'You do have to work harder to prove yourself:' HSS CIO Jamie Nelson uses her voice to encourage women in tech

Being a CIO in the era of booming technology and rapid changes, comes with its fair share of challenges and headaches. Add being a woman on top of that, and you can be met with even more challenges.

However, societal changes are making it easier for women to enter leadership positions that were traditionally held by men, according to Jamie Nelson, CIO of Hospital for Special Surgery.  

As the CIO of the New York City-based hospital, Ms. Nelson has worked hard to have her voice heard among men in the healthcare and tech industry. Now, she is using her voice to encourage and mentor young women so they can be heard.

Below, Ms. Nelson discusses her years as CIO at HSS as well as the best advice she's been given.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Can you tell me a little about your experience at Hospital for Special Surgery and your current role? 

Jamie Nelson: I've been CIO for seven and a half years. Currently, our focus is shifting to digital – including mobile consumer facing apps, omnichannel communications, including CRM and telehealth. We are also moving data and applications to the cloud and making sure we have the appropriate cybersecurity controls in place.

All of these initiatives are possible because of our past accomplishments around rebuilding our technical infrastructure and implementing Epic which serve as our technical and application platforms.

Q: What’s been your greatest accomplishment throughout your seven years as CIO at HSS? 

JN: One of our major challenges was getting our mostly voluntary medical staff to adopt Epic Ambulatory in their private offices, which was not required. These physicians could have selected any EHR or continued to operate with their existing systems. However, the realization that it was best to have a single medical record for both inpatient and ambulatory services for overall patient care has resulted in over 90 percent of these physicians and surgeons adopting Epic Ambulatory.

Also, important to achieving these results was to pay attention to the specific workflow needs of the practices — we wanted to make sure that we were not overburdening the physicians or their support staff. So, as we built out the Epic system for the ambulatory setting, we tried to make sure that we were listening to these physicians and streamlining workflows.

This was accomplished by enlisting physician champions from all of our subspecialties during the implementation process. These champions were trained on Epic and help us develop workflows and build out templates. Some of these physician champions also trained their colleague physicians on Epic prior to go-live. These tactics proved to be very successful in physician EHR adoption.

Q: How has your experience been being one of the few women in tech and leadership positions? 

JN: When you are a female in an industry not dominated by females, you do have to work harder to prove yourself. In the early days, there was a lot of work done on golf courses and at other events where women weren't normally invited or encouraged to participate. This has changed over the years. Nowadays, a female leader's voice is understood as being part of the diversity of thought that makes companies successful. The value that a female leader brings into a non-traditionally female world is now being recognized and actively sought out – at both leadership and board levels. 

Again, in the early days of my career, I didn't pay much attention to gender. Instead, I put my head down and did my work because I assumed everyone else was doing the same and this is how advancement worked. At this point, I work a lot harder at encouraging and mentoring female leaders — helping them to develop the voice that can be heard. 

Q: Who do you go to for advice? 

JN: I like to go to fellow healthcare CIOs for advice. There is a lot of collegiality in this profession and there is nothing like having a group of people in your own industry who are maybe a half a step ahead to bounce ideas off of.

My direct reports on the HSS IT Leadership Team are also a great source of advice because they are very smart leaders in their own domains, who also understand HSS specific context. 

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

JN: Recently, I heard the phrase “Take a back seat." Sometimes, especially when you're mentoring leaders, you have to let go to empower others. 

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