Women urged to excel in health IT to make a difference

Executives need to be inspired with deep passion to improve peoples’ lives, says Katie Stebbins

Having an influential role as a woman in healthcare information technology means making an impact and influencing healthcare systems for the public good, says Katie Stebbins, Massachusetts’ assistant secretary of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

There are many options from which to choose in deciding how to make a difference, Stebbins told attendees at Health Data Management’s Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT Conference in Boston. Options could include championing cyber security innovation, providing needed care to underserved communities and fostering entrepreneurship.

“Women are obstructionists and have to embrace that,” she implored. “We are expected to resolve what others can’t.”

Young women professionals coming up the chain need to know that they are not without power and don’t have to settle for a position that they will not enjoy and in which struggle to thrive, Stebbins counseled. “You don’t want to work for someone with a short leash who micromanages and won’t back you up.”

Lauren O’Donnell, global vice president at IBM Watson Health, implored peers to take a dream job when they are offered it, even if happy where they are. Last year, O’Donnell had lunch with Deborah Disanzo, general manager of IBM Watson, and now she has her dream job. “It was a job opportunity I love but had never aspired to.”

Most importantly, women in established positions have to mentor younger women coming into healthcare IT and support other women already in the field.

O’Donnell belongs to a group that calls itself CFOs. They are not chief financial officers, but “chief female officers” working together and supporting each other. “I would encourage you to find your group of CFOs and draw from them,” she counsels.

Liz Johnson, CIO at Tenet Healthcare, told her colleagues that inside each of them is passion, strength and insight, and they need not settle for less than they are worth. “If you’re not working for someone who is behind you or you aren’t behind someone else, you need to change your ways.”

If you are not happy in your positions and your inner voice starts yelling at you, it’s time to listen, said Donna Roach, CIO at Via Christi Health. She had a job where she was not happy and did not like how people were treated, and within 24 hours decided to leave the company.

Roach also encouraged peers to get more involved in the College for Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), a professional organization for health IT executives, and in local chapters of the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS). “These programs are strong developers for women. Don’t forget how important these opportunities are.”

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