#HealthITChicks Spotlight Interview: Jess Clifton (@jslentzclifton)

This month’s spotlight shines on Jess Clifton (@jslentzclifton), second-in-command at #healthITchicks, senior healthcare writer at Agency Ten22, and host of the #healthITchicks chat on Wednesday, June 21 at 1pm ET.

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Jess, husband Jim, and eight year-old son Jackson have lived in Traverse City, MI – just a few blocks from Lake Michigan – for the last six years. Four of those have been with their puggle, Chance (who against all odds seems to be part goat!).

Shortly after having her son, Jess says the luster of her almost-native Atlanta wore thin. “We just weren’t sure where we wanted to head next,” she explains. “It only took a handful of trips visiting friends who’d relocated to Northern Michigan before we knew where we wanted to put down new roots. I’ve since made it my personal mission to bring the word “y’all” into common use in my adoptive hometown.”

Jess counts cancer research as among the causes and charities she supports. “Like many people, cancer has massively impacted our lives,” she says. My mother is a 13-year lung cancer survivor, so we’re strong supporters of cancer research. I’m also a huge advocate of mental health awareness and cannot stress enough the vital need for whole-patient care that is inclusive of physical, behavioral and social health determinants. Women’s equality, battling the opioid epidemic and advancing innovation in healthcare are all causes that are near and dear to my heart.”

When it comes to social media-ing, she counts #HITMC and #healthITchicks tweet chats among those she can’t miss. “Others that I don’t get to tune into nearly as often as I’d like to, but respect immensely (and frequently peruse tweets from after the fact) include #HCLDR, #HITsm and #KareoChat.

When it comes to favorite apps, Jess admits it’s a toss-up between Instagram and Flickr. “I find beautiful images — from landscapes to portraiture to macros — to be remarkably calming.,” she says. “I’m also crazy about word games and enjoy the daily 7 Words puzzle. The Trello app is favorite of mine for organizing content thoughts and inspiration for my work with Agency Ten22. Thus far, the only healthcare app I keep going back to (albeit infrequently) is the 7 Minute Workout Challenge.”

When it comes to committing to a favorite type of music, she faces quite the conundrum. “I’m a ‘90s rap fanatic married to a metal-head who runs an underground music label in his downtime, so my music interests run quite the gamut.,” she admits. “I was raised on classic country and Motown. I am a die-hard fan of virtually all female power ballads. I adore pretty much anything with strings — especially violin and piano. Lately I’m into folk courtesy of bands like Tall Heights and Elephant Revival. There truly is something to love in every genre.” (Fun fact: The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony featured prominently at Jim and Jess’ wedding.)

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Spotlight Questions

What’s the biggest leap of faith you’ve taken during your career? How has that impacted where you are now?
My biggest professional leap of faith was asking my former boss if I could move a thousand miles away (from Atlanta to Traverse City) and still keep my job. I believe that was the first time I’d ever truly negotiated something for myself and I was quite possibly the most nervous I’ve ever been. I’m confident that his receptivity to a full-time work-from-home arrangement was rooted in my (then) seven-year track record with the company. I’ve been telecommuting ever since, moving into freelance writing and then into my roll with Agency Ten22 after Billian’s HealthDATA was acquired in 2016. This shift completely changed the dynamic of work/life balance for me. There are definitely both pros and cons to WFH arrangements, but the flexibility it has granted me as a mother is something I value immensely.

When it comes to professional development, what has had the biggest impact on yours? 
Mentors have hands down had the biggest impact on my professional development. And I’m blessed to say I’ve had quite a few of them over the years — men and women alike. The same boss who was willing to let me work remotely had also encouraged me to take a product management role a few years prior. His unwavering support and belief in my abilities helped me see something in myself I hadn’t embraced prior to being given those opportunities to shine. I’ve been beyond blessed with a network of supportive female colleagues over the years, as well — women who coached me and offered advice, candid conversations about professional growth, and a shoulder to lean on. These women taught me what it means to lift one another up. I’m not sure where I’d be today had it not been for their support.

What advice can you offer younger women looking to break into healthcare technology, or those looking to join the C-suite?
From clinical informatics to the vendor setting, there is ample opportunity in healthcare technology right now (and for the foreseeable future). My advice to younger women looking to break into the field is to specialize. Get the healthcare-specific credentials. Lean into the thought leadership. Know that “you may contribute a verse.” If you’re looking to cross the threshold into the C-suite, never be afraid to ask for what you want or unwilling to do the work required to get there. No one will do it for you. Negotiate the salary. Ask for the extra benefits. Speak up at the meetings. Always be willing to learn and to grow.

What gender workplace topics have resonated with you over the last year?
The wage gap has definitely resonated with me over the past (few) year(s) — particularly after HIMSS research revealed that it has actually widened in health IT. My thoughts on how we might accelerate change have evolved quite a bit over the past year or so, though. My concern is that efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace aren’t being addressed early enough. We need to learn more about the perceptions driving the consistent under-valuing of women that leads to wage disparity. It’s more cultural problem than boardroom problem, and we need to empower our female youth more to get ahead of the issue. Men can play a huge role in helping advocate for and encourage women.

What are you looking forward to chatting about during the #healthITchicks tweet chat June 21? 

* Gender double standards. Are there issues you’ve dealt with in your career that you feel men aren’t traditionally burdened by?

Example: Being asked if you have children and what your childcare arrangements are.                        Sidebar: Are there professional challenges for men that women get to avoid?

* Federal protections for mothers. The example cited in T1 isn’t illegal. Do you think motherhood should be a federally protected class to help combat those types of double standards? (H/T to @StacyGoebel for inspiring this topic!)

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* Reshaping gender perceptions. Gender perceptions are generally solidified well ahead of workforce entry. What should we be doing to mold a healthier perception of women earlier in life?

Background reading: We Recorded VCs’ Conversations and Analyzed How Differently They Talk About Female Entrepreneurs

* The price of limited perspective. What impact does limited female representation in healthcare leadership and health IT have on the industry? (What are we missing out on?)

* A women’s movement in health IT. MGMA recently announced that Viola Davis will keynote the October conference, speaking on overcoming adversity, self-love and success. Do you see this as a sign of progress for gender relations in healthcare? What do you think is propelling recent interest?

* Bonus question: What female powerhouse (in healthcare or otherwise) would you like to see speak at a healthcare conference?

Join me and Jess Clifton (@jslentzclifton) for the #healthITchicks tweetchat on Wednesday, June 21 at 1pm ET. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn via the #healthITchicks group

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