Nov 09 2022

CHIME22: How Mentorship and Risk-Taking Propelled These Women as Health IT Leaders

Experts at the 2022 CHIME Fall Forum shared their experiences and offered takeaways about advancing gender parity in the industry.

Women working in healthcare technology who had a mentor were more likely to report higher rates of job satisfaction, according to a 2020 study.

Mentorship was a major topic of discussion among the 2022 CHIME Fall Forum sessions addressing women in the healthcare IT workforce, along with leadership, risk-taking and adaptability. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives also celebrated its 30th anniversary at the in-person conference in San Antonio, where it named Cook Children’s Health Care System CIO Theresa Meadows the CHIME CIO of the Year

During her acceptance speech, Meadows said that when she looked at the list of previous winners, over half of them had served as a mentor, role model or supporter helping her to further her career. Meadows has been in healthcare for more than 30 years and came from the clinician side. Mentorships and opportunities have helped her throughout.

The leaders who discussed women advancing in healthcare IT echoed many of Meadows’s experiences with mentorship, career pivots and opportunities that opened because someone believed in them.

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Becoming a Healthcare IT Leader Is All About Taking Risks

The CHIME League of Women session was noticeably packed considering the small room in which it was held. Organizers promised a bigger space for ViVE 2023 in Nashville in March. 

The session kicked off with a presentation from Marya Ford, assistant vice president for clinical applications at MedStar Health in the Baltimore-D.C. region, in which she shared some notable statistics about women in IT roles:

Ford described her own career path through her organization, where she started as a secretary but became interested in an analyst role.

“Set your eyes on the future. Have a vision, a strategy, for how you want to impact this industry as women in IT, whether it’s mentoring, whether it’s looking for more opportunities to progress in your career,” she said.

CHIME22 Panelists

From left to right: Marya Ford, Assistant Vice President for Clinical Applications at MedStar Health; Karla Arzola, IT Director at Swedish Medical Center; Sarah Richardson, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Tivity Health; and Barbara Franta, Executive Director of Digital Applications and Information Solutions at UChicago Medicine. Photo by Teta Alim

Karla Arzola, IT director of the Colorado-based Swedish Medical Center (part of HCA Healthcare’s HealthONE), highlighted her journey, starting from when she was born and raised in Mexico, and stressed the importance of finding a mentor and seizing opportunities.

Sarah Richardson, senior vice president and chief digital and information officer at wellness solutions company Tivity Health, spoke about moving multiple times for her career, taking big leaps of faith and failing, and how remote work options can help working caregivers. She said her company’s full embrace of remote work can still be engaging and supportive. In fact, she said, four of the five members of the executive IT team are women.

“It’s the art of the possible that exists inside of every single one of us,” Richardson said, urging the room to embrace moving for career advancement.

Barbara Franta, executive director of digital applications and information solutions at UChicago Medicine, also emphasized risk-taking: “We only grow when things are uncomfortable.”

Franta started her healthcare career more than 30 years ago in patient care services, moved to revenue cycle and then pivoted to IT eight years ago. She said she understood that many women couldn’t take risks because of family obligations, financial insecurity or a lack of self-confidence. It may take a lot of work, Franta said, but it’s important for women to crystalize a vision for their careers.

“What do you want? What moves you at your core?” she said. “Everything else falls off to the side. And at that point, your caterpillar gets to grow into a beautiful butterfly.”

EXPLORE: What is femtech, and how is it evolving in healthcare?

‘Find Yourself a Village of Mentors’

At the session titled “Women in Healthcare IT: Cultivating Women to Lean into Healthcare IT Leadership,” the four panelists spoke about the changes in the industry, balancing professional and personal lives, and the importance of mentorship.

Tanya Townsend, senior vice president and CIO at New Orleans-based LCMC Health, highlighted how much healthcare IT is embraced at the executive table now. She reports directly to the CEO of her organization, which has not always been the case.

MEDITECH Executive Vice President and COO Helen Waters agreed: “IT has moved from the back office function of nobody knowing what it did and being in the basement to being a strategic enabler of transformation, growth and strategy formalization, and that’s a massive change.”

Speaking from a business perspective, Vandna Pandita, vice president of HEDIS Strategy and Analytics at payer AmeriHealth Caritas, added, “What’s changed for me is the fact that now my IT partners and I, on the business side, can sit at the table and have those conversations and understand where the strategy is, what we need to do and how we can accomplish it together.”

CHIME22 Panelists

From left to right: Vandna Pandita, Vice President of HEDIS Strategy and Analytics at AmeriHealth Caritas; Tanya Townsend, Senior Vice President and CIO at LCMC Health; Andrea Daugherty, Interim CIO of the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas; and Helen Waters, Executive Vice President and COO at MEDITECH. Photo by Teta Alim

Andrea Daugherty, interim CIO of the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, started out in pharmacy in 2004 but pivoted to healthcare IT some years later when an opportunity arrived for her to get experience in electronic medical records implementation. 

Diversity in healthcare IT has grown over the years, Daugherty observed, as more women —especially women of color — enter the field and take up leadership roles. This is key if healthcare organizations truly want to reflect the communities they serve, she said.

She added that mentorship has been critical to her career growth: “Having leaders who really believed in me gave me the opportunity to take a leap of faith and be successful.”

As a mentor herself, she has found it rewarding to watch her mentees grow, and now understands leadership to be a privilege. 

Pandita shared her experience with an overbearing manager and how some lessons from non-mentors can be just as valuable. “Leadership to me is about flexibility. It’s about knowing your team, it’s about listening, and it’s about being transparent,” she said.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Influencer Sherri Hess explains the importance of listening to nurses.

One mentor, though, isn’t enough, Pandita added: “Find yourself a village of mentors, not just one mentor, because it does take a village.”

Pandita also shared that she took a sizable break in her career to raise her children. When she re-entered the workforce, the landscape had changed significantly.

Conversely, Townsend said she frequently experienced guilt as a working mother for not doing enough with her family. But she shared what a mentor once told her: “You can do everything, but you don’t have to do it all at the same time.”

Both experiences reflect an ongoing issue with gender disparity around caregiving. Women are more likely to take on a caregiver role, which can impact employment and economic outcomes.

Ultimately, Waters said, it’s important to understand that everyone’s career path will look different. Instead of conceptualizing advancement as climbing a ladder, think of a lattice, where growth doesn’t have to be linear and straightforward.

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the CHIME22 Fall Forum, taking place Nov. 7-10 in San Antonio. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #CHIME22Fall.

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