within their organizations. NCQA has begun a talent-management initiative, and UNC has created a program to help employees think through their career paths and develop the skills to become leaders.
Teamwork and collaboration
“To be successful, it’s important to be able to work in teams and be collaborative,” Darling said. “Women have always done that and their style fits in.”
Weis called healthcare a team sport.
“People want to see you work well with others and that you uphold the values you espouse,” Weis said.
Be informed, listen to colleagues, understand diverse points of view, be part of the dialogue, advised Thompson.
Lavizzo-Mourey recalled one of her favorite African proverbs: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” She advised building the best team possible and to never underestimate collaboration.
“Be bold, and don’t be afraid to fail,” Lavizzo-Mourey added. “Often the best lessons are learned from what doesn’t work.”
Advice to aspiring leaders
Once committed to leadership, have a vision and focus on success, advised Darling. Obtain the educational background needed and the analytic skills to understand the world and possible solutions.
“Women need to have confidence and not hold back,” Darling said.
DeVore encouraged prospective leaders to unlock their talents and challenge themselves to identify and articulate their most powerful skills and figure out how to focus on them to increase the potential for success and reward.
Nancy Schlichting, president and CEO, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, recommended women “seize every opportunity to contribute, view every job as a chance to learn, and work as a valued team member.”
Daley advised potential leaders to become lifelong learners, to take risks and challenge the status quo. Additionally, being part of a membership organization offers opportunities to develop leadership skills and meet others.
“Membership in professional associations can help you network with others in your field and stay up to date with your profession,” Bowen added.
“Be committed to a passion,” said Hoven, suggesting women identify what drives them, and then their enthusiasm will translate through all of the work they do.
O’Kane added to be bold, to speak up and to listen and have empathy--things healthcare needs.
Sister Carol Keehan
Know your subject well, respect everyone and their contributions, have great affection for the patients and their families, and don’t worry about who gets credit, Sr. Keenan advised, saying, “Work hard and don’t always be the one on stage.”
Have the courage to take on problems and see solutions, even if they are not yours, recommended Bisognano, adding, “I also think building resilience and focusing more on empathy are important for everyone who wants to be a leader, including women.”
“Lean in and give it your all,” Binder said. “Leadership is a 24-hour a day job.”
“Put the patient in the center of things, and if you do that, decisions will flow from that,” advised Weis, adding to walk the talk, work hard and take risks and grow. But most importantly have a vision.
“Look at the future and where you would like to end up,” Weis said. “Dream big and believe in yourself. If you work hard and follow through on things, there is lots of opportunity.”
Top 25 Women in Healthcare – 2013
Named by Modern Healthcare, listed alphabetically:
- Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, U.S. surgeon general
- Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group, Washington, D.C.
- Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Cambridge, Mass.
- Marna Borgstrom, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Conn.
- Gail Boudreaux, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group and CEO of UnitedHealthcare, Minnetonka, Minn.
- Deborah Bowen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Chicago, president and CEO as of May 13, 2013.
- Karen Daley, president of the American Nurses Association, Silver Spring, Md.
- Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, Washington, D.C.
- Susan DeVore, president and CEO of the Premier healthcare alliance, Charlotte, N.C.
- Margaret Hamburg, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Md.
- Patricia Hemingway Hall, president and CEO Health Care Service Corp., Chicago
- Ardis Hoven, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, and president-elect of the American Medical Association, Chicago
- Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, D.C.
- Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Washington, D.C.
- Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J.
- Margaret “Peggy” O’Kane, president of the National Committee for Quality Assurance, Washington, D.C.
- Sharon O’Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center
- Debra Osteen, senior vice president of Universal Health Services, King of Prussia, Pa.
- Judith Persichilli, president and CEO of Catholic Health East, Newtown Square, Pa.
- Nancy Schlichting, president and CEO, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit
- Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.
- Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Baltimore, Md.
- Irene Thompson, president and CEO of the University HealthSystem Consortium, Chicago
- Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Rockville, Md.
- Shirley Weis, chief administrative officer and vice president of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
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