How Women Are Leading Healthcare

Donna Cryer is President and CEO of the American Liver Foundation, the largest and oldest national non-profit organization serving liver disease patients and their families.

As the African-American daughter of school teachers, a patient and patient advocate living with multiple chronic health conditions, and a business professional recently selected as the CEO of a major non-profit organization after 7 years as CEO of my own for-profit company, I am going to break with the camp that says that women are not leading healthcare.

What if women were already leading healthcare and no one told us or we didn’t tell ourselves?  What if we just acted on the strength, knowledge, leverage, money, and power we already have and decided that we were going to change healthcare? What if we acted, locally and globally, personally and collectively as if we were already in charge? What if we would vote with our consumer and investment dollars, with our support, with our hiring, with our voices for treatment, policies, practices, systems, and businesses that improve the health of women (whether as patients, employees, or shareholders)?

Women as patients can demand recognition and appropriately sex-based treatment of their conditions.

Women as caregivers can vote for candidates and advocate for employers who support family-friendly policies and expanded child and elder care.

Women as Decisionmakers for Family Health can begin to use cost and quality comparison tools and digital health management applications to create working markets, not only for the tools themselves but for those physician practices and health settings that offer high quality care in the most cost-effective manner.

Women as Nurses can ensure that the high tech does not become low care.   Nurse leaders have been grounded in whole person or patient-centered care long before the terms became trendy.  Nurse Informaticists are uniquely situated to liberate the data flowing through EHRs and leverage them for patient care.

Women as Physicians can both persist in pursuing arduous time intensive specialties like interventional cardiology and not cede the dignity and importance of family practice and other medical disciplines.    In 2011, women were nearly 50% of the medical school graduates. Stand and change medicine rather than have medicine dictate the career you can have.

Women as Inventors can make the time for themselves to be able to create – guilt free.  Your children and the public will thank you later.  Reach out and mentor young girls in science, math, and engineering. Light the spark for your peers and the next generation.

Women as Entrepreneurs (see Inventors above) and add don’t belittle your ideas, don’t give up until people give you money to make it happen (and women—step up and be the ones to invest!), don’t worry if you fail the first few times, and think you have to (or can do it all by yourself).

Women as Policymakers, well,  get to make policies, set priorities, put women’s issues on agendas, staff key positions with personnel who take women’s issues serious and take the heat from the inevitable fire of resistance.  Thank you, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Surgeon General, Vice Admiral, Dr. Regina Benjamin; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for your fearless leadership.

Women as Business Leaders in healthcare have never had better role models than Angela Braly, Chair, President, and CEO (the trifecta of business authority) at top health benefits company Wellpoint covering 34 million lives and Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, an organization with an annual budget of close to ¾ billion dollars. (Don’t let the 501(c)3 status fool you. Overseeing a ¾ billion dollar organization takes serious business chops.)

My point is that if we do not see ourselves as leaders in healthcare who else will?  We have every vantage point and opportunity to act to affect real change. Remember Nike was the goddess of Victory.  Just do it!

Society for Women’s Health Research
– WomenHeart
– National Family Caregivers Association
– Treatment Cost Calculator
– American Academy of Nursing
American Medical Women’s Association
– Women Inventors
– 5 Lessons For Female Entrepreneurs From Shark Tank’s Lori Greiner
– Women in President Obama’s Cabinet or in Cabinet-Level Positions

Donna Cryer is President and CEO of the American Liver Foundation, the largest and oldest national non-profit organization serving liver disease patients and their families. Prior to this appointment, Donna was the chief executive officer of CryerHealth, an international healthcare consulting firm focused on patient engagement and alliance development.