International Women's Day spotlight: 14 thoughts on leadership from women in the healthcare industry

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

Here are 14 women who offered words of advice for healthcare leaders.

If you'd like to share additional leadership advice, please email Morgan Haefner at or Mackenzie Bean at

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Karen Amezcua, Senior Director of Provider Partnerships at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "I am fortunate to find myself in a career that I truly believe in. When you're passionate about the work you do because you feel that it will ultimately help make your community a better place, others will see your drive as genuine. As a leader, appreciate that you don't have all of the attributes needed to meet your objectives. Surround yourself with a complementary team and empower them to find ways to carry the mission forward. Do not underestimate the importance of making time to share your appreciation of others. Most of all, try to not take things personally — assume positive intent, have fun and be kind."

Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health. "Women are told this all the time, but it's vital, so I'll repeat it: Speak up. It took me awhile to find my voice and, early in my career, I didn't volunteer my thoughts. I wanted to have the perfect thing to say, and if I didn't think I had it, I didn't say anything at all. This is still a common issue for many women — more so than for men — and I'd like to encourage them to find their voice. They need to be part of the conversation."

Sandra E. Brooks, MD, Senior Vice President and CMO of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals Center City Division in Philadelphia. "I would encourage women seeking leadership roles to pursue opportunities that align with their personal values and to use that as a basis to project the authenticity essential to being a great leader."

Mary Chatman, PhD, RN, Executive Vice President of Marietta, Ga.-based WellStar Health System, President of Wellstar Kennestone Hospital and Wellstar Windy Hill Hospital. "I consider myself not just a leader. I'm proud to represent multidiversity through gender, race, etc. I don't want to be the only or the first. I want women of color who are just starting their careers to see themselves in me and recognize that within Wellstar Health System — and any health system or company — there is a place for them in the C-suite. That means I'm intentional about taking steps to not only pave my way but also to make the path smoother for the people who are going to travel it next. A big part of that is providing counsel to my peers on how we can cultivate a more diverse workforce. I'm proud to work for a health system that continues to make diversity and inclusion a priority, especially in cultivating a diverse C-suite. The proof is in the numbers: 82 percent of employees at Wellstar are women; and 48 percent of Wellstar's workforce is comprised of multicultural women. In addition to hiring women, we are also promoting them. We are not only talking the talk, we are walking the walk by fostering diversity and mirroring the populations we serve. It has a positive impact on how we operate, but — more importantly — it has a positive impact on the consumer experience, on patient engagement and on the overall health of our communities."

Trish Celano, MSN, RN, Senior Vice President, Associate Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Nursing Executive for Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth. "Female leaders sometimes feel they have to fit into more masculine ideals of leadership. But the truth is, 'feminine' traits like empathy, sensitivity and emotional intelligence are exactly what makes women so great to work with and work for. We're at our best when we own who we are."

Tracey Hoke, MD, Chief of Quality and Performance Improvement for the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. "The best leadership advice I ever received came from my father. He once told me to 'lead myself with my head, and others with my heart.' Over time, I have embraced this sentiment as a commitment to thoughtful, honest assessments of my own motivations and achievements, and a humble curiosity regarding the same in others. Through this approach, I have found that when you strip away the trappings and allow for others to surprise you, you find some amazing ideas."

Nancy Howell Agee, President and CEO of Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic. "Women are particularly good at relationship building — that's a real strength — and we need to take full advantage of mentoring and networking to advance our careers and close the gap in women's health leadership. Having more women in leadership positions is important for the same reason any diversity initiative is important —organizations are more effective when they are representative of the community. And women add real, tangible value to an organization. I consider myself a Servant Leader. It's a style that comes naturally to me. There's a softness to that leadership style — that everyone else is more important than you are. What you believe is the most important thing. One day I'll write a book — Steel Magnolia Leadership. It's the paradox of being strong and uncompromising when it comes to your values and what you believe while at the same time being flexible — being able to bend, to weather adversity and nurture relationships."

Ronda Lehman, PharmD, Market President of Mercy Health-Lima (Ohio). "Recently, I was deeply moved by Melinda Gates' book Moment of Lift, in which she articulates the importance of gender equality in our society and says that women can only be viewed as equals when men and women work together. Women's success need not (and should not) come at the expense of men or by trying to become superior to our male counterparts. Rather, together we do better when we raise each other up, whether male or female. This has been a constant theme in my life, as I have had equally impactful men and women mentoring me along my journey. I try to embrace the qualities that make me a uniquely female leader and avoid trying to conform to tradition in my healthcare leadership role."

Janice Nevin, MD, President and CEO of Wilmington, Del.-based ChristianaCare. "It's absolutely essential to have women in leadership roles. By building a healthcare workforce with diversity at every level, we are better able to make a positive impact on the health of everyone in all of the communities we serve."

Carla Parker-Hollis, Chief Operating Officer of Jersey City (N.J.) Medical Center-RWJBarnabas Health. "As an individual fortunate enough to be regarded as a healthcare leader, specifically a female leader, the opportunity to mentor other women is an imperative. Nothing is more joyful than to know you have made a difference in someone's life and positively impacted the future of an aspiring young person. As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's remember to reach out to a young woman, offer encouragement, and pay forward the good fortune we have achieved as leaders."

Talya Schwartz, MD, president and CEO of MetroPlus Health Plan. "One of the most important things a healthcare leader can do is give her — or his — team the tools to be leaders in their respective areas. No one person, especially in our industry's evolving landscape, can move a health plan forward. Make sure you have the right people with the right skills, the right training, and the right technologies. Then trust your staff to do what needs to be done."

Laishy Williams-Carlson, CIO of Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health. "One of my favorite quotes (and also cited by Judy Faulker as one of her favorites) is, 'What you put up with is what you stand for.' This quote guides me when it would be easier to be timid or keep the peace, and I remind myself that not saying something implies that I condone or agree with a statement or behavior. Sometimes I realize after the fact that I should have spoken up and instead I took the easy way out — but most of the time I speak truth to power. In my experience, speaking truth to power stops a bully in his or her tracks, puts others on notice that you've seen their actions and are willing to take a stand, and changes future interactions positively. My advice is to have the courage of your convictions and be willing to stand up for what is right. To be a truly effective leader, you must have the tenacity to do this. I also believe in the quote that 'you catch more flies with honey,' and I think it is important to speak your truth in a respectful and kind fashion, and know when and how to have difficult conversations."

Vickie White, senior vice president, chief brand and marketing officer for AdventHealth. "There's no such thing as work-life balance. You have one WHOLE life. Free yourself of what is expected to happen during or outside work hours. Instead focus on your holistic priorities and be present in each moment."

Karen Xie, PhD, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President at Blue Shield of California. "I was blessed to be raised in a family inspired by translating 'impossible' to 'I'm possible.' This mindset has been an enabler for my career advancement. As a tech executive leader, I aspire to enable others. Too often, women think they need more time to be ready, and sometimes later becomes never. Start before you are ready. Start now, where you are, with the pain and fear of the unknown. Start speaking up. Start raising your hand for that new job. Start now and don't stop — then you'll find yourself in the position to enable others and shape the future of technology, healthcare or any field you're passionate about."

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