It’s not often that a CIO uses the word ‘joy’ when describing the moment they entered the IT world. But for Tamara Havenhill-Jacobs, it’s precisely what she felt when she was tapped to help guide a radiology IS project. But although she had found her path, the journey from nurse to CIO hasn’t been without its share of bumps, bruises, and lessons learned.
Recently, healthsystemCIO spoke with Havenhill-Jacobs about her team’s core objectives at Bozeman Health, including moving to the cloud, improving user experience, and making optimization a priority. We also talked about how Bozeman is working to grow physician and nursing informaticists, her constantly evolving leadership philosophy, the enormous benefits of having a leadership network, and what it takes to help others realize – and reach – their full potential.
- The moment she landed in IT – “The way it came together made sense to me.”
- Growing physician & nursing informaticists
- “Any time someone expresses interest in IT, I grab them.”
- Having “crucial conversations” to help individuals reach their potential
- From interim to permanent CIO
- Opportunity to “shape the strategy and develop a leadership philosophy.”
- CHIME’s community of health IT leaders: “Title doesn’t matter.”
Oftentimes the one thing that’s missing is an opportunity to plug in. It’s not that they aren’t available; it’s a matter of identifying an interest and matching it up. That’s how we’re growing physician informaticists, nursing informaticists, and analytics leaders.
Sometimes it’s just having those crucial conversations where you say, ‘You’ve got this. You can do this.’ Oftentimes, we’re the ones limiting ourselves, and so a leader needs to be able to give a little push and provide the empowerment that isn’t there.
You need to have people who will pull you up and encourage you to pursue the opportunities that match your skillset, or even your potential. I was very fortunate to have that.
You can always reach out and ask questions and seek input or feedback, or provide feedback to others, no matter what your title might be. Title doesn’t matter — what matters are the responsibilities we have, the areas we focus on, the systems we serve, the components of health IT and digital health we elevate, and the opportunities we have.
Gamble: You mentioned having a clinical background. How did you go from nursing to IT?
Havenhill-Jacobs: I started out as a nurse in Lubbock, Texas in the early 1990s. Then I relocated to Austin and began working for a radiology company. I was doing work with neuro-interventional specialties at a time when there were a lot of exciting things happening with radiology information systems and PACS. Because I had the right experience and knowledge of the clinical and operational components, and a strong relationship with some of the leadership, I was tapped for that project. When it happened, I remember thinking, ‘You want me to do what?’ But I did it, and it was unlike anything I had done before. I loved it — the way it came together just made sense to me, and that was it. From that point on, I was in.
I remember thinking, this was my path, because it resonated so strongly, and it brought me joy. I can very specifically think back to that moment and know that what I was feeling was satisfaction and joy.
Gamble: Very interesting. It seems to be a common theme for people to land in IT — individuals who thrive in that setting, but weren’t necessarily steered in that direction.
Havenhill-Jacobs: Yes. One thing I’ve learned to do — and love to do — is any time I have someone who’s doing clinical work express any sort of interest in information technology, I grab them. I get them engaged in some way, and give them something to lead or be part of, because oftentimes the one thing that’s missing is an opportunity to plug in. It’s not that they aren’t available; it’s a matter of identifying an interest and matching it up. That’s how we’re growing physician informaticists, nursing informaticists, and analytics leaders — we’re creating opportunities to match an interest with a need.
Gamble: When you’re looking for strong candidates and putting together a team, what are the qualities that you value most? What are you looking for in an individual?
Havenhill-Jacobs: That’s an interesting question because I did create a team that hadn’t previously existed within Bozeman Health. I hired four system directors into our organization. For each of those, I was looking for someone with the right background and lens; but beyond that, I want individuals who are innovative in their approach and have a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I want individuals who are self-directed, who are willing to be empowered and step into roles, who have strong leadership skills, and who are able to talk about how they have grown and developed.
Gamble: Have you come across situations where someone shows potential in a lot of areas but isn’t reaching it for some reason? And if so, how do you deal with that?
Havenhill-Jacobs: Sometimes they’re not reaching their full potential because something within our own system is limiting them. And so I try to determine whether that’s something we can address as a team; if there’s an opportunity to open something up so that they can. Sometimes it’s just having those crucial conversations where you say, ‘You’ve got this. You can do this.’ Oftentimes, we’re the ones limiting ourselves, and so a leader needs to be able to give a little push and provide the empowerment that isn’t there.
It could be that the organization doesn’t have the ability to support them in the way they need, and so you need to determine how to help figure out what they need and identify the right opportunities.
Gamble: Have you had mentors who have helped you along the way?
Havenhill-Jacobs: Yes, at every step. I can’t imagine the challenges I would’ve had without having that help and guidance. I had people who encouraged me to leave the nest and said, ‘Your wings are going to work. You’re going to be fine.’ I had people who I trusted enough to be able to verbalize my fears and concerns, and who were able to guide me through the options. You need to have people who will pull you up and encourage you to pursue the opportunities that match your skillset, or even your potential. I was very fortunate to have that.
Gamble: It’s amazing the difference a simple conversation can have on someone’s career.
Havenhill-Jacobs: Right. Even sharing your own story can have such a strong impact. I’m constantly amazed when I hear about the challenges someone has experience — it can be very empowering to step into an opportunity when you aren’t sure if you have the chops for it. It’s so valuable to hear those stories, and to share them – especially for women.
Gamble: Looking at your own career and the opportunities you seized, you started with Bozeman as interim CIO. What was that experience like, and was it difficult to transition to a full-time role?
Havenhill-Jacobs: Actually, Bozeman Health had never had a CIO. It was within my skillset, and so I agreed to come here and help them develop the role. The plan was for me to create the job description and help identify a candidate. But during the course of that year, the conversation shifted to whether I would consider staying. Bozeman is an incredible place; both the health system and the community are on an amazing journey. It’s a diamond in southwestern Montana.
And quite frankly, some of the things we’re developing and implementing here are things that most systems are finishing soon and moving on from. This was an opportunity to shape the strategy and develop a leadership team. I have oversight across IT, which includes innovation, digital health, retail health, and consumer engagement. All those things are really exciting to me, and so the transition from interim to permanent was not a big deal. It was a matter of physically moving my family, but it was a very natural transition.
Gamble: And this was your first CIO role, correct?
Havenhill-Jacobs: Yes, although in previous roles, I did have responsibilities that were equal to it, so it wasn’t my first rodeo.
Gamble: So it didn’t really feel like your first CIO role.
Havenhill-Jacobs: It didn’t. So much of this role comes down to fundamental knowledge; it’s experience that I have within my wheelhouse. One thing that’s definitely been helpful is that I’ve been a CHIME member for several years, and have been able to take advantage of being part of that community. You can always reach out and ask questions and seek input or feedback, or provide feedback to others, no matter what your title might be. Title doesn’t matter — what matters are the responsibilities we have, the areas we focus on, the systems we serve, the components of health IT and digital health we elevate, and the opportunities we have within the organization. Many of us in the community have — or have had — different titles. It’s not self-limiting in that only CIOs can reach out to other CIOs.
Gamble: It’s certainly an advantage to have that. And it seems you landed with the right organization.
Havenhill-Jacobs: It did. I like it here; that’s why I feel I made the right choice coming on board full-time. But no matter where you go, having a national community of health IT leaders — both CIOs and others — who can provide support, is critical. I can’t emphasize that enough. None of us do this alone.
Gamble: It makes a difference, I’m sure. Well, this about wraps things up. I want to thank you so much for your time, and I hope we can meet in person at some point.
Havenhill-Jacobs: That would be great.
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