Changing the Narrative

by Matt Cosentino | Oct 26, 2022
Changing the Narrative
From one generation to the next, women have consistently made significant contributions to health care, and their influence in the field continues to be undeniable. According to recent studies, women represent more than 70% of the workforce professionals in health care worldwide, and also account for a majority of the graduates in medicine and health sciences. 

Yet growth in leadership roles has not kept pace with those numbers, with only 15% of health system CEO positions being filled by women in 2021 and only a quarter of senior leadership titles belonging to women across the globe.

Progress has been slow, but there are signs of encouragement, particularly here in South Jersey, where several major health systems have given female executives an opportunity to showcase what women can bring to leadership roles, such as an increased focus on diversity and providing employees with work-life balance.

South Jersey Biz spoke to several female executives at local hospitals and health care organizations to learn more about where they see the industry going, the responsibility they feel to set an example for younger women and the need for women to have a voice in how health care is delivered.

Q&A

Statistics show that women make up a large percentage of the workforce in the health care industry and the number of female executives is growing, although there is still much work to be done in that area. Are you optimistic about the changes taking place and do you feel there are more opportunities for advancement today than when you first started in your career?

AMY MANSUE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, INSPIRA HEALTH: Following COVID, I am more concerned than ever that parents, but especially women, have had to make the Hobson’s choice of the prioritization of their family or their career. There is always a delicate balance, but at this time with the cost of childcare and after-school options—let alone the limited availability—it is even more challenging. It is a fallacy that a person can be everything and do everything, in all aspects of their life. We all do the best we can, but there are tradeoffs. There are certainly opportunities for advancement, but the playing field is not quite level yet. Certain activities that can be important to career advancement are often more available to men. Golf outings and dinners are good examples. In some cases, women aren’t invited or family commitments might keep them from participating. There is still work to be done when it comes to how individuals and society view career paths and opportunities for men versus women.  

SUSAN BONFIELD, ESQ., EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL COUNSEL, DEBORAH HEART AND LUNG CENTER: I am absolutely optimistic about future leadership opportunities for women, especially in health care. When I joined Deborah Heart and Lung Center in 2005, I was the first and only female vice president in the organization. [Seventeen] years later, I am an executive vice president working directly with the president and CEO, and my COO and CFO colleagues—and six of the 10 vice president roles—are filled by females. I credit this evolution to our CEO, who is committed to a diverse representation in workforce and leadership. Leading by example will continue to pave the way for the next generation of female leaders.

AMANDA KIMMEL, VICE PRESIDENT OF AMBULATORY OPERATIONS, JEFFERSON MEDICAL GROUP: Ideally, our country will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with less distinct gender norms that may neutralize the stigma of the “mommy track,” making retention and promotion in the workforce easier for women. In many ways, the pandemic has led to some welcome changes in workplace policies that will positively impact working women in the long run. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic made working remotely the new normal in many fields, and this arrangement allows for more job flexibility overall. The ability to work from home is especially helpful to women raising families or caring for older relatives. In the past, a female executive with a sick child had to take the day off from work; but now, that executive can work remotely while still caring for her sick child. This new workplace flexibility has the potential to lock in future increases in female employment. The increase in job flexibilities and leave options during the pandemic made clear that, in many cases, allowing such family-friendly work policies can facilitate a better quality of life for employees, while also allowing them to successfully perform their jobs. These policies are essential to enable working moms to thrive, succeed and grow professionally.

LORI HERNDON, MBA, BSN, RN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ATLANTICARE AND CHAIR, NEW JERSEY HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION BOARD OF TRUSTEES: Health care is such an exciting, evolving and important field for anyone to be part of. Throughout my career as a nurse at AtlantiCare, I’ve had the opportunity, and support from leaders and colleagues, to have an impact in many roles, including providing direct care, recruiting and helping team members through their career, and collaborating with other leaders on the challenges and responsibilities we share in caring for our communities. When I was taking care of critical care patients, I didn’t anticipate the many leadership roles I would have the privilege of serving in. There are and will continue to be so many opportunities—including many that we haven’t yet imagined—for individuals to change roles at all stages of their health care career, or to join the field as a second or third career. What will remain important is for health care, education and other leaders and professionals to encourage and support women and all individuals in personal, meaningful career development.

CHRISTINE C. WINN, FACHE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMBULATORY OPERATIONS, COOPER UNIVERSITY HEALTH CARE: Yes, definitely. Approximately 15% of health system CEOs are women today, which is a significant increase from when I started out in health care. To demonstrate that locally, we have amazing women leaders who are health system CEOs in South Jersey: Amy Mansue, Lori Herndon [and] Joanne Carrocino. Yet that isn’t the only indicator of progress to mention—the focus that the health care industry has on diversity, equity and inclusion leads to awareness of having women’s voices and minority women’s voices included in decisions [and] meetings, and the first step to advancement is being included and heard.

DR. SARA PAGLIARO, DIRECTOR OF INPATIENT PALLIATIVE MEDICINE, SAMARITAN: I do believe there are more opportunities today than in the past, but the disparity at the top of the organizational chart in the health care industry is real. I’ve been fortunate to be part of an organization where my values and career goals align with the company’s strategic direction. At Samaritan, our patients are the center of every decision we make and every action we take. We constantly seek to provide more care to more people, and that spirit of innovation lends itself to organizational growth and opportunities for advancement.

STEPHANIE FENDRICK, FACHE, MNA, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER, VIRTUA HEALTH: I have absolutely witnessed a shift and believe women are increasingly—and rightfully—assuming more leadership roles in health care and across industries. At Virtua Health, we have an employee affinity group called Women at Virtua organized with the purpose of empowering women to grow. The group hosts several events each year on topics like mentorship and women’s health and well-being. Every time I engage with this group, I’m inspired to see so much diverse talent.  

Being in a high-profile leadership role, do you think you are helping to blaze a trail for future generations?

MANSUE: My goal as CEO is to lead our organization to new heights and exceed the expectations of our community. To be successful, we must fully support our workforce and create careers. I want to foster an environment where anyone can succeed in a leadership role, as part of an amazing team and with the support of our excellent board of trustees. Gender is not the deciding factor—it is leadership and management that blazes the trail.

FENDRICK: In every leadership position, there is a responsibility to be mindful of how we encourage and develop rising talent and support career advancement; sometimes this happens in a direct way with mentorship, while other times it happens by being seen as a role model. I have three children—including two daughters—and so, like every parent, I am mindful of the example I set and want to encourage them to pursue opportunities that bring them fulfillment.

Was there a particular mentor earlier in your career who helped you get to this point, and do you try to be a mentor for younger women?

KIMMEL: I changed jobs after having my second child and dove right in, often working long hours in the office at the expense of putting my kids to bed at night. My boss at the time, a working mom herself, frequently reminded me that my kids are my first job and the most important legacy I’ll ever leave, no matter how far I climb the ladder at work. She encouraged me to get rid of the guilt and reminded me that balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. This is advice I’ve passed along over the years, as I strive to help women more junior in their careers create balance and find joy in working motherhood. 

HERNDON: I’ve had the privilege of learning from many leaders who offered me opportunities to grow professionally and personally. One of the first was George F. Lynn, past president and CEO of AtlantiCare, and past chair of the New Jersey and American Hospital associations. A mentor and leader for most of my career, George challenged me to stretch beyond my comfort level. He recommended I lead our Total Quality Management Program and take other roles and responsibilities that were essential to my leadership journey, the care and services AtlantiCare provides today, and my role this year as chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association. I am personally committed to mentoring members of our team and others inside and outside of health care and I encourage leaders throughout AtlantiCare to do so. 

How do your experiences as a female patient inform and guide your approach to providing care for women throughout your organization?

BONFIELD: For me, having a female primary care physician is important. I am most comfortable sharing my concerns with her. However, each patient is different and my experience tells me that the focus needs to be on the patient’s preferences and needs. At Deborah, we are proud to offer a range of options for our female patients, including easy access to high-quality female specialists and the opportunity to be seen in our Women’s Heart Center, where the goal is to provide a female-centric environment.

Are there any recent breakthroughs in treating women’s issues that you feel are important to note?

WINN: Since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and September was Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, screening is at the top of my mind. Women are notorious in real life and in literature for taking care of their families, their friends and not themselves. The breakthrough I’d focus on is to take the time to get your age-appropriate screenings. So many advances have been made based on early detection and it truly is better to “know” than not to know if something is wrong.

PAGLIARO: Recent efforts to increase awareness, acceptance and the demand for palliative care have been vital in fully treating women’s issues. Palliative care is essential, quality-of-life care, providing an extra layer of support for people living at any stage of serious illness, from diagnosis through treatment. Our specialists help women understand their treatment options, help them express and document their goals of care, support their decisions and optimize their quality of life. That care, and the ability to access services wherever they are, is a huge breakthrough in treating women’s issues.

What are the most significant barriers to treatment that women still face, particularly minority women?

KIMMEL: New Jersey has among the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation. Black women, in particular, experience disproportionately worse maternal and infant health outcomes for numerous reasons, including limited access to care, dismissal of pain and other health concerns, and higher rates of underlying health conditions. Institutional racism and unconscious bias play major roles in all of these areas. This has fortunately captured the attention of New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, who is helping lead the charge to reduce maternal mortality in the state and eliminate the racial disparities in birth outcomes. To reduce such disparities, it is critical health systems work to tackle the barriers women face, including access to treatment before and after birth, the quality of clinical care, the effects of structural racism and social determinants of health. Some of the processes we have put in place at Jefferson include: screening for domestic violence, postpartum depression and social determinants of health; navigation to resources for women struggling with mental health and substance use disorders; and enhanced patient education on post-birth complication warning signs. We’ve also established a full-scale midwifery service, as midwives play a critical role in bridging gaps in care and reducing health disparities. 

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Author: Matt Cosentino

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