27 thoughts on leadership from women in healthcare

In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, Becker's Hospital Review asked women in the healthcare industry to share their insights on leadership.

Here are 27 women who offered words of advice for healthcare leaders.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and style. Responses are in alphabetical order by last name. 

Jeannette Bankes. President and General Manager, Global Surgical Franchise for Alcon (Fort Worth, Texas). I believe women rise in their careers when they lean in and stay true to themselves. Find your passion and lead with authenticity and vulnerability. It might be slightly uncomfortable at first, but it becomes incredibly energizing and rewarding to bring your true self to work every day. The employees, customers and patients that you serve will trust and support you if you demonstrate these leadership qualities.

Rachele Berria. Vice President of U.S. Medical, Biopharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca (Wilmington, Del.). One of the most important aspects of being a female leader in healthcare is the commitment we have to pay it forward to the young girls and women around us. I have been gifted with such brilliant and inspiring mentors throughout my life and career. It is because of them that my ambition is to do the same for the next generation by cheering on young women to pursue a career in STEM. By welcoming new, bright and innovative minds to our field, we accelerate the delivery of new treatments and solutions for patients and their families. Together, women of STEM from the past, present and future will change the clinical practice of medicine to better impact the health, and the lives, of millions of people.

Christie Bloomquist. Vice President of U.S. Corporate and Government Affairs, AstraZeneca (Wilmington, Del.). As a proud mom of three girls, I hope for a future where gender bias is not a factor in their ability to reach their full potential in whichever path they choose. This drives my passion to create opportunities for women today to help break the bias and forge equality for the next generation of female leaders.

Rhea Coler, PhD. Senior Investigator, Center for Global Infectious Disease Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Each time I stand up for myself, develop the next generation of biomedical researchers or contribute to institutional efforts that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, I remind myself of the possible and far-reaching implications for other international women.

Alison Cowan, MD. Medical Director of Diagnostic Solutions at Hologic (Marlborough, Mass.). Women in our culture are often implicitly and explicitly expected to be followers, so it can be difficult to envision ourselves as leaders. I am so thankful to my mentors who demonstrated female leadership and who saw that potential in me. Leadership means showing up every day with a spirit of humility, curiosity and excitement about the work to be done. It means building others up, shining a light on their accomplishments and helping them grow into their potential. I strive to live these values through my work both as a practicing OB/GYN and as a leader in an organization that is a champion for women’s health. It’s a joy to be a part of this company and its mission and to pay the privilege forward at every chance through mentorship and leading by example. All women should see themselves as potential leaders of the future.

Kristen Gorodetzer. Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Cigna (Bloomfield, Conn.). Let's empower and encourage each other to bring our whole selves to work. As women, we wear many hats, and that's part of what informs the important perspective we bring to our work. At Cigna, we strive to create a culture of inclusivity that celebrates everyone's unique perspectives and develop programs and benefits that address whole-person health. When people feel supported at work, they feel empowered to ask for what they need to be successful.

Jill Feinberg. Vice President of Development and External Affairs, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital (Baltimore). Leadership is all about finding the right balance of being bold enough to take risks while also managing your team, engaging stakeholders and creating a shared vision. It takes courage and commitment, and you must truly care about the work that you are doing, providing an exemplary pathway for your team to follow. As my organization celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, I am reminded of our 22-year-old female founder, Hortense Kahn Eliasberg, and how we can follow her path of breaking barriers and driving our mission of providing family-focused, coordinated care for all children.

Laura Forese, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at NewYork-Presbyterian (New York City). Having spent my practicing career in orthopedic surgery, a historically male-dominated specialty, I am acutely aware of the value that different perspectives bring to the table — whether gender, race or ethnicity. When I look today, however, at the increasing number of women in positions of influence and leadership across healthcare, I am inspired to see a true difference from when I first entered medicine. There is still work to be done though, as women only account for 18 percent of hospital CEOs and 16 percent of all deans and department chairs in the U.S. Women's History Month and International Women's Day are moments in time that remind us to recognize all the strong women, past and present, who have charted the path forward for women around the world to have a louder voice. In my role as COO of NewYork-Presbyterian, I am committed to supporting women across our system and to ensuring that regardless of gender, race, ethnicity and religious beliefs, every individual in our network is awarded opportunities of growth.

Stacy Garrett-Ray, MD. Senior Vice President and Chief Community Impact Officer at Ascension (St. Louis). In a time when we’re seeing greater numbers of women entering medical school and careers within the health industry, it’s imperative that we build inclusive organizational cultures and cultivate opportunities that are supportive and celebrate diverse leadership. Not only does this provide us with the ability to create strong teams with diverse perspectives, talents and experiences, but it also helps us to get closer to achieving equity by delivering better care and improving outcomes and experiences for the communities we serve.

K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN. Chief Caregiver Officer, Cleveland Clinic. We drive our mission from the strength of our team. As leaders, it's our responsibility to create a learning environment that supports and engages our caregivers. We inspire and uplift them by showing our commitment to their growth and potential. Another crucial piece to building strong and resilient teams is recognition. Celebrate your teams often. We know there is a strong link between gratitude and satisfaction.

Joan Harvey. President of Care Solutions, Evernorth (Bloomfield, Conn.). What got you here won't get you there. As you advance your career, you will need different skills to execute projects, inspire teams and drive business growth. Find good mentors and be open to making the tough changes recommended to help you evolve and elevate your career. And never stop learning. 

Quita Highsmith. Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Genentech (South San Francisco, Calif.). My very presence as a VP at Genentech creates possibilities, and I take that responsibility seriously by showing up every day as my authentic self. We need more women and people of color seeing diverse leadership, especially in the C-suite, that don't modify their personality to fit in with what is believed to be acceptable. This gives women and people of color the confidence to bring their authentic self to work every day.

Alexa Kimball, MD. President and CEO of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston). Be intensely proactive about giving women opportunities in medicine. For organizations, having an institutional agenda to propel women means to pay, sponsor, promote, nominate, elect, invite, cite, credential and recognize women every chance possible during every phase of their career, keeping in mind that one woman's sequence may be different than her predecessors, or the later part of her career might be her most powerful one. Leaders should actively solicit new nominations of women for every job search, make sure women are part of job search committees, reduce the need to demonstrate impact that requires travel and eliminate meetings that occur before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m., when it's particularly hard to manage child care. In sum, we must meet women where they are now — which is a different place than where they were before the start of the pandemic.

Andrea Mazzoccoli, RN, PhD. Chief Nurse and Quality Officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati). In some cases, women leaders may find it difficult to earn a place at the leadership table, even as a nurse executive with a business and clinical education and extensive patient care experience. As our healthcare industry continues to transform, the voices of female executives will be needed more than ever. One of the hallmarks of a great leader is to go where it is difficult and challenging, and then lead with grace and grit. As a nurse and quality executive leader, my responsibility is to represent the voice of the major segment of our workforce in this challenging time. I strive every day to make our leadership team stronger by valuing the unique contributions and differences of each individual. By combining the business and operational acumen with clinical experience, we will inspire people — regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or creed — to create, innovate and grow.

Cindy J. Miller. President and CEO, Stericycle (Bannockburn, Ill.). The leaders that have always inspired me were the ones who put the safety and well-being of their employees first. The past two years have taken a profound toll on us all. As healthcare leaders, we’ll need to continue to foster an environment and culture that supports the overall health of our teams. Every step we can take toward getting back to the basics is key. And safety is one of those important building blocks leaders must recommit to regularly to help employees, patients and communities be stronger and healthier.

Nerissa Morris. Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. As a young woman I was blessed with female role models in my family from all walks of life, from domestic work to educators. They all instilled in me the values of a strong work ethic and preparation, determination and belief in my potential to succeed and a commitment of service to others. They believed in me. As leaders we have the responsibility to shine a light on the potential in people who are waiting for the opportunity to be discovered, cultivated and advanced, especially for people of color and women. Being a role model shows them it's possible. Being a leader calls us to break the barriers of bias to unleash the potential in others.

Sammie Mosier. Chief Nurse Executive, HCA Healthcare (Nashville, Tenn.). As Chief Nurse Executive for HCA Healthcare, it is my responsibility and privilege to be an advocate for 93,000 nurses. Leadership in healthcare requires educating hospital operators on the realities and needs of the nursing environment. I emphasize strong advocacy skills and establishing key partnerships as important leadership abilities for all female leaders — whether new to leadership or seasoned in their careers. We aren’t alone in healthcare; it requires a resilient and caring team. Authentic female leaders can help others connect to the mission of patient care and inspire others to be part of the journey. 

Margaret Norton. Chief of Staff, Mass General Brigham (Boston). We are at a pivotal time for shaping the future of healthcare, and my advice for women is that now is the time to be bold. Be a driver of change. Lead in rethinking how we deliver care. Aspire to do better for our communities. Speak up when you see something you want to fix. If the past two years have taught us anything, it's that we need to be nimble, empathetic and we need to move fast.

Laura Pickett. Vice President and Chief Patient and Family Engagement Officer, Indiana University Health (Indianapolis). In a multigenerational workplace, the resolve and confidence to be fully focused on others, to champion and uplift other women, are indispensable. Practicing the elusive art of deep listening and then acting in a way which inspires clarity, vulnerability and compassion builds strong culture: It is culture which drives performance. It’s my privilege to walk a path of opportunity because other women before me paved the way. Reciprocally, it's my responsibility to smooth the road for future generations focused on equitably delivering exceptional care experiences for patients, families and communities.

Carol Porter, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston). Healthcare gives leaders opportunities to care for patients and to make a difference in the lives of those we serve, both in good times and in challenging times. Throughout the crises I have experienced as a leader, I have embraced challenges with a focus on safety, health and humanity. As a woman and a mother, I applied those lessons to shape my life and my children's lives. I have grown stronger with each challenge, only increasing my dedication as a healthcare leader. I am proud to be a female leader in nursing and in healthcare, and after a lifetime of service I thank all the patients and families I have served for making me who I am today. 

Tami Reller. President, Duly Health and Care (Downers Grove, Ill.). Now more than ever, it's critical we empower women in the healthcare workforce and to lead by example with integrity, compassion and humility in everything we do. These past two years have shed light on the incredible work we do and the sacrifices women — in the healthcare industry and beyond — often make. I am grateful to the women who paved the way for me and always look for opportunities to support, champion and mentor our new generations of female colleagues so they can find balance and flourish in all the roles they play — professionally and personally. On this International Women's Day, I express my appreciation to all those across the industry who are providing such personalized, purposeful, compassionate care to their patients and each other every day. 

Nadia Rosenthal, PhD. Scientific Director and Professor at The Jackson Laboratory for Mammalian Genetics (Bar Harbor, Maine). As a scientist, I foster a stubborn intolerance of personal compromise when it comes to pursuing ideas, and I tell my team of researchers and students to do the same when they enter the laboratory. Maintaining a sense of freedom to pursue my fascination with a scientific question has helped me craft my leadership philosophy and practice. Despite any of the difficulties or pitfalls that have come my way as a female leader in research, holding true to my intellectual curiosity has empowered me, and also paid off over and over again for those I've been lucky enough to mentor.

Lisa Shannon. President and CEO of Allina Health (Minneapolis). As a leader in the healthcare industry, we must be mindful of the journey we have been on over the last two years. Our responsibility as leaders is to bring the voices that are closest to the work to the front of our thoughts, our decisions and our actions. By empowering our teams, we create an environment that is more exciting and interesting and will make us stronger, safer and higher quality. It is critical that we commit to deeply listening and understanding what we need and the impact those changes can have on others throughout our healthcare system and the communities we serve. Creating a culture of speaking up and belonging means embracing how we choose to show up for our employees, our patients and our communities.

Ellen Street. Executive Vice President, Cardiac Safety and Precision Motion, Clario (Philadelphia). In lifting our voices about what fuels our passions, women in leadership roles can help the next generation recognize translatable STEM skills that can serve them well in careers in the life sciences. I was inspired by the women who influenced my path in health technology, and now my mission extends to guiding female professionals into leadership roles. If you are not already engaged with students and programs to build relationships and mentorships, I encourage you to seek opportunities today. Let's give back to help build a future for these young women, as did the women who paved the way for us. 

Katie Szyman. Corporate Vice President of Critical Care, Edwards Lifesciences (Irvine, Calif.). Early in my career working in the medtech field, 90 percent of the time I was the only woman in the room. As the executive sponsor of our network for women, I am proud to be part of an organization that provides an opportunity for women to work together to inspire the next generation of women leaders. The best innovation comes from diversity of thought and diversity of experience, and I believe that medtech is an unbelievably attractive space for women leaders in the future. For women thinking about a career in technology, I want to say you can do it. Go for it.

Alice Taylor. CEO of Broward Health North (Deerfield Beach, Fla.). Not too long ago, I overheard my son say "my mom leads from the front." This phrase perfectly sums up my work philosophy. I attribute much of my success to the fact that I play an active and visible role in the everyday running of Broward Health North. For me, leadership goes beyond influencing others. Effective leaders also lead from behind and guide their teams to innovate. This allows the collective genius to take shape and creates a world in which people want to belong. I encourage up-and-coming women leaders in healthcare to connect with their medical staff and team members as often as possible, and to stay closely aligned with patients and the community served. Also, it's important to be attuned to your professional and personal needs. Keep in mind as women that we often think we can do it all. A work-life balance must be a priority. As part of Women's History Month, take the time to celebrate yourself and all the past, present and future women leaders.

Ena Williams, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital. Leadership is about creating an environment where others feel a sense of belonging and inclusion and feel that their voices are heard. Sometimes, women, and especially women of color, feel that their opinions don’t matter or that they may be perceived as insignificant. As a result, women may retreat or become silent. As leaders, we must create space for all to feel a sense of equity in what they have to say or contribute. Don't ignore the silent ones. When you enter a room, use your eyes and ears to listen and recognize others who may be silent. Being significant is key for women leaders, and that begins with insight and understanding of self and others.

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