8 CEOs' paths to healthcare

The Becker's Hospital Review Corner Office series asks hospital and health system CEOs to share one thing that piqued their interest in healthcare.

Here are answers collected since March, in alphabetical order.

John Couris. President and CEO of Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: I was attracted to healthcare as an industry and career because I enjoy its operational complexities and the strategies involved in the delivery of world-class care.

Leslie Davis. President and CEO of UPMC (Pittsburgh): It's a combination of things at different times — first, the memories of my parents talking about their interesting jobs when I was young; my dad was a merchandiser for a large department store chain and my mom was a dental hygienist who loved caring for her patients. Second, I have a degree in education and loved teaching, but when I went on to pursue a postgraduate degree at Harvard University, my trajectory completely changed. While there, I worked as an administrative resident at Tufts-New England Medical Center (now Boston-based Tufts Medical Center) and discovered that a career in healthcare would be the perfect balance between my love of education, my dad's business acumen and my mother's passion for caring for people.   

Tina Freese Decker. President and CEO of Corewell Health (Grand Rapids and Southfield, Mich.): Watching my grandmother navigate her multiple healthcare appointments and cancer diagnosis shined a light on the tremendous opportunity we have to accelerate and advance what we do to make health better.

Increasing the life expectancy from 53 to 78 years in the last century has expanded our contributions, impact and vision. I am awestruck and grateful for the incredible advancements in medicine, creating new therapies, finding cures and improving outcomes. We must continue these advancements to reduce the gaps and improve outcomes among racial and ethnic groups and at the same time address root causes that impact health, such as opioid use, trauma and behavioral health.

And we must improve on some of the basics — making it easy for everyone to access healthcare, coordinating appointments and treatments, and making health part of life, instead of an afterthought or obstacle. With the advancements in technologies, we have the opportunity to seamlessly enable accessibility, ensuring that we partner with people to improve their health in ways that are more affordable, compassionate and humanistic.

Patrick Frias, MD. President and CEO of Rady Children's Hospital and Health Center (San Diego): You can trace my interest in healthcare back to childhood. I was born with a condition called ptosis, which causes one of my eyelids to sag. It wasn't a big deal, but I was teased about it as a kid because I looked different. I remember thinking to myself, "If I get teased about such a small thing, I can't imagine what it feels like for a person with significant disabilities." This taught me a lot about empathy and was the spark that drove my desire to help others. Healthcare ended up being a natural fit.

Catherine Jacobson. President and CEO of Froedtert Health (Milwaukee): My heart became connected to healthcare when I was a child. My mom was a registered nurse in a hospital and because of that, I was able to get my first job working in the kitchen at the hospital. When I decided a clinical career was not for me, I went to work for a big accounting firm in Chicago. The firm asked what industries I wanted to work in, and I selected hospitals because I was familiar with them and then found out that no one selects hospitals because most people are uncomfortable in that environment. I quickly became a technical expert. Healthcare finance is fascinating. Eventually working around clinicians, I like to say, I learned to use my power for good, to create resources and bring people together to invest in a clinical mission.  

Anita Jenkins. CEO of Howard University Hospital (Washington, D.C.): My love for people started because my parents invited any visitor into our home from church for a meal. Offering that kindness to a stranger was powerful to me. This has carried over to healthcare. Everyone is different, and I find an interest in individual nuances in people that I get to meet and work with each day. My love for human beings is evident, and I have never shied away from inviting and getting to know people from all walks of life and diverse cultures. I've worked over a decade in hospital emergency departments (trauma, to be specific), and there was always that element of surprise and the unknown regarding who would come into our facility needing our services. As healthcare professionals, we would always have to be prepared to treat their needs. 

Jim Shmerling, DHA. President and CEO of Connecticut Children's Medical Center (Hartford): I was a patient at Vanderbilt University hospital as a child with an eye injury. I vividly remember being a kid in an adult hospital. That experience really changed me and inspired me to find a career where I could impact and influence how children were treated in healthcare. I knew early on that I wanted to help children and make a difference in as many lives as possible. I debated being a teacher or pediatrician, but I really wanted to have more of a global impact on their health. At the age of 19, I started to put in the work to become a pediatric healthcare administrator. My first job in the field was an OR technician. I trained on the job and learned how to assist in surgery. Being in the operating room confirmed my decision to work in the healthcare profession but that management would be a better fit for me.  

Kate Walsh. President and CEO of Boston Medical Center: I had an internship in college at a community health center in Boston and was able to witness the critical role CHCs play in the lives of the people and communities they serve. It was a safe and welcoming place for people to receive medical care and support services and also a place where people could build relationships with their neighbors. Healthcare is so personal — people experience some of the greatest and most challenging moments in their lives in a healthcare setting, and I was drawn to being part of that. I also loved the variety of work that healthcare leaders address in the course of their workdays.  

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