How 5 health system CEOs got into healthcare

Family members, personal experiences and a desire to help people are among the factors that piqued health system CEOs' interest in healthcare, they told Becker's Hospital Review this year.

Odette Bolano, BSN. President and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System (Boise, Idaho)

I grew up in a household with many people in the medical field. My father is a retired physician. I have many uncles who are physicians. My mother was a medical lab director, and so was her sister. I grew up in a sea of passionate people who wanted to serve. 

Sometimes you're molded by what you experience as a child and growing up. I have two brothers who are doctors — one's an orthopedic surgeon, the other's a dentist. My son is in his fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta. 

There's always been a great yearning to serve in the most personal way, providing compassion, empathy and maybe, at times, impacting people in the most profound way. I think that's what drew me to be in healthcare. I'm a nurse by background. I went into nursing and wanted to be at the bedside to understand from a front-line perspective what it was to be a clinician.

Denise Brooks-Williams. Senior Vice President and CEO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System's north market

If I think back, I would say it all started with a favorite aunt who worked in healthcare, and through her work I spent a lot of time around hospitals as a young person.  I knew I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare as I started my college studies. My first exposure to public health was as an undergraduate student working on an end-stage renal failure research project. I learned early the significant health disparities among African Americans, and I was curious about why and how to have an impact. The professor I worked for suggested I apply for a summer internship offered for students of color. The next summer I was selected as an intern in the summer enrichment program — a program developed to expose African American high potential college students to the field of healthcare administration and policy. After that summer I knew I wanted to be a healthcare administrator.  

Joan Coffman. President and CEO of St. Tammany Health System (Covington, La.) 

Those who serve in healthcare frequently feel called to serve. My daddy was an entrepreneur and small family business owner, and my mother was a nurse at a local medical practice. I often visited her and became very intrigued by the physicians, clinicians and support staff working together to care for patients and collaborating with local business leaders to improve the quality of life in our community.

My healthcare career began at St. Tammany Parish Hospital as a radiologic technologist and has truly come full circle. Through the years I transitioned into management and led hospitals in Wisconsin and Illinois before coming back home in 2018 to join our hospital family. I have found the perpetual change that is the nature of healthcare to be challenging, rewarding and inspiring. Our patients look to us to lead innovations in healthcare and provide high quality services — every patient, every touch, every time. 

Cynthia Moore-Hardy. President and CEO of Lake Health (Concord Township, Ohio)

Empowering the community toward lifestyle change and a lifetime of health and wellness has been a primary goal and passion of mine throughout my career. It is exciting and gratifying to be living my passion to improve health in my own community and beyond. The needs are so great, but the future — through science, technology, compassion and collaboration — offers such hope.  

Jaewon Ryu, MD, president and CEO of Geisinger (Danville, Pa.)

I had grown up with physicians in the family, so was always familiar with healthcare, but got interested in the policy side of things as well along the way. After college, I worked as an AmeriCorps member in a teaching and enrichment program within an inner-city school, where I saw firsthand the impact of policy on the lives of vulnerable populations. I took this interest with me to medical school, where I became active in community health programs where the same themes came to light — things like how "upstream" policies impacted people's downstream ability to attain health. It was this interest that led to many subsequent decisions, whether entering a joint-degree program to augment my formal learning, entering the field of emergency medicine, working in health policy, or then taking on roles in administration. All the while along the way, I enjoyed the clinical practice of emergency medicine, and in many ways, it has informed these other stops on the journey. The ER really is the crossroads of healthcare where so many components of the industry come together.  


More articles on leadership and management:
How Avera Health CEO overcomes distractions to connecting with employees
How Americans view healthcare, racism a year after pandemic
'The question is not if, but when': World leaders call for treaty to fight future pandemics 

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