Each quarter, Bridges spotlights a health care executive who has made a significant contribution to advancing the careers of diverse individuals in health care management.
Deborah J. Bowen,
FACHE, CAE Executive Vice President/COO and President/ CEO Designate, American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
What influenced your decision to enter health care? What other factors have shaped your career choices along the way?
From an early age, I had a desire to make a difference, which was fostered by my mother. She showed me what purpose and passion really mean. She taught piano lessons at a church on Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s. On the weekends, I left the safe, comfortable suburb of Park Ridge to accompany her. It was in this challenged South Side community at the age of nine that I discovered the true disparities in life, and the experience transformed me.
My mother was not dissuaded by the looks and comments of neighbors when our South Side friends visited us.
Nor was she affected by other hostile acts that were indicative of the time. She continued her friendships and her teaching because she had a desire to make a difference. I believe we all made the same vow when we chose our life’s work. Since that time I have committed my career to influencing decision makers and supporting them in their efforts to make a difference. I have been fortunate to work for professional societies for health care executives and physicians, who are devoted to improving health care.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
This is a tough question as I believe the greatest challenges always seem to be the ones you are currently facing. I also believe our greatest challenges are our best opportunities. With that in mind, the need to transform care delivery will test health care leaders at all levels. As I assume the role of ACHE president and CEO in May, my greatest challenge and opportunity will be helping leaders be successful in this era of change.
How can health care embrace the leadership imperative to increase diversity among health care managers?
Health care leaders need to be bold advocates in ensuring that teams, management, C-Suite executives and trustees look more like the communities we serve.
Increasing that diversity and fostering inclusive environments must be a top priority in order to reduce disparities and improve care for all. That means a commitment from the top supported by practices that enforce an inclusive culture. From ACHE’s research on race/ethnic career attainments in health care management, we know that organizations that do this well have the commitment of senior leaders and practices in place such as diversity scorecards, talent management and succession planning, mentorship programs and postgraduate fellowships.
What advice would you give to racially and ethnically diverse individuals seeking to enter health care administration?
Building your knowledge base from a reputable graduate program is job number one. From there, having a strong commitment to lifelong learning is key. Since associations provide the means to help you network, find mentors and fellowships and stay up to date on advances in the field – being part of your professional community is an important tool to help you as you grow in your career. Beyond that there is no substitute for experience. Be willing to work in a variety of capacities, and in each experience, seek to learn and make yourself indispensable.
What do you see as the health care field’s greatest challenge in the coming years?
Meeting financial challenges while providing access to more individuals will place stress on systems like we have never seen before. Achieving the triple aim of right care, right setting at the right cost is the leadership imperative of the century.
While these challenges may seem daunting, what gives me the most hope for our industry is the people in it. As leaders we must remember the influence we have as we do our work. Our ability to achieve better health at lower costs will require leadership that is both inspiring and collaborative. A commitment to mentoring and helping professionals across the continuum of care achieve their goals is one way we can effect change. To that end, I urge every leader to play a role in creating a diverse talent pool to support health care’s transformation.