Breaking barriers in health care: Arizona women leading the way

Women make up 80 percent of healthcare workers, 50.7 percent of medical students, and 59 percent of women are the health care decision maker for others.

Women hold 84 percent of bachelor’s degrees in health professions, 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees in biological and biomedical sciences, and 85 percent of bachelor’s in nursing. However, women only make up roughly 26 percent of Chief Executive Officer positions in health care.

Arizona is leading the way towards gender parity in health care. Banner Health is the real groundbreaker in the state, with more than eight Arizona-based female CEOs.

However, Banner is not the only trailblazer when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling.

Linda Hunt, who is CEO of Dignity Health’s Arizona service area, oversees five hospitals and has received multiple awards including “Top 25 women in Healthcare” by Modern Healthcare magazine, a “Top 25 Most Admired CEOs” by the Phoenix Business Journal, and a “Transformational Leader” award from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

And, just recently Lorry Bottrill President and CEO of Mercy Care, one of Arizona’s largest medicaid health plans.

“It is a tremendous honor to be the new CEO of Mercy Care. Our work matters to so many people throughout Arizona as we provide access to health care for some of the most vulnerable residents in our state,” said Bottrill in a statement. “I am privileged to lead the incredible team of employees who make sure our members get the care they need every day.”

Other health-related companies like Terro’s Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield, SottoPelle and Red Mountain Weight Loss also have female CEOs.

Chamber Business News spoke with four female CEOs in the Arizona health care industry. They all have high hopes for the increase of women executives in the future.

Sharon Lind, CEO of Banner Ironwood Medical Center and Banner Goldfield Medical Center, believes the low number of women executives is partly to their inability to demonstrate their leadership positions.

“It’s been a male-dominate leadership in the history of health care. So, there may be a tendency to not gravitate to that because we may not feel confident in our ability to do that,” she added. “I know at Banner, we create an environment that’s very inclusive…I think that creates a space for us to take an opportunity [to] advance to senior executive level roles and have the ability to demonstrate our abilities to be successful with the traits and qualities that we bring. As we get more exposure to that, we’ll continue to see more women take the opportunity to advance their career in that way.”

“We’re slowly making progress… there’s never been a better time, never been a better time, to go into the healthcare field than now if you are a woman,” Andy Kramer Peterson, President and CEO, Banner Health Foundation and Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation, said. “If you want to be in an industry that has meaning at the beginning and end of each day but also is not going away anytime soon. There are more opportunities for women than ever before.”

“I really see no boundaries,” Courtney Ophaug, CEO, Banner Estrella Medical Center, said. “I have really challenged myself, and those I work with, to see all the possibilities. So, by leading with the possibilities in mind, then we’re able to accomplish some pretty impressive things.”

“Women do have opportunities,” Peggy Chase, CEO, Terros Health, said. “I think that being able to display knowledge, respect, be an idea person, and come up with methods for how health care can be improved are all things that allow for women to become leaders today.”

So, why the recent uptick in the number of women entering the health care field?  

I think health care is a caring field, it even has it in the name,” Chase said. “I think for a lot of women [who] want to help make a difference in other people’s lives, it gives the opportunity to do that.”

According to Ophaug, “as women, we’re certainly the healthcare decision makers in the family and by going into the healthcare profession we are able to influence the care that is provided for our family, but we are also able to demonstrate that compassion and really that commitment to excellence in a different way.”

“It’s a space where it’s taking science and merging that with the art of caregiving,” Lind said. “Creating a place where we’re caring for the wellbeing of others … it aligns with our values that are inherent to us.”

While there are many barriers that can make it difficult for women to get into leadership, Chase believes the biggest barrier is mindset.

One of the barriers was my own thinking,” Chase said. “When I would first go into a meeting and there would be like 70 or 80 people there and maybe 8 to 10 women and I would allow myself to feel intimidated… I worked towards a different [thought] process where I started thinking ‘I have something to contribute’… that was very powerful for me and [for] moving myself out of feeling insecure when I would be in situations that were very male dominated.”

Advice to women starting their careers:  

Learn to grow in [your] leadership, learn the industry, to be innovative, and to seek the respect of others. I think above all else is to operate within a core set of values and to ensure that showing compassion, good stewardship, forward thinking, and operating with integrity. I think those are real critical areas to move up in leadership. I also think you can pave your own path, the path doesn’t have to look like somebody else’s.”

–       Peggy Chase, President and CEO, Terros Health

“Really identify what they see as an opportunity for them and go for it …find a way to differentiate [yourself], ask questions, volunteer, want to learn more, be super curious… I would very much encourage a mentor to help [you] continue to see all the possibilities and remove barriers and boundaries. Through the guidance of a very strong solid mentor women will be able to accomplish whatever opportunity they want to explore.”

–       Courtney Ophaug, CEO, Banner Estrella Medical Center

Take [your] academic learning and life experiences and truly go through some level of self-discovery to [get] a sense of who [you] are, a sense for oneself, to know what your passion is, how you develop a sense of purpose and then align that with the organization and position so that you can have a better understanding and an opportunity to be courageous when you need to be. [To] not be afraid, to be very purposeful in your actions… It’s being resilient, being persistent, and continual learners, as [you] grow in [y]our leadership capacity.”

–       Sharon Lind, CEO of Banner Ironwood Medical Center and Banner Goldfield Medical Center

Emily Richardson

1 comment

  • Great article. My sister is Peggy Chase and I’m so proud of her and what she has accomplished and become in the health care industry.

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