Perspectives on the Acute Care Continuum

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Here's How CEP America Helps Today's Working Moms Become Tomorrow's Women Leaders

3/30/2017 2:48:08 PM | 2 comments

On a recent survey of female physicians, 88 percent said that workplace leadership was important for women. Yet women hold just 20 percent of leadership positions in healthcare — and just 4 percent at the CEO level.
 
So what's holding us back? The survey respondents had two top concerns:
 
  • "Not having enough time to get things done"
  • "Work getting in the way of my personal life"
 
As a mom and Medical Director, I get it. I also feel lucky to have found a family-friendly practice that supports me through every stage of this journey called life.
 
In today's post, I’ll discuss my positive experience starting a family while working as an emergency physician and administrative fellow with CEP America. I'll share how our practice supports gender diversity in leadership and also how being a working mom has helped make me a better doctor and boss.
 

Starting my Medical Career as a Mom-to-Be

 
I was five months pregnant when I came out of the "pregnancy closet" to my new employer.
 
Three years ago, I'd happily accepted a position as a CEP administrative fellow as well as an emergency physician job at San Leandro Hospital.
 
At the time of my interview, I was only 10 weeks pregnant, and no one suspected a thing. But with the fellowship starting July 1 and my due date in June, I decided it was time to come clean to my fellowship director, Prentice Tom, MD.
 
This was my first child, so I had never been through this experience before. How would he react? Would he be supportive? Or would he think I'd been somehow deceptive for interviewing in the first place?
 
I got so nervous thinking about it, I kept putting the conversation off. Which made me even more scared when I finally picked up the phone.
 
Well. The first thing Dr. Tom said to me was, “Congratulations! How wonderful.”
 
Then he immediately asked me how much time I needed off. He reassured me we could adjust the timeline for the fellowship so I could stay in the program.
 
My site Medical Director, Mark Notash, MD, was equally supportive. "If you'll be pumping, you're totally welcome to use my office," he said. He even had a key made for me, so I could easily access some private space.
 
Believe me, you don’t realize until you’re in the position how challenging it can be to pump in a busy ED. So his offer really meant a lot to me — especially in those first difficult weeks as a new ED physician, mom, and administrative fellow.
 
That was my introduction to CEP — working with leaders who were not only accommodating of my pregnancy but also supportive and genuinely excited for me.
 
It was all so unexpected that I kept asking myself, Are they for real? A part of me kept waiting nervously for the other shoe to drop.
 
I didn't realize that this was just the start.
 

Nurturing Women Leaders

 
Today I'm working with CEP Women in Medicine (CWIM), a task force fully supported by the CEP board and executive leadership. Our goal is to improve gender diversity within CEP. And a big part of that is helping women balance the demands of leadership and family.
 
Currently, 30 percent of our Partners and 25 percent of our Medical Directors are women. Just this year, we appointed our first woman VP and first woman C-Suite executive. We still have room for improvement, but we're excited about the direction we're heading.
 
One of CWIM's first initiatives was a survey of our providers. We asked both men and women:
 
  • What barriers to leadership have you encountered?
  • Have you been offered a leadership role you didn't take?
 
We’ve used the feedback from our Partners and Advanced Providers to create the first ever CEP Women in Medicine Forum – a workshop open to women who have expressed interest in gaining leadership and networking skills, improving their confidence in the workplace, and climbing the promotion ladder.
 
It's not always easy. When I started residency, I was struck by a bad case of the imposter syndrome. Even with two degrees and over 10 years of higher education behind me, I sometimes felt like a fraud at work. When I became chief resident and landed a competitive administrative fellowship, I thought to myself, how did I get here? What if I make a mistake? What if I’m not as good as other people?
 
So the fact that CEP acknowledges barriers to women's leadership and seeks to break them down means a lot to me. Unlike women, men tend to worry less about their gender or family life getting in the way of career success. But within CEP, men have been some of our greatest allies in creating a family-friendly workplace.
 

The Positive Impacts of Gender Diversity

 
Focusing on gender diversity in leadership also gives our Partnership a competitive advantage. As the provider shortage deepens, creating a great workplace culture will be crucial to our survival.
 
Research suggests that women providers place more value on respectful treatment and work-life balance. They also tend to be strong communicators who empower patients to play a more active role in their care. In the era of value-based care, this genuine connection and collaboration is key to improving patient experience.
 
At CEP, we want to be able to recruit and retain the best providers possible. Half of today's medical school graduates are women as is over half of the advanced provider workforce. Making sure our leadership reflects our changing Partnership will be essential to recruiting the next generation of talent.
 
When talented providers fresh out of their medical training see the women of CEP in positions of leadership, it’s a big motivator for them to join us. We're showing them that we can deliver the opportunities they're hungry for.
 
And diversity in leadership almost always promotes diversity in the workforce itself. When I started at San Leandro Hospital, 85 percent of the providers were men. Now it’s close to fifty-fifty. We really started noticing a shift after promoting more women to clinical leadership roles.
 
And we're confident these gains will last. Holding a leadership position is correlated with higher career satisfaction. So when women have opportunities to use their talents, it’s good incentive to stick with CEP.
 

How Becoming a Mom Has Made Me a Better Medical Director

 
Since I became a Medical Director, I've had four providers take family leave. Having been there myself, I know what support was most helpful to me and try to offer it in turn. It's definitely easier now that CEP offers a $10,000 parental leave stipend and $25,000 loan to help cover the expenses during time off. And, Aimee Nalle in our HR Department offers incredible support and resources to our advanced providers in need of parental leave. She ensures all their questions are answered and helps them navigate the myriad of benefits available.
 
I really appreciated the support I was given by CEP leaders and how much emphasis continues to be placed on valuing family time. (For example, our new CEO, Mu Tomlinson, MD, regularly takes time off to coach his children’s basketball teams.) So I want to give that same support to my providers. I want them to feel comfortable taking as much time as they need to bond with their families during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
 
A lot of companies talk a good game about diversity and being "family-friendly." But in my experience, CEP is the real deal. Creating this culture of caring and striving to have the most qualified, passionate providers in leadership roles — both men and women — is what sets us apart and convinces the best and brightest to trust us with their careers.
 
So am I still waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well, in a way, it just did. I'm just about to go on family leave to have my second child. Although I have a lot more responsibilities this time around, I'm also feeling a lot more relaxed. I feel valued as a provider and a person. And I know that when a colleague says, "That's wonderful," it's absolutely genuine. 


Comments
Anne Bruce
CEP Women in Medicine is the kind of breakthrough concept that reminds us that CEP is setting the bar and tone for "real" diversity and working women everywhere. This article is an inspiration and I'm sharing it with other working mothers I know. Their response? "There is hope."
4/4/2017 2:01:30 PM

Melissa Nunez
You continue to be a source of inspiration, Vanessa! Well written and heartfelt.
4/4/2017 10:19:50 AM