Acknowledging Our Mentors: Gretchen Tegethoff’s Defining Moment

Behind every accomplished individual is at least one person who helped shape his or her career and pave the way to success. In recognition of these mentors, healthsystemCIO.com has developed a blog series that provides a forum for health IT leaders to acknowledge those who gave them an opportunity to excel and taught valuable lessons along the way. It’s a chance to give back to those who have given so much of their time and attention. If you are interested in contributing to this series, contact Kate Gamble.

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Gretchen Tegethoff, VP/CIO, Athens Regional Health System

While there are a handful of people who have played a part in shaping my career, there is one person who took me under her wing and gave me a push to the see the possibilities and realize my potential. I was the LIS Coordinator at George Washington University Hospital when I met Ronnie Skibicki, who was the interim CIO. Having a medical technology background, I was hired to implement the new lab and blood bank systems and maintain and support them.

I began working closely with Ronnie, and once we got through the lab system implementation, we started talking about what I would do next. I had already started supporting a number of interfaces and Ronnie suggested that I be assigned to manage the OR system and pharmacy system implementations, among other projects.

She thought I should manage projects outside of the lab. I could not understand why she was suggesting this — I had a lab background. I had a great relationship with the lab’s staff, management, and pathologists. I did a good job implementing the lab systems and providing support. Why mess with this by putting me in areas where I’m not as familiar and experienced? And what would happen to the lab? Could I still support them?

All these thoughts and questions ran through my mind and I eventually verbalized them to Ronnie. I will never forget that day; I still remember sitting in her office having that talk. She told me that while she agreed I did a great job with lab, it was time to broaden my horizons and get additional experience. She told me she saw great potential in me and that taking this step would open more doors for me. Without this talk, I’m not sure I would have taken this step outside of lab. I believe this was a defining moment of my career.

It was right around this time that Ronnie and I entered into a mentoring relationship. Ronnie had always said that mentoring was different than coaching and that both parties needed to be willing to be part of it. She was willing to mentor me, and I was willing to be mentored.

As I took my first step outside of supporting the lab systems, I became a Clinical Systems Analyst and managed many different system implementations and other projects throughout the hospital, including the hospital’s move to a new building across the street. Ronnie took me to meetings that I would otherwise not be part of so I could observe her and get exposure to other projects and discussions involving IS. After these meetings, Ronnie and I would go to lunch or meet in her office so I could ask questions and she could explain why she said certain things, asked particular questions, or reacted in certain ways. We attended many of the same meetings where I participated and she would give me feedback afterward — both positive and negative (with suggestions for improvement) — on how I handled situations and discussions. She taught me so much about the industry, projects, vendors, and relationships.

Ronnie served as the interim CIO during this time and then again a few years later. When she came back, I was no longer working at the hospital, but we had kept in close touch throughout those years. I had decided to leave the hospital because there was no opportunity for growth at the time, and after achieving my master’s degree in information systems technology, I really wanted to move into a management or director role. By the time I left, I was basically managing the department but I didn’t have the title. I was offered a different position in a different field and decided to take it and try something other than healthcare. Ronnie was back as interim CIO because the director/CIO position opened up.  This is the position that I wanted to eventually move into and now it was available.

Long story short, the hospital showed interest in me, and I wanted to come back to healthcare and taking the position. Ronnie encouraged me to apply and was part of the interviewing team — and of course, provided a strong voice for my capabilities and potential. She was my advocate and felt that with continued mentoring, I could be successful in this role. She felt I deserved a chance, even though I was coming in with less experience than the typical director candidate.

It all worked out, and Ronnie continued in the interim CIO role for 6 weeks after I started as director/CIO. While the option was there for her to stay longer, she knew after this amount of time that I would be ready to fly on my own, but I also knew she was only a phone call or email away. I still to this day recall advice and knowledge that she has given me, and I apply it in my current role.

I’m very thankful to have had this opportunity with Ronnie and am proud of our mentoring story and how it has evolved. She and I still remain in touch, professionally and personally. We now consult each other on work issues (she is now CIO at Barber National Institute in Erie, Pa.) and we share information. In addition to the work talk, we are also friends.

Just recently, one of my managers indicated that she would be interested in having me mentor her. It was a true honor to hear this, and it also took me a couple minutes to process it at the same time, as it wasn’t too long ago when I was the one being mentored, and I still consider Ronnie my mentor. I took a look at how my career has progressed over the years and am excited to know that I am now at a point where I can help someone on my team realize her potential and achieve her goals.

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