Self-awareness and action are important when navigating a healthcare career: Advice from women leaders

October 24, 2022

Navigating a career path in today’s challenging workplace may feel daunting for students and recent graduates. In late September, the master of health administration programs of the Bloustein School, Seton Hall, and Appalachian State joined to co-host an event, “Candid Career Conversations with Exceptional Women Healthcare Leaders.” The discussion brought together women leaders in healthcare to discuss their careers, the importance of being leaders, and the impact of mentorship and diversity.

Bloustein School Associate Teaching Professor Anita Franzione explained that discussions of leadership, and how one becomes a leader, are very timely. Women make up more than 50% of the population of the United States and about 50% of the healthcare workforce. Women need to bring their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to the forefront and address issues critical to women, and those populations historically underrepresented, in the workforce.

Anne Hewitt, Acting Chair and Professor, Department of Interprofessional Health Sciences and Health Administration at Seton Hall University, and Julie Sakowski, Associate Professor in Health Care Management at Appalachian State University, welcomed the panelists and had each provide a short synopsis of their career paths. Dr. Sakowski noted that each panelist alluded to the concept of lifelong learning, which included keeping their eyes open to new experiences and being willing to step outside of their comfort zones, learn something new, and continually grow and adapt.

She then asked each participant their vision of what a leader was. What does it mean to be one, and what qualities does a leader show?

Dr. Selina Osei, MD, MPH, MBA is the Director of Health Equity and Community Engagement at the Connecticut Hospital Association.  She said her understanding of a leader was going through several changes, from being just a title to someone who is working to support a shared community vision. “A leader, for me, is somebody that’s able to bring people together—all sorts of ideas, all sorts of perspectives and experiences—and foster that sense of community, regardless of the differences, and is able to move the needle forward towards accomplishing that goal.”

A leader, she feels, has a good sense of self-awareness of their own biases, and also has the ability to listen, ask questions, and learn from all of those around them.

“I think of leadership as an action, not as a position or a title,” said Jodi Rosen, MPH, VP of Innovation & Digital Strategy, City of Hope. She talked about the timing of the panel to coincide with the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s life. Many of the queen’s defining qualities—being a thoughtful and empathetic listener, having integrity and trust, being a connector and a collaborator, and having humility in addition to self-awareness—contribute to how a leader acts.

Adding to that, Dr. Wendy E. Braund, MD, MPH, MSEd, FACPM, Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said that a good leader will also have a vision and the ability to motivate people and build a team around them. “We need to know when our time is to lead and when our time is to defer to somebody on the team.”

Dr. Hewitt followed up by asking about the steps that put them on their path to leadership – was it the early pathways, the built skill sets, or defining challenges?

Ms. Rosen said an incredibly diverse group of mentors, both women, and men, were probably the biggest factor in her career, coming from family, friends, early co-workers, and educators.

Another factor, said Dr. Braund, is being willing to seek out the opportunities yourself to practice leadership, whether through volunteerism or service in professional or community organizations. She advised students and young alumni to be willing to put their own hand up when there are opportunities. By joining committees and early leadership roles, you can practice your skills and build on them over time.

Dr. Osei agreed, noting that as not only a woman but as a person of color you have to take every opportunity you can to speak up, contribute a solution to a problem you are seeing, and build relationships with larger networks to solve the larger issue.

The panel concluded with a longer discussion about advice for prospective healthcare administrators. Dr. Braund said early on, students need to be willing to take professional risks, especially if it involves a new career direction or relocating for a new position to expand opportunities and experiences. Young practitioners should also learn self-promotion as a way to share their talents and skills as a way to demonstrate the value they would bring to their next professional opportunity. She emphasized the importance of networking and building professional and personal connections with people who can speak to your skills.

Ms. Rosen spoke on the importance of using qualitative and quantitative thought processes around making career decisions. “And that might be something big, little, leaving healthcare temporarily… but learning a bunch of skills and bringing them back. Choosing a path and committing to it and trying it out.”  

Dr. Osei tells her mentees to craft a career vision of how they want to make an impact in their work. Once they have that vision, the job is just the tool how to make that vision happen. “It’s the action that you do. How you engage with people, and the work you’re doing in the community, and in your life – that’s going to show impact and results. So don’t lean into the titles as much.” 

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