With every career opportunity, there are both advantages and drawbacks. “Nothing is all good or all bad,” says Kathy Ross. What distinguishes true leaders, she believes, is the ability to leverage those experiences to help create a better environment. It’s a topic Ross knows well, having held leadership roles at a variety of organizations, from acute care hospitals to large health systems. For example, spending nearly a decade at Ascension Information Services taught her how to navigate a “matrixed environment,” while early days as a respiratory therapist helped her understand end users.
Last summer, Ross embarked on a new role as CIO at Broward Health, a five-hospital system that has undergone a great deal of turnover. This time, she hopes to learn what it takes to provide stability while introducing a new way of doing business. In this interview, she talks about why the position appealed to her, how Broward is working to become an agile organization, and the importance of ownership when it comes to projects. Ross also shares her thoughts on the challenges faced by the next generation of clinicians, what mentored has meant to her, and how professional organizations hcan help leaders “get to where you need to be.”
- 10 years w/ Ascension: “It taught me how to work in a matrixed environment.”
- The new class of technophile clinicians – “The challenges are different, but equally as complex”
- Value of communication skills
- Mentoring – “It’s only going to enhance you.”
- Coaching moments
- Advancement of women & minorities in leadership roles
- CHIME’s CHCIO certification – “They really are invested in future CIOs.”
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
It’s like starting a new organization. It’s being at the foundation of what Broward Health is going to mean to the community. It’s exciting to be a part of that base level of developing it and being a part of that team. That’s one of the primary reasons I came.
Clinicians are coming into the workforce that don’t know any other way except for electronic. These clinicians grew up with cell phones — they’ve never heard of a typewriter. It’s every day to them, and it is only going to help adoption of new solutions.
It’s really important to develop those skills. Whatever it takes — reading, going to CHIME, going to boot camp, talking with your peers, getting a personal coach — that’s what you need to be successful as a CIO.
The majority of my career I’ve walked into executive meetings and I’ve been the only woman. It’s so refreshing to see more women in IT leadership roles, especially in healthcare.
Gamble: What was it about this particular role that appeal to you?
Ross: As I mentioned earlier, it’s like starting a new organization. It’s being at the foundation of what Broward Health is going to mean to the community. It’s exciting to be a part of that base level of developing it and being a part of that team. That’s one of the primary reasons I came: it’s such a challenge and such an opportunity.
Gamble: You spent several years at Ascension, which is probably about as complex as health systems get. How are you able to draw from that experience?
Ross: Well, as you said, Ascension is an extremely complex organization. I was there for a while, and it taught me how to work in a matrixed environment; how to be an influencer and to make sure that you’re developing the right partnerships. There were so many different levels and different divisions you had to work with, and so it really helped to me develop that skill. I’m using it every day in my role today.
Gamble: I’m sure it comes with challenges but also advantages being in such a large organization.
Ross: Nothing is all good or all bad. You take the good and the bad, and you learn how to deal with it.
Gamble: You mentioned earlier having experience as a respiratory therapist. I bet it’s interesting to look back at that experience and think about how technology has changed the role. There’s been so much progress and so many good things, but also so many challenges.
Ross: There are. I think back to how I practiced when I was a respiratory therapist and how they practice now — it’s night and day different. You hit it on the head. I had challenges when I was a respiratory therapist not having technology. Now that we have it, the challenges are different but equally complex.
Gamble: Right. Some of the people who are coming up now only know technology.
Ross: Absolutely. I was just talking to some of our physicians about this. We just rolled out a new solution in March, and we were talking about how transcription will evolve over the next five years. As our older generation retires, new clinicians are coming into the workforce that don’t know any other way except for electronic. These clinicians grew up with cell phones — they’ve never heard of a typewriter. It’s every day to them, and it is only going to help adoption of new solutions for creative technology.
Gamble: Absolutely. When you think the most important aspects of leadership, one thing that always comes up is communication and interpersonal skills. Can you talk about how leaders can work to develop and maintain those skills?
Ross: One of the ways I’ve really been able to mold my career is by being a part of CHIME — taking their courses, going to the boot camp, and partnering with my other CIOs to talk through solutions. Because honestly, as a CIO, it’s equally as important to have relationships and be able to communicate the vision as it is to create that vision. It took me a while to learn that; to be able to articulate it all the way across the organization, all the way up and down my department, to make sure everyone understands it. I need to make sure I can communicate it in a way that it’s not just Kathy’s vision, but the organization’s vision. It’s really important to develop those skills. Whatever it takes — reading, going to CHIME, going to boot camp, talking with your peers, getting a personal coach — that’s what you need to be successful as a CIO.
Gamble: A lot of CIOs participate in mentoring, but I think for some people it is still an intimidating concept. What are your thoughts around this, and have you done a good amount of mentoring?
Ross: I have. I’ve been a mentor and I had a mentor, and I think if you truly want to develop in your professional role and you want to take it to the next level, that stigma needs to go away. You just need to do it, because it’s only going to enhance you. Early in my career I was reading a lot of self-help books, and I remember talking with a group of CHIME members and saying, ‘These books are all the same. Every book I read has the same message.’ And so one of my mentors said, ‘Well, then you need to look for different books.’ I thought, ‘Okay, note to self.’
But that was a great coaching opportunity for me. I was reading what I wanted to read. Sometimes you have to stop reading what you want to read and be more diverse.
Gamble: Sure. If you watch the same channels or go to the same places for news, you’re going to hear the same thing.
Ross: Exactly. It’s the same concept.
Gamble: Another thing I wanted to address were the challenges women and minorities face in attaining leadership roles. There seems to be more awareness now, which is certainly a positive thing. Do you feel like the industry is finally coming around in this regard?
Ross: Absolutely. I think it’s great that there’s more focused attention on it. The majority of my career I’ve walked into executive meetings and I’ve been the only woman. It’s so refreshing to see more women in IT leadership roles, especially in healthcare. One thing I was extremely happy with when I joined Broward Health is that more than 50 percent of the leadership team are women. It’s wonderful.
Gamble: A report recently came out stating that startups and innovation companies tend to have more equality in leadership. Hopefully that can seep into other industries like healthcare.
Ross: Absolutely. It’s very exciting.
Gamble: The last thing I want to ask is, for people who are new to the CIO role or are aspiring to that level, do you have any advice as to what they need to do to attain the role and succeed in it?
Ross: I’m a huge CHIME supporter, so I would advise they take the boot camp, join the mentoring program, and do the online education. CHIME is a great organization to help you develop as a leader. I’m also a member of HIMSS and ACHE, but CHIME is the organization that can best help you get to where you want to be.
Gamble: I’m always impressed by the willingness of CHIME members to have a conversation or let someone pick their brain. There seems to be a lot of that.
Ross: There is. The people who are members of CHIME — especially those who have gone through CHCIO certification — really are invested in the future of CIOs. I remember interviewing for an AVP level; there were several people who weren’t qualified but I still interviewed them. I spent 30 minutes on the phone with them, coaching them on what they need to do to get to the next level, because I saw that they were members of CHIME. They had participated in the CIO certification, and so I wanted to mentor them and help them get to the next level. I think the majority of CIOs would do the same thing I did.
Gamble: That’s so helpful. We think of interviews as having one end goal, to fill a job, but there’s so much you can learn just by sitting down and talking with someone.
Gamble: Well, it seems like this is certainly the right role for you, and you’re in the right place. That’s great to hear. And I definitely want to catch up with you again soon to see how things are going.
Ross: That sounds wonderful, Kate. I appreciate it.
healthsystemCIO’s Interviews and Podcasts are sponsored by: