Can A Small Group of Powerful Women Fix Health Care?

By: Jennifer Salopek

By Pat Mastors

August 11, 2014

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”So saidMargaret Thatcher,the UK’s former Prime Minister.Apparently she was as unconcerned about dissing her male colleagues as she was fearless in leveraging her talent and intelligence to accomplish great things.



Thatcher might have raised a well-groomed and approving eyebrow at the gathering I was privileged to be part of last month. Some twenty women, among the highest-powered movers and shakers in the health care industry, brought together to hash out how to fix the “broken windows” of health care (a metaphor explainedhere).

To my right, the convener of the group, Joanne Conroy,newCEO of theLahey Clinic. Across from me, the top West Coast Healthcare Consultant atNavigant. On my left, a retired Navy Admiral. All around me are CEOs, Presidents, Chief Medical Officers.

I can only imagine how many requests come across the desks of these people every day. But apparently the email that brought these Titans (actually, the female version is “Titanides” or “Titanesses”) of health care to this room proved irresistibly intriguing:“What is your desired personal legacy? And, would you be interested in joining with a small group of colleagues, to not only develop your own personal legacy, but build collective impact to address complex problems in health care?”.A grant from theRobert Wood Johnson Foundationmade it so. The group, since known as the Women of Impact, agreed on a shared goal: to realign the health care system to meet the needs ofall Americans. (To learn about the findings and recommendations of this dynamic group, download thereport.)

I was brought here along with my friend and colleague,Patient Voice InstituteCo-Founder, Diane Stollenwerk, to present our vision of the Patient Voice Institute (PVI). Diane is one of these designated “Women of Impact”. She’s a former VP at the National Quality Forum and trailblazer in health policy and marketing who now runs a successful consulting firm.

Diane and I loved talking with this group about PVI’s vision of fixing health care by “gathering and sharing the wisdom of patients” (our marching orders). We took the group on a journey through women’s rights, civil rights—pointing out thatas with every other successful social movement, the people most needing the change must be empowered and encouraged to become active.Changing the rules doesn’t change the culture. For example, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act way back in 1866, yet it took many more changes in laws and regulations over the next 100 years – along with a massive social movement – for African Americans to begin to gain an equal voice. The movement to empower patients as an equal partner in the health care system can learn from this. It’s not just about changing reimbursement and performance expectations: patients must engage with this as a social movement.

Afterward, the women asked probing questions (our favorite kind!) There were offers to spread the word in their respective presentations, ideas for where funding might be available, and congratulations for being bold in taking the initiative. But the overriding takeaway was validation:these scions of health care could see that PVI is on to something vitally important.

The two-day event also gave me a new appreciation for just how tough and focused these women had to be to reach the heights they’ve achieved. When you’re talking about your life’s legacy with others who’ve walked the same path, it can lead to some intimate and deep revelations. For a woman to succeed—heck, to come close– in balancing career, marriage, health, spiritual life, parenting and friendships, she must be a master multi-tasker. Many of us try to do this seamlessly, presenting a front to ourselves and others that we are “doing just great”.

What I saw in these Women of Impact was the willingness to hold up a mirror—and to re-examine their most profound life choices, with an openness to considering a course adjustment. This includes honest discussion of the ways in which, as successful as these women are as health care leaders, the health care system isfailing patients. The Women of Impact are calling out these failings to begin to address them in earnest: disempowerment of patients due to what providers, say, do, and wear; sending the message that some people’s needs matter less than others; and, placing a higher priority on health care services and administrative infrastructure than on helping patients achieve good health. To do that when your job title, the awards on your wall, and the deference of colleagues all tell you how accomplished you are, takes courage.

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”

The words were penned by a 6thcentury philosopher. But even then, it was no doubt true of women, too.



By: Jennifer Salopek

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Designed by Jackson Salopek, 2017