Think women in health care and you probably think of nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors. You probably don’t think CEOs and there’s a good reason for that: Female CEOs are few and far between in the field.
A study published in November 2021 in JAMA Network Open, a monthly open-access medical journal published by the American Medical Association, found that only 15% of CEOs in the U.S. health care industry were women.
At the University of Maryland Medical System, however, women lead four of the system’s 12 hospitals.
Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of UMMS, is well aware that such a proportion is twice the national average.
“An essential component of taking care of Maryland residents includes making sure our workforce reflects the background of the communities which we are privileged to serve,” Suntha said. “Nationally, there are significant disparities in the gender of health care executives, and I’m proud that one-third of our system hospital leaders are women.
“Never before in our nearly four decades of providing health care to Marylanders has UMMS had as many women leading its member organizations at the same time as we do now.”
Meet the four women who lead UMMS hospitals:
A nurse by training, Brown has been president of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown Campus since March 2018.
“Watching others who motivated and inspired me early in my career definitely shaped my confidence to pursue opportunities to grow, lead teams and expand my responsibilities,” she said. “I did put my hat in the ring to be considered for a hospital president position more than once, and even though I wasn’t successful, it took courage and was a great learning experience.”
Brown serves as a mentor and as an advocate for creating more opportunities for women in health care leadership.
“I have a responsibility to encourage women to speak up and give notice to their accomplishments and contributions rather than hoping someone will promote (them) without (their) asking to be considered,” she said.
“None of us are ever perfectly prepared to take on the next role, so silencing that inside voice telling you, ‘I am not quite ready,’ is necessary,” she added. “It is also necessary to find a couple of people you can count on for counsel, advice and encouragement along the way.”
Kelleher is a longtime health professional who has been president and CEO of the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute in Baltimore for seven years.
She earned an MBA from the University of Baltimore and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University.
Kelleher’s advice to women seeking executive positions in the field: “Be persistent and never give up if you believe you are on the correct course of action.”
Kelleher, who began her career as a dental hygienist, has always seen herself caring for patients.
“I still see my role as caring for patients,” she said. “I often have ended up in leadership positions as they need someone to get something done.”
Continued Kelleher: “Over my career, I am often the first woman to do ‘XYZ’ — the only woman at the meeting, the only woman in the boardroom.”
The challenge, she said, “is convincing the old guard that I am just as qualified, if not more qualified, for the role.”
Kelleher, who considers herself an advocate for women trying to move up in the field, participates in the UMMS mentoring program.
Kathleen McCollum joined UMMS in 1992 as an administrative resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center. After nearly 30 years with the system in various roles, she was named president and CEO for the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie in April 2021.
“For me, leadership is a quality and a skill to develop rather than a goal,” McCollum said. “Looking back, I worked to hone my leadership skills well before I started my career – whether as the captain of a sports team or president of a school club.
“As I began my career in health care, I knew I wanted to continue to develop those skills and use them to engage others in a collective journey to improve this health care system.”
McCollum said she learned to become a leader by developing the confidence to express opinions in a way that influenced decisions.
“Earlier in my career, I quickly learned that confidence came from really understanding the subject matter,” she said.
McCollum’s advice for women looking to advance their careers: “Never pass up an opportunity to try something new or outside your scope if asked. You never know what doors it might open or professional interest it might spark.”
Elizabeth Wise’s first experience in health care was as a candy striper at the New Jersey hospital where she was born.
As an adult, she became a cardiology nurse and found she loved the work.
“I thought I would always be at the bedside caring for patients,” she said.
Wise’s first mentor saw her leadership potential and showed her the qualities and personality possessed by great leaders. That guidance and assistance, Wise said, “helped me to obtain my first leadership position as an assistant nurse manager.”
After a series of leadership positions in health systems in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, Wise — who holds a master’s in nursing and a master’s in business administration from Rutgers University — was named president and CEO of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Harford County in December 2021.
“For women aspiring to become health care leaders, my advice is to continually network and find a great mentor who can guide and support you in your journey,” she said. “Create a plan for where you want to go in your career and create experiences that move you closer to where you aspire to be.”