Although the healthcare workforce consists of 75 percent women, recent surveys of hospital and health systems reveal that only a small percent sit in the CEO seat. Many reasons are given for this intractable glass ceiling, including traditional management structures that may not favor women and provide them with the strategic roles needed to move into the C-suite; preconceived notions of work-life concerns compared to male counterparts that may limit women’s access to strategic roles within the organization; and the lack of organizational focus on strategies that could address the issue, such as deliberate attention to preparing and promoting women leaders, mentoring, and other resource support that are critical to the advancement of women.
One promising area of preparation for early-career female healthcare managers is administrative fellowships. These one- or two-year intensive experiential learning-work experiences are meant for recent graduate school students to gain valuable exposure to senior executives, strategic problem solving and projects, and mentoring.
Although not specifically geared toward women, these highly valued opportunities can provide women and underrepresented minorities with important experiences and exposure within a hospital or health system. The National Council on Administrative Fellowships helps coordinate industry efforts to make these positions even more broadly available.
According to former fellow Dameka Miller, vice president of strategic sourcing and value analysis for Trinity Health, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the United States, “My fellowship experience gave me the opportunity to interact with senior executives in my daily work as a young professional. This provided great mentoring opportunities and early insight into the responsibilities of executive leadership.”
Andrea Paciello, executive director of radiation oncology and the lead executive overseeing Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) fellowship program explains, “The well-rounded nature of a fellowship experience, like MGH’s, helps prepare next generation of leaders for operational areas and an expanded leadership scope.”
“Prior to the MGH fellowship program, I did not intend to pursue a career in finance,” says a former MGH fellow, Sally Mason Boemer. “The rotations provided a unique opportunity to interact with and be evaluated by preceptors in a variety of departments and settings. The fellowship provided me with the perfect mix of broad exposure and practical work experience that enhanced my understanding of hospital operations, and has given me more credibility in decision-making than a more traditionally trained CFO.” Boemer has gone on to become MGH’s chief financial officer and now serves as senior vice president of administration and finance.
Many current CEOs in healthcare served as administrative fellows early in their career. It is a path that has shown great promise for future leaders. As Miller says, “The access and exposure during my fellowship were key factors in building my career development plan for growth into advanced leadership roles.”