Prior to graduating from Norfolk State University, and at the suggestion of a sorority sister, I began looking into a career in health-care management. I was amazed that most of the staff providing care were people of color, but none of them were in positions of leadership. I jumped on this career opportunity, eager to help correct this disparity.
I enrolled in the New School University’s master of science program in Health Services Administration and Policy to acquire the managerial skills required to be a health-care executive and to start developing a strong professional network. I was introduced to the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE, www.nahseny.org), a not-for-profit organization of African-American health-care executives founded in 1968. NAHSE opened the door for me to participate in its Summer Enrichment Program and Minority Fellowship Program, which exposed me to a group of highly trained health-care executives.
Despite my own success, the gap between the number of Black and non-Black managers in health care remains huge. In 2002, NAHSE, the American College of Healthcare Executives, the Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management, the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives and Indian Health Services conducted their third survey on “Race/Ethnic Career Attainments in Healthcare Management.” The study revealed that while African-American males and females have made significant strides in the field, their numbers are significantly lower than that of their white counterparts. Many leading African-American health-care executives are employed by the nation’s public hospital systems, but the door has opened only a crack in private hospitals.
To succeed as a health-care executive, you must have a strategic game plan. Here’s a starting point:
- Be educationally equipped. Pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree in health administration, business administration or public administration. To give yourself even more career leverage, aim toward becoming certified in health-care management by the American College of Healthcare Executives.
- Get hands-on work experience. Participate in a summer enrichment program, like the one offered by the New York Regional Chapter of NAHSE in collaboration with the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Institute for Diversity in Health Management. This program offers work experience, coupled with mentoring, to those students pursuing degrees in health management.
- Familiarize yourself with the community you serve. The simplest way to do this is to join community organizations where your institution is located.
- Be an effective communicator. It doesn’t matter how many letters come after your name; effective verbal and written communication skills are critical to a health-care manager. You must be able to convey your thoughts and ideas to individuals on all levels, as well as to those from different cultures.
- Stay connected. Translation: Network, network, network! It’s not enough to work in a nine-to-five job. If you really aspire to move up the career ladder, it is important to join organizations inside and outside of your profession and to be an active member.
- Be mentored and be a mentor. In the early stages of my career, I was mentored by some of the finest in the health-care profession. Today, I have made mentoring one of my top priorities.
- Always say, “Thank you.” Remember to recognize people who have assisted you with a project. It’s ideal to keep assorted thank-you notes on hand. People often remember such thoughtful gestures.
- Take care of yourself spiritually. In whatever way you feed yourself spiritually, always remember to place such nourishment above all your endeavors.
Kamille E. Wright is president of the New York Regional Chapter of the National Association of Health Services Executives.