Sue Schade: Yes We Can, Women in HTM

I recently wrote a post aimed at women working in health IT and presented a HIMSS webinar about attracting the future leaders in STEM. In preparing for the webinar, I tapped the women who have received the CHIME-HIMSS CIO of the Year Award over the years. This includes the most recent recipient, Pam Arora, senior vice president and chief information officer at Children’s Health System of Texas.

While there are many notable women leaders throughout our health IT industry working for vendors, consulting firms, and provider organizations, I decided to turn to these very accomplished and nationally recognized CIOs for advice and insight. I asked them several questions, including how they got into IT, what advice they would give their younger self, and what is their biggest challenge as a female leader. Their answers were not limited to working in IT, so they are worth sharing here.

They got into IT because of the encouragement of a parent, a teacher, or a boss. These important influencers encouraged an early interest in math and helped them stay with it as they started working. Everyone needs what I call “Team You”—those people who will support and encourage you, help you follow your dreams, and be there for you when you run into obstacles.

The advice to their younger selves and to young women going into IT and STEM fields today was to have a can-do, positive attitude and to find balance.

Stephanie Reel is the chief information officer and vice provost for information technology for the Johns Hopkins University, and vice president for information services for Johns Hopkins Medicine. That’s a bigger and broader role than the average healthcare CIO. She advised, “Be happy. Be proud. Go home a bit earlier to enjoy time with family.” She is a strong advocate for building a healthy work environment. She went on to say, “We need to be kinder and gentler, and we should never allow ourselves to be bullied or made to feel inadequate.”

Pat Skarulis is the vice president and CIO at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Her advice is, “Just do it. Take as much math and science as you can early in your academic career.” She also advised to not overlook the arts which are very important to your development and career.

Pam McNutt, senior vice president and chief information officer, Methodist Health System, remembered the advice from her parents: “Don’t focus on the differences between men and women; just do your best and show value.” Her father told her she could do anything; the sky is the limit. Her mother taught her how to be a woman in what was a man’s world.

There is a fine line here. If there are gender inequities, we must speak up. But I totally agree, we must show value in our work and hope there is not a double standard.

Per Pam Arora, it’s important to stretch and not be afraid of new challenges: “Don’t be afraid of work you have never done before. It’s a first for everyone at some point. Dare to be the first!”

In the webinar, I commented on the true story behind the newly released movie, Hidden Figures. It’s about three real-life heroes, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson, who worked in engineering and computing in the early 1960s in support of the space program against incredible odds as women and as African Americans.

Find the people you can learn from and who will support your dreams. Pursue your passion and don’t get discouraged when you encounter obstacles. Find a way to overcome them.

A nationally recognized leader in health information technology, Sue Schade runs StarBridge Advisors, a healthcare technology advisory services firm. She is a member of the AAMI Board of Directors and the BI&T Editorial Board.

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