How U of Maryland Medical Center's Alison Brown advanced her career

When Alison Brown, RN, began her nursing career about 45 years ago, she said she never envisioned she'd one day be in her current role — president of University of Maryland Medical Center's Midtown Campus in Baltimore.

Ms. Brown became president of UMMC's Midtown Campus in March 2018 after serving as senior vice president and chief strategy officer of the University of Maryland Medical System's regional healthcare system. She also was interim president and CEO of University of Maryland Medical Center's Downtown Campus — the flagship institution of the University of Maryland Medical System — from December 2019 through October 2020. Additionally, she served as senior vice president of business development and marketing for the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Before joining University of Maryland Medical Center's executive leadership team in 1992, she worked at KPMG. She began her healthcare career as a nurse with Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and New Haven, Vt.-based Addison County Home Health and Hospice.

She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Vermont in Burlington and a master's degree in public health from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University.

Ms. Brown told Becker's Hospital Review she's been able to navigate her career trajectory thanks to mentors in her life and the culture of her organization. She shared her path to becoming a hospital leader, discussed a few ways her organization promoted her career growth and offered some advice for her peers.

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

Question: What piqued your interest in healthcare?

Alison Brown: I began my career in nursing about 45 years ago. I always wanted to be in healthcare, related to some personal family history. And so that's where I began and have been building on that initial education experience. Taking care of people as a nurse, that's the foundation.

Q: What steps did you take from there to get the position you're in today?

AB: I would never have imagined — nor did I have in mind when I was a staff nurse working — that I would be a hospital president. Our careers take many twists and turns. After having spent seven years in direct patient care, taking care of patients across a variety of settings, I did anticipate that at some point, after several years of direct clinical experience, I would need to pursue a graduate degree to continue to advance and see where that might take me. And a little nontraditional step was to get a master's degree in public health. I could have gone in an MBA direction or a master's in nursing direction. So, I came to Baltimore and got my master's in public health at [Johns] Hopkins. But from there, my first job that I got after I finished graduate school was working at KPMG. I really learned about not only how patient care delivered, clinically, but also how the business of healthcare is run. And the University of Maryland Medical Center was a client, when I worked as a consultant at KPMG, here in Baltimore, and I was offered the opportunity to join the University of Maryland Medical Center leadership team, and that was 30 years ago. It was when I was I was ready to come off the road. And my children were young, and I liked the people I met as a consultant working at the University of Maryland, and I thought, 'Oh, I'll do this for a couple of years and then go back to consulting.' And here I am, 30 years later, but I've had a lot of opportunities to grow and expand within the University of Maryland Medical Center, within the University of Maryland health system.

Q: This summer, University of Maryland Medical Center made LinkedIn's list of the 25 best healthcare companies to grow your career in the industry. How has the organization promoted your career growth?

AB: What I've loved about being a part of an academic medical center is that the underlying environment that is about teaching and learning and growing and continuous lifelong learning. That is a separate starting point. The other part, though, is what career opportunities, as women, individually, we want to put ourselves up for. It takes some risk. It takes the need to raise your hand and say, 'I want to be considered for an area of this hospital that is of interest to me.' And there were people along the way who supported me in taking those risks. The risks weren't all successful, but every move built on the prior place.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you maybe remember most clearly when it comes to how to grow your career? What advice would you give others looking to do so?

AB: It starts with your own personal life, your willingness to go out on a limb and take a risk. Because what I've learned is that — and this is true, I think, particularly for women — if we're waiting for someone to notice the importance of our work, the contributions of our work, and reach out to us and say, 'I want to promote you,' don't wait for that day.

We must bring to the attention of those we work for and those who work around us what we have accomplished and what we contribute. And sometimes that feels uncomfortable for women because it feels like, 'Oh, I'm bragging.' But you're just taking the initiative to show that you're committed to the organization, make important contributions to the organization and want to advance your career.

Ask: What advice do you have for me? What skills do I need to add to my portfolio? Who should I be meeting with to learn about their career story?

Finding professional and personal champions was certainly helpful to me. And I've tried to pay that forward with people. You do have to be very proactive in taking people out for lunch or to coffee to say, 'I'm curious about how you arrived where you are. Tell me your story.' And I've learned a lot. I learned a lot from what others had achieved, and along the way, raised my hand and asked to be considered for something that I thought would bring value to the organization, and would build on my talents and experiences. So, you must be your own sponsor, if you will, and find those who will sponsor you.

Q: How have men been allies for women moving up at your organization?

AB: I think as women, we tend to do this more for each other today than maybe we did 30 or 40 years ago. But there were influential men in my career, who did give me the competence to pursue the next challenge or a new direction and gave me that, 'You can do this. Yes, you should put your hat in this ring. You have skills and abilities that this organization needs.' Several men I can point to were very influential and supportive of me and respected me as a woman raising a family having a career.

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