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This Rural Mission

Mar 3, 2021

This Rural Mission is a podcast brought to you by Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Family Medicine Department. We are so excited to bring you season three. I'm your host, Julia Terhune, and I hope you enjoy this episode.

In season one, I was so proud of the witty title for the episode Women Rural, R-U-R-A-L, but I was more proud of the content. Because in 2016 when I was recording the interviews for that episode, we were in the middle of an uneasy presidential campaign where for the first time in our history, one of the major presidential contenders was a woman. Now, four years later, we've made history. For the first time we have a female vice president of the United States.

Thanks to social media and memes I think we are all acutely aware of how the "other side" feels about Vice President Harris's appointment. From my vantage point, her appointment was described as either one of the greatest feats in gender equality and female leadership, or as a political ploy aimed at winning minority votes.

And that's where it starts to suck. Because on either side of the argument, that is a heavy lift for Vice President Harris. That's a heavy lift to be a pawn and it's a heavy lift to be the first. And so no matter how you slice it, being a female leader of her capacity is huge. Being the first one to do anything is huge. You have to move so much rubble and take so much heat so that you can clear a path for everyone else.

Tony Morrison is one of the most famous black female authors of our time. She has a very famous quote from a 2003 O Magazine interview. Perhaps you've seen it. It said, "I tell my students when you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag candy game."

If you've read the whole article, you know that she's speaking generally about how marginalized groups who make a way to do something first need to do the heavy lifting so that those firsts don't continue. She says this because she was a first. In the 1960s she wrote her novels without any consideration for a white audience or white acceptance of her work. She went on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize and write some of the greatest novels of our time. Her achievements were not without a lot of heavy lifting that cleared a path for some amazing modern black authors like Kylie Reed or one of my favorites, Jesmyn Ward. She writes from a black impoverished rural perspective. And if you haven't read Salvage the Bones, you need to.

So in order to make the heavy lifting a little easier task today, we're celebrating. Celebrating four outstanding female hospital CEOs who are serving rural communities all around the state, from the upper peninsula all the way to the thumb. While not all of them are the first female CEOs to be with their hospitals, they are still doing the hard work that is changing and caring for rural communities in a real way and making an empowered path for young women to come right alongside them.

We're about to get into the heart of the interviews today. But before I do, I want to share some statistics compiled by the Harvard Business Review. That is to say, in 2018 women made up over 80% of the healthcare workforce, but only 6% of all healthcare CEOs were women nationwide. Women provide a unique and different worldview, challenge, and set of skills to the workforce in general, a difference that is vital to the vitality and completeness of any organization, effort, or mission. Women deserve equal and equitable representation in all areas of the economy. And therefore when discrepancies like the distribution of leadership roles in healthcare is askew, I believe it's the job of all of us to find a way to remedy that situation.

So how do we do that? Well, we're going to find out. We're going to learn about how to really empower and make a difference in the workforce and in the lives of others through these four fabulous interviews. One of the things I often take for granted when doing these interviews is the consistencies that emerge among my participants. But in this episode, the commonalities between these remarkable women was too positive and too interesting not to take note of.

The things I noticed about all four of these stories was this: mentorship is the best way to make impactful leaders. Leadership is not about you, but everyone around you. And to reach your potential, you have to take risks. And sometimes that risk is being the first.

Our stories today come from Marita Hattem-Schiffman, who is the CEO of MidMichigan Health System in Gratiot, Isabella, and Clair counties. Yes, that many counties and that many hospitals. Karen Cheeseman from the Mackinac Straits Health System in St. Ignace; Jean Anthony, the President and CEO of Hills and Dales Hospital in Cass City; and Lyn Jenks, who is now retired, but was the CEO of the Munson Health System in Charlevoix, Michigan. A little secret about Lyn? She hired our director, Dr. Andrea Wendling, for her practice in Charlevoix and is very well-loved and respected in Northern Michigan.

So let's start with some origin stories. We'll start with Marita and Jean and then move on to Karen and Lyn. One thing I think you'll find with these stories is that not one of these women started their career with the plan to become a CEO. But with mentorship from trusted guides, they learned their own potential, took risks, and found a way to empower others to take the reins too.

While Marita is a Michigan native and a graduate of Central Michigan University, Marita began her time in hospital leadership in a hospital system in Wisconsin. She took on a major strategic leadership role with a bank before realizing what she really wanted to do with her career and where she wanted to go back. Here's Marita.

And throughout the whole time I talked to the CEO about, "I still love healthcare and odds are I'm going right back again." And he kept going, "No, no, no, no, no. We're not for profit. We're helping people too. You're going to love this. You're going to want to stay." And I got to that two year mark and had already decided like six months earlier that when I hit two years, it was going to be time to go back to healthcare. And in the middle of all that I had come back to Michigan for a college reunion. Had not been back in I won't tell you how many decades. Really long time.

And driving back to the airport I called my husband back in Wisconsin and I said, "I don't know what's happening to me, but I want to come home." So he said, "Well, sure, why not? I'll support you in that." And that was July of 2016. February of 2017 was that two year commitment to the credit union. And at that point before I did anything, all these doors and windows started to open and some of them had Michigan on them. So I remember sitting down with my husband and saying, "Okay, here's all these crazy things that are coming up. Clearly the message God's giving me is you were right to make a two year commitment. Now it's time to go back to healthcare. Here are all these different places you could explore or people who are calling you." And we both agreed Michigan would be our first priority. And it all turned out, which is fantastic.

I am Jean Anthony, President and CEO of Hills and Dales. And my current role as CEO came to fruition probably almost four years ago, but I have a long, long history in healthcare. I started as an LPN and I tell the employees here during orientation, "I came with the building," and they love it. They all love it and they laugh about it. But I started as an LPN. I learned the organization, went back and received my associates. And then from there had that desire to do more in management and continued my education through bachelor's and master's and continued in the organization to pick up more and more management administrative duties until I became the COO approximately 17 years ago. And took on services with physicians, physician practices. And it was all exciting to me. It was a wonderful experience.

And so I worked in human resources for a number of years, really had the opportunity to really [inaudible 00:10:48] the program and develop it. At that time, the hospital was starting to expand. Big physician recruitment initiative underway and we were adding a number of services. So I was really fortunate to be a part of that. In about 2005, we started planning for the new hospital. And I was really fortunate to be a part of that in a number of different ways. And that led me to really be involved in a lot of different operational aspects throughout the years and throughout that process. And so I began just becoming involved and taking on other roles and responsibilities. Ultimately then became the COO and then had the opportunity to apply for the CEO job.

[inaudible 00:11:55] been in that position for a year. That's such a [inaudible 00:11:59]. Also in between I went back and I did my master's degree in organizational management in 2012. So just really tried to take every opportunity I could to advance and grow as the health system would allow.

You are now retired?

Yes, I am.

Are you excited? Is it good?

It's getting there. Let me just say that. It's getting there. When you've been going a hundred miles an hour for your entire adult life, going to zero miles an hour is hard. It's very hard. And I think what it is is when so much of who you are is wrapped up in what you do then it's not only a question of having something to do, but who you are. So I'm still dealing with that and I'm reinventing myself. And so I'm getting used to it.

I don't miss getting up at the crack of dawn. I don't miss going in on a midnight shift. I don't miss taking 400 people to bed with me every night and not being able to sleep for worrying. That's the stuff I don't miss, but yeah, I'm getting used to it.

Yeah, absolutely. So where did you start? How did you get to become the CEO of Charlevoix Hospital?

Well, I can tell you it wasn't intentional. Everybody I know who is successful says, "You set goals and you work toward those goals," and this wasn't it. It just wasn't it. I was at Wright State University and mass communication arts. It wasn't a field that would normally lead you to being a CEO of a hospital, but Marilyn Turner was the weather lady. She wasn't going anywhere. So I couldn't get a job there. So I started out in a hospital and public relations and I liked it. I liked the nonprofit world. I liked the sense that even though you were earning a living and doing well, you could do good as well in the nonprofit world. And I liked that about the industry.

I look back now on the time and energy and care that Dr. Wendling has put in my life and I still feel undeserving and so very, very grateful. Now, I don't think that I want or will ever be a CEO of a hospital, but Dr. Wendling has allowed me to grow in other ways that have made a huge difference in my life and the lives of rural medical students. The mentors of Lyn and Jean did the same thing.

Very fortunate. I had good leader, bosses, mentors during my career. And so I was able to really just grow to the fullest during that time. So it was great. I had really good mentors. I was in an industry that had a lot of women in it. Now, not a lot of women in the C-suite when I first started. Women were nurses and a growing population were doctors. Okay, so that continued to grow. So not being in either one of those categories, that part was a learning for me and it was a stretch. And even when you're a big fish in a little pond, as you always are in a rural area, you're still competing with mostly guys. That's just the way it was. Not so much anymore. We've really come a long way in healthcare in terms of more women in the C-suite and at the VP and up levels.

But even that I think was a good learning, because again I was surrounded with people who were not misogynistic, who encouraged me for the most part. I ran across a couple of that... Well, no, I didn't want to get physical, but I was tempted. There were times when I just wanted to punch them, but for the most part, again, I was very fortunate. Even those that I wanted to punch I found that in many ways because I was a woman, I was equipped with capabilities that quite honestly they weren't.

Wow. When you started day one, did you picture yourself as one day being the CEO?

Absolutely not. My husband and I laugh because when we first got married I was an LPN and that was good and we'd have some children and I'd work part-time and oh my goodness, that went right out the window and different things as you get involved in the work... And this has been such a good community. It's been a good place to work. The whole community is good. The school systems are good. It just was such a natural fit that I just kept growing with it.

And that good mentorship leads to some really good ideas.

I see our culture just in general, not even really getting to generations, moving in a different direction to more of what's considered an authoritarian style, which the tagline for that is, "Come with me," where you're engaging people in a vision and you're figuratively taking them by the hand or putting your arm around them and bringing them forward and eventually being able to let them run out in front of you. And then there's affiliative, which is very much about building consensus. And that tends to be where I spend most of my life. And I've been having to learn and really work on being more of that authoritarian style. And the bigger your job gets, the more people you need to be able to put your arms around and bring forward and trust that they're doing the same thing with their people. And I just love that image of taking people by the hands and marching forward together.

So those studies wouldn't be showing us that those are the right leadership styles if it wasn't for the way society is changing what people need from us. And who knows where we'll be another 10 years from now? It may have shifted to a different type of style again. But if you think back to the Jack Welchs of GE... And I'm trying to think of some of the other big names. They were very much that coercive or pace-setting style, which is, "I'm the smart one." Captain Kirk. "I have all the ideas. We're doing this." And all these intelligent people just, "Okay, whatever you say," instead of being able to contribute to the conversation and to the decision-making.

So what I'm hearing you say though is that really that mark of leadership is almost a lifelong learner and being willing to say that, "My ideas are not the best. I need to go and find out information from others so that I can best lead," and not staying in your own silo.

Oh, yeah. The higher you go in a position, the less you know about how to get anything done. We all start at some point doing a job and becoming an expert of that job. And then somebody says, "You do that really well. Let's have you lead others who do that job." And sometimes it's a disaster because just because you could do it doesn't mean you can lead it or teach it. And sometimes it works out great. And then that's the person that gets to carry on in management.

But at some point you get to the point... I'm running a hospital. I'm not a nurse. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a pharmacist. I'm not the subject matter of any of those things. My job, like I was saying earlier, is to get the best people we can, get them in the right seat, get them the resources that they need, let them know that they're empowered, that they're trusted, and we're going to support them. And then just get out of their way. They have the answers for a lot of the things that we need to solve. My job now... And I joke sometimes I got the easy job. I don't have to do anything. I just have to get people to do all this stuff. Obviously a lot harder than that sounds. But my job is to try to stay as far above the fray as I can so I can see the big picture.

What I'm most proud of is that I instilled a philosophy of the customer is important but the employee has to come first. Because if the employee comes first... Employee slash physician. They're going to take care of the customers. They're going to take care of the patients.

The way I tend to look at things is I'm really proud of our employees. It's really about their success and the contributions that they make each and every day to the hospital. And so for me it's really about creating and sustaining a culture where we really contribute to our community, providing the best patient care that we can, the best healthcare that's available to our community. And so for me, it's really about the success of our employees. We're doing all those things well in terms of providing quality care and delivering great customer service. Those are the things I'm most proud of at the end of the day.

I like to see my staff make decisions. It means we're doing something right. It means that we've mentored them to a point where they have ownership maybe of their department, of their area. It's nice. They'll come and they'll talk to you and you can talk it through. But you know in your heart they've grown a little bit because they've come to you with the answer. So I like to see my staff make decisions and I like interaction. Some of my favorite things are interactions with the physicians, to see what we're going to do next, what areas we can improve on.

And finally, here's some advice for all of you budding female leaders.

The importance of stepping outside your comfort zone. You tend to gravitate towards things where your strengths lie and the things that are most comfortable. In looking back for me I certainly would have taken a few more risks a little earlier in my career.

Oh, that's interesting. Like what?

Could be a number of different things, really. Could be anything from getting out and joining a committee either internally or externally in the hospital, having a few opportunities to do that. And thinking, "I don't have enough knowledge yet," or, "I know I don't have enough expertise." That type of thing. Just putting yourself out there, learning some new skills that maybe you thought somebody else was better at, where you didn't give yourself enough credit to go out and really grasp that and [inaudible 00:24:09].

So being confident.

Yes. Gaining a little more confidence early on. Absolutely.

I could have easily said, "No, I don't have the degree to be a CEO of a hospital. I don't have the background that you need." It would have been relatively easy to say that. I made more money consulting, quite honestly. But I'm glad I did it.

So do you hear that ladies? Take risks. Go outside of your comfort zone. Try something new and trust the people around you who are encouraging you. If you're that person who is near one of these budding young female leaders, consider how you can empower them to do the things that they are going to benefit from and how those talents and skills could benefit the world. I am so grateful for the women who have done that for me.

Thank you for listening to this episode. I want to thank all of the mentors that make a difference in our lives and in the lives of our students. I want to thank all of the brave individuals who became firsts. We couldn't do any of the things that we're doing without you. Thank you for your leadership.

As always, we are grateful for our podcast audience and our supporters and all of the people who make this possible. Thank you to Marita, Lyn, Jean, and Karen for being interviewed for this episode. And thank you Dr. Wendling for all of the women and men that you encourage and mentor through the College of Human Medicine. I'm your host, Julia Terhune. And as always, we want you to make rural your mission.